This line from a poem by Rumi has haunted me this week because of the line that follows it: The soul is here for its own joy. I pulled out my copy of the book by the same name edited by Robert Bly, a collection of sacred poems, and found Rumi’s poem, Someone digging in the ground, in which he speaks lyrically about the work of the human soul on this earth and its relationship to everyday life, his great theme. The poem opens with these two lines.
So much of what I think about in the course of my creative work involves problem solving – which sometimes feels like my great theme. What color should I make the border of this image in order to make it pop? How can I tighten up this paragraph or chapter so that the story advances and the prose clarifies? Lately, this work has taken place against an uneasy backdrop of this question: How will I be able to continue this work if I no longer have a livelihood? For now, my job is safe, but working in the cultural arts in this funding climate does not bode well for job security.
Every day stories come through the office: the woman who sat with a colleague in the conference room, weeping because she has moved from a house to an apartment to a smaller apartment as she lost her job and looked for work over many months; the established photographer (or painter or sculptor) giving up his or her studio; the budget cuts in the city and the county and the state in the cultural arts and in heritage. A natural worrier, I bring this angst to my own story.
I won’t lose my house, but I may be out of job in the coming months, and that isn’t even the central and recurring worry. A part of me thinks: I’ll have more time to write. I’ll repaint the studio and make some prints. The main worry is this: As publishing roils in a witch’s brew of changing technology and the recession, how will I ever get my stories published? What is the point of making objects – these paintings and enamel pieces that give me such a charge – if there is nowhere to exhibit them and no one to buy them?
I give myself a mental shake and just get over it, because this is what I am here for, to make this work. I’m sure of it. Just as I am sure when I hold my new grandson that he is here for something that matters too, beyond my selfish happiness. Just as I am sure when I read to his sister or listen to her pick words out of the air, words she has never spoken before, that her important work has already begun. I focus on that word joy, and balance it with my problem solving.
Just do the work, Rumi’s digging. It leads the way forward.