It’s enough just to do the Work

I sit and listen to the shadows in my cave and I play them. I sit at the mouth of my cave and I hear my flock and the birds and I play them. I hear the wind and the rain and the snow and I play them. I hear my bees when they take their honey and I play them. I hear the sun and the moon and the stars and the silence and I play them. I hear the mountain flowers and the silent bats at night and I play them. I hear my breathing and my heart and I play them. I hear the silence and the years passing and I play them.

(anonymous Greek cave-dwelling bagpiper, via The Bosky Man)

This is work that I deeply feel needs to be done in the world. I think of this man, alone in his cave and playing his music in alignment with the beautiful world around him, and I feel the rightness of it in my gut. I don’t need to know his name, or even hear the music (although I’d like to). He will likely never be acknowledged in any significant way by his fellow humans for what he does. But I’m willing to bet the spirits know who he is.

I feel the same way about itinerant sadhus and mountain-dwelling monks and also brilliant painters filling their tiny apartments with canvases that will never hang on the wall of any gallery. The harder thing for me, the thing I struggle with, is to apply this same sense of inherent worth to my own Work.

The further I go into the labyrinth with my spirits, the less I’m able to engage with the human world. Now, for the most part this is just fine with me, as humans are not amongst my favorite creatures on this earth. But it does remove a certain way of gauging one’s work, and of receiving encouragement to continue – in fact, the only way we have been told has any value – by means of feedback from other people. Of course, this way often as not proves irrelevant for plenty of people doing significant and good work of any kind, either because that work is not for the direct benefit of humans (say, a person whose primary spiritual duty is to care for a small piece of uninhabited land), or because people, at least in that time and place, just aren’t attuned to it yet, such as with incredible artists who were not appreciated while living, and I’m sure a significant number who were never appreciated at all and have been lost to us entirely.

Devoting one’s life to activities that may never receive recognition from other people is difficult, but more so in a culture which puts an almost pathological emphasis on sharing every moment of our lives with the whole world, and expecting some kind of validation for our existence on a daily basis. It’s insidious, how one starts seeing all of one’s actions through the lens of how they will appear when presented online. The challenge of “pics or it didn’t happen” could be the slogan of our times. We may even worry more about our ritual photos being “liked” on Facebook than if the ritual itself pleased the gods. How would our lives, our actions, our priorities, and our experiences change if we knew that they would never be shared in any way with any other person? Do they have merit on their own?

I wonder if that bagpiper in his cave struggles with this – the meaning of his life, the isolation of his music. Perhaps when you are truly, fully in alignment with the work, you stop caring (especially if you aren’t being bombarded with the aforementioned modern attitudes at all times). I have to say that I am deeply drawn to the idea of disconnecting entirely, of no longer keeping a website for my artwork (in order to share it with other people, who largely do not seem to care and aren’t my primary audience anyway), or writing about my spirituality (which is so private and mostly revolves around spirits who no one else knows), and just altogether taking away that temptation to validate the work through the opinions of other people. I haven’t yet, mostly because I feel that a small but still important aspect of my Work involves some other humans in certain ways, but I admit I am also intimidated by the idea of having the spirits as my sole community. Even after all these years, having moved so far out toward the periphery, I hesitate to fully make my home in that cave and play my music only for the rain and the bees and the moon. But I am looking forward to a time when that is enough.

~ by Dver on June 10, 2013.

14 Responses to “It’s enough just to do the Work”

  1. Thank you for sharing this small bit of enlightenment. I hadn’t thought of the drive to share every moment online as pathological, but recently I’ve noticed unhealthy symptoms, like worry and stress over what I do and don’t share and how people will receive it, anxiety when I don’t have a device or camera handy to “capture the moment,” etc. I think when this drive to share moments publicly starts to become more important than than the actual moments is when it is unproductive and unhealthy.

    However, I think it’s good to stay somewhat connected to the world. I think there is great spiritual worth in isolating yourself in nature for a while, but I find my greatest growth comes through genuine conversations and little revelations through interactions with other people. The idea of withdrawing from the world is very tempting, and for some people it may be what they need and thrive in, but something tells me it’s the easier path.

    • I think there’s a big difference between staying connected with actual people in the actual world, and usernames on a computer screen. We’d probably all be better off if we were sharing these experiences with loved ones, but didn’t worry about posting on a blog.

      “something tells me it’s the easier path”

      I hear that a lot, but honestly, if it was the easier path, more people would do it. In fact, I think most people would actually find it incredibly difficult to fully withdraw from human companionship of any kind – especially now when many people would find it difficult just to shut down their FB account. Really living every day with only your own thoughts and the nature surrounding you has been a catalyst for madness in many a hermit. It may *sound* easy but I don’t think it actually is.

  2. Yes. . . just. . . yes.

    I almost wrecked my practice being so concerned with doing the Work AND finding a place in the community. But I was lucky enough to realize what’s important and now the things I do online are done without expectation of being noticed, used, needed, etc. If I hadn’t been told to share some of what I do, I probably wouldn’t be online at all. There’s the gods, the spirits, and the real world–the world that a person can touch, smell, see, hear and that’s so painfully beautiful you can’t share it through any media–more than enough to occupy even the most industrious person for several lifetimes.

    For what it’s worth, I find your writing to be very helpful. There are probably others, too, who don’t say anything. There are a lot of new polytheists out there, people who want to do the Work, but are so saturated with modern attitudes and behaviors they don’t know where to start. It’s hard, finding a balance, seeking out where boundaries and curvatures are. They don’t know how to think about all this stuff.

    Writers like you help newbies look a little further out, to get a picture of what their spiritual lives could be. And maybe they say, “I don’t want that.” and that’s one long path they don’t have to worry about now. Or maybe they say, “I think I could do that.” and now they have an idea of where they might go next.

    Sorry for the mini-epic.

    • Thanks for commenting! Yes, that’s my hope, to provide some small bit of guidance or clarification or food-for-thought, which is why I keep doing this. At some point – maybe soon, maybe not – I may run out of things to say that I haven’t already said a million times, but until then, I will likely keep writing.

  3. Thanks for writing this. I needed to read it today.

  4. As an artist, I find that my devotional pieces are almost never “liked” online, even by fellow devotees. It was deeply disturbing to me for awhile, until I remembered how many truly inspiring works left me cold until I was able to experience them in person.

    So, in order to keep my own head straight, I’ve stopped sharing the devotional pieces on FB or my art blog. Though I do still share them on my religious blog, it is from a hope that someone, somewhere will see it and get excited about my Gods. I have FINALLY learned that the only validation I need for these pieces is from the Gods that they were made for.

    • That’s a good point, about seeing them in person. I would really like someday, when I have enough pieces, to show them locally somehow.

      There’s also the point that a lot of people might be moved by something, but not comment or contact you in any way, so you’ll never know.

      But in the end, we really do have to just stop relying on other people for validation, when the Work isn’t for them anyway. Good to hear from someone else who is familiar with this struggle!

  5. Thanks for a really interesting reflection, and one which I fully agree with. It looks more and more as if the online ‘community’ is generally more an assembly of people desperately seeking affirmation than anything else. “Look what did/made/found…..isn’t it great? Don’t you ‘like’ this? Me?” Obviously there are a range of motives for being online, but there certainly seem to be those who are spending so much time attending to their online putput and image that I wonder how much time they have left to actually do the thing they have been called to, and about which they write. Your writing *does* have value, so be encouraged! But we all need to recognise that writing about the Work isn’t doing the Work. Talking about it isn’t doing it. Only doing it is doing it……

    • I think of writing about the Work as sort of Secondary Work. It may be important – spreading the word about the gods, inspiring other people on their paths, etc. – but it’s not quite the same as directly feeding the gods and spirits. As long as it really doesn’t take any time away from the latter, it’s fine, but…. you have to be careful. And more careful about how the online culture might be warping your actual practice.

      Back when we were mostly on email lists as far as community goes, and the only online presence you could have was a static website, it was a little less geared towards constant validation. You could put up a site with information and writing and even stuff about yourself, but other than someone emailing you from it, there was no expectation of feedback – no Like button or comments section. So I think the motive for putting it out there was a bit purer. I kind of miss that.

  6. i wish I had a cave. I wish my flute worked or I had the money to fix it…without a cave it wouldn’t do me much good anyway though. I am never alone. I have 3 children still at home (my new mantra, LOL, 4 more years….4 more years…My youngest will be 18 in 4 more years and I won’t have as many direct, daily responsibilities at home…) but I’ll still have him and I still won’t have much if any alone time. Perhaps my real struggle is accepting the job I’ve been given because it doesn’t match up with what I think I should be doing or want to be doing. I’m seeking but I don’t know what I’m seeking…it just feels like I’m spinning my wheels in a mud pit but what if spinning my wheels is what I’m supposed to be doing? Just because I don’t understand it or can’t see the bigger picture doesn’t mean it’s not there and sometimes the challenge is to accept that what I’m doing is what I’m asked to do. Does that make any sense? I don’t know that it does….*sigh*

  7. Once I consecrated the temple, I refuse to take any pictures of it because I feel it is a breech of a sacred area: it opens the place up to unwanted foot and eye traffic.

    There is a goodness and a power in keeping a secret.

    Thank you for all of your hard work, Dver. May the deities bless you.

  8. Thank you for writing this. About a year ago I walked away from what formal ties to the community I had, and now am figuring out what shape the Work is supposed to take.

    It involves companions, for sure…but not many. Hmm.


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