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.