Do the next thing

As usual my daily reader on my nightstand, or my nightly reader on my daystand, “A Year With Hafiz,” has something to say about what’s going on currently. My favorite 14th-c. Persian mystic poet —translated and contemporized by Daniel Ladinsky— suggests this: if you really want to know yourself, sit all alone in your closet for days and “aim high for a 360 degree detox.” This means no writing down any brilliant thoughts, he adds. Then this gem: “You are who you aren’t.” Finally this time, after several years of coming around to that poem by Hafiz and scratching my head, I understood that line—ah ha! All it took was ...first, in January, an attempt to get to a monthlong, self-isolating artist residency at a mountain sanctuary (I was accepted, the art supplies were packed, the dog was eager to be part of it all, but then the timing was off). “Do the next thing,” as missionary Elizabeth Elliot often quoted another old poem. So I did the next thing: a quiet weeklong retreat in February at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon. It resettled my priorities, somewhat. A friend had waved me away from my home county to the abbey with sage advice: “Don’t think you have to make art all the time.” I came home, though, raring to make money by making new art, and I spent money on supplies believing the world wouldn’t stop on a dime; I thought we had more time. I had spring/summer art workshop lesson plans. I had large but achievable, fiscally prudent art goals, darn it! But now this next thing, in March, just as Hafiz had suggested: the galleries, bookstores, even art movie nights with friends and pizza by woodstoves, even small-town concert sanctuaries, and all other communal art venues in this state are shuttered, and day by day the whole world slows down to a walking pace again, a pacing walk inside our own homes, a Sabbath walk: six steps forward, one step back, intentionally or not. I don’t know about you, but that’s all it took (!) for me to feel a scary but freeing detox from my thinking—my unconscious thinking, if that’s a thing— that I needed to make art/money/friends/what-have-you/what-haven’t-you all the time just in order to be.
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