Following your heart is a skill. It begins with learning to quiet your mind enough to hear the heart.
At one of my earliest meditation retreats, the instructor, an Acharya in the Shambhala tradition, and a man of some learning and experience, saw fit to introduce the quest of Luke Skywalker. After we had been discussing his trials and tribulations for some time, one of the other students, serious to the last, said, “Yes, yes. But let us get back to real life.”
The conversation proceeded down a different path, but when it came to me, I said, “I’m not done with Luke Skywalker, actually. There’s still something to learn there. Just because something didn’t happen doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
It started with the cat.
I was sitting on my couch, petting the cat (who had gracelessly and possessively slid down the back of the couch into my lap). I was enjoying it so much, and I somehow realized that, in this moment, petting this cat, the fact that many other people also enjoy petting cats in no way diminishes my experience. I thought about how many things are like that, that we can enjoy without reference, without comparison. Eating chocolate, making love, looking at a sunset, singing silly songs with our children… none of these things are in any way diminished by the fact of their mundaneness.
This happened to be on the day that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom was all the momosphere could talk about. Making your children perform, making them practice, getting them to Carnegie Hall, being able to point to the amazing things they have accomplished, proving that they are better than the people around them, and that you are a superior parent.
Sitting there, petting that cat, I thought about how much we lose when we get hung up on these comparisons.
Getting to play at Carnegie Hall is a rare thing, and an accomplishment to be celebrated. But when we focus on the rare, hard-to-obtain accomplishment, we place the beauty of the ordinary outside our view. Carnegie Hall may not be a reasonable goal for the average amateur musician, but a moment of playing that connects you to the music, taps into the lineage of players that have come before and after, and makes you weep for that beauty… is.
Joy, connection, ecstasy, heartbreak, flow… these are all within our capacities. And they are available to each of us, without reference.
The chocolate is not diminished by other people’s enjoyment unless you find yourself yearning for some obscure chocolate you once heard about that can only be obtained at a particular store in Paris. The moment of joy you get looking in the mirror and seeing yourself smiling and happy is real. But not if you think you have to look like somebody else to be acceptable in the world.
The irony of it all is that engaging with joy in the things we desire will draw us to do the very “work” that is necessary to become better at them. The young violinist who cannot be torn from her instrument to write her English paper is living in the experience, doing what calls her, yet she is also doing precisely what is necessary to improve. The difference is that she is playing for the joy of the music, and is (if you believe Malcolm Gladwell… which I do on this particular point) more likely get to Carnegie Hall as a result.
For the one who is playing to get to Carnegie Hall, there is the possibility of failure. For the one who is playing for its own sake, failure isn’t even an option.
And if, someday, she does find herself on stage at Carnegie Hall, she is perfectly trained to appreciate another beautiful moment in a life full of them.
Work is the use of the mind, through the body, to create order in the universe.