This I Believe

Donald - Dallas, Texas
Entered on May 24, 2006

I believe that everything I believe is wrong. I’ve described my self as a Mystic, a Shaman, a Spiritual Person. I read, studied, meditated, prayed, fasted and attended ceremonies of every religion or psuedo religion I could find. I was getting in touch with my Higher Self. From my cloud of incense, I looked down on those poor souls who lived mundane lives.

I looked down on the low wage jobs I had. They were beneath me. I was destined for great spiritual achievements. I looked down on the people who looked down on me, because they were too foolish to see that I had greater spiritual insight. Besides, those were just my day jobs. I was an artist, a poet, a philosopher, a sculptor, a writer, an actor. I would quit my day job if it interfered with my opening night, even if my pay for a six week run after four weeks of rehearsal wouldn’t cover my rent.

In my journey to become a more sensitive artist, I became a totally insensitive Human Being. Everything and everyone were only Art Supplies to me, material to use in creating my impending masterpiece. People were only for inspiration or encouragement.

My ex-wife would ask if I’d found another job, and I’d say, “No, but I wrote 20 pages in my journal.” I’d be genuinely hurt if she wasn’t impressed. Now I realize that it’s hard to buy groceries with a notebook instead of a checkbook.

I attended Voudou ceremonies in Haiti. I danced naked around a fire at Wiccan Festivals. I smoked the pipe in Native American Church Sweatlodges. I smoked ganja with Rastafarians in the mountains of Jamaica. I went to mosques and synagogues. And, as usual, I looked down on those who just went to church on Sundays. I’d think “Those deluded fools aren’t seeking God in His True form. I am. Those hypocrites aren’t living God’s way. I am.”

I could justify spending my money on drugs or alcohol. I am an artist. I am above the mundane morality of society. I am in the tradition of all great artists. I have Divine Madness. I am a sacred clown, like the Heyoka Wakan or the Putai Buddha. My obnoxious behavior is excused because I got a standing ovation for my one-man show at the Theatre Festival. I don’t need to pay my bills, because I am finishing a sculpture. I wrote a poem today. What did you do? Work in a cubicle?

Now I know that the only thing mysterious about me is how I was able to delude myself for so long.

I wasn’t pursuing Art to free myself from my Ego. Art is the indulgence of the Ego. Despite working in impoverished obscurity, I wanted my art to make me rich and famous. I wanted everyone to have an opinion of my art, to love me because my art moved them. Then I would know that I was right all along. I could say, with the wisdom of a sage, to everyone who called me irresponsible or crazy, “In your face!”

If I was arrogant enough to believe that my art had something to communicate, to enhance Human Existence, aren’t I even more arrogant to dismiss Art?

Well, I’m arrogant enough to believe that the listeners of NPR will be interested in what I believe.

Maybe my poems, short stories, paintings, and all that just aren’t that good. Am I just the fox calling the grapes sour because I can’t reach them? That’s probably true, too. Isn’t it the most appalling arrogance to dismiss my own work and yet equate it with the works of Robert Burns, or Picasso or whoever. By dismissing art as an ideal, aren’t I throwing the great, the good, the mediocre, and the bad in the same pile as my failures?

I have no right to say that the work of others is in vain. I can’t say another’s journey was meaningless. I do have the right to turn all my sacred idols on their ears. I don’t disregard the value of my spiritual or artistic attempts or even achievements. I see the real value of them. I just don’t place the highest value on them anymore. A great work of art can inspire us, but what does it inspire us to do? Create more art?

I thought only common people cared about their jobs, their families, and what the neighbors thought. Extraordinary people sought Higher Truth. I thought the common man was missing something by not pursuing art and philosophy. Now I know what he was missing. Existential Angst. By not longing for a higher state of being, he missed out on all the meaningless suffering and torment of trying to answer all of life’s questions. How foolish the Common Man is for enjoying the simple pleasures, and for only experiencing sadness instead of embracing it as a life-style. We artistic, spiritual types agonize over questions that have no answers. No wonder we’re often moody and inconsolable. Of course, we drink and take drugs. We’re driving ourselves crazy and want everyone to be crazy with us. By denying ourselves simple happiness, we condemn ourselves to complex depression. I believe that we will all stand before God one day. Assuming this belief is true, will God be the Divine and Eternal Art Critic? Will I be judged on my performance on stage or my performance in the world? Will it more important that I strove to be a great artist, or that I tried to be a good person? If the Divine can communicate through great art, how much more of our True Nature is revealed in every day discourse? I am guilty of taking the gift of life and turning it into a problem. I wasted time and energy trying to fill in the gaps between the moments of truth in my life. Truth stands alone. Truth doesn’t need me to connect the dots, form a theory or explain the implications. Truths are often contradictory. Why didn’t I just accept them with gratitude and humility? Trying to find a deeper meaning in all of my experiences took all the joy out of living those experiences. I looked at the people and the world around me as obstacles to my spiritual growth, never realizing that they were the catalysts of spirituality. The world isn’t an illusion obscuring God’s truth. It is the manifestation of God’s truth. The action and interaction of the world and it’s people are the mysteries of creation. How could I have looked down on someone who was working two jobs and going to school to support children? Suffering for your art is nothing compared to going to work everyday for the people you love. Making that sacrifice every day willingly, and often with gratitude and joy, shows the suffering of an artist to be the whining of a crybaby. Writing a story is a poor substitute for creating a life. The true story of any human being unfolds in much more complex ways than any fiction.

The purpose of spirituality is to help others when they face the great unknowns. Birth, Death, Illness, Fear. A spiritual person should bring joy and lighten the burden, not add to the depression of the world. Spirituality is not an excuse for irresponsible self indulgence. Spirituality is an added responsibility.

Now I want to practice love rather than contemplate it’s meaning. I’ll try to value a conversation with a friend as much as a scene from Shakespeare. I’ll try to remember that art and philosophy are gifts to enhance life, not consolation prizes for those afraid to live. I wonder if Van Gogh thinks it was worth the pain for him and those who loved him, so that we can see re-prints of a painting of sunflowers. I wonder if he thinks that a person who can truly enjoy a cup of coffee with friends has achieved more than all the meditating monks in history. I’m a religious person now who smiles when I hear someone say what I used to say. “I’m Spiritual, not Religious.” I think, “A religious person feels guilty for not going to church. A spiritual person feels gulity for not doing yoga.” That has nothing to do with what I’ve been saying. I just want you to think I’m clever. I still have ego issues. I went back and looked at my art and read my writings. They aren’t that good, after all. They are certaintly a poor substitute for the people I’ve lost. I don’t know why God and the Saints have shown me this new way of looking at things. I don’t have to know. It’ a gift. I accept it with gratitude and, I hope, humility.