My weeks away from here have been consumed writing a grant due May 30th. This grant money replaces federal money recently cut from our program, so there’s a lot of pressure to succeed. Intense periods periods of work test the routines that sustain health and creativity.
I’ve managed to do most of my daily routines: meditate, exercise, stretch/yoga, and art but for less time. Work should be cut back NOT personal care and creativity habits. The latter sustain us, work does not. And I speak from a place of loving my work. I make my own schedule but it is still difficult to remember the judging, driving voices that spur me to do more, more, ever more are false, and not mine. I don’t believe in that kind of relentless drive to succeed. I believe you can succeed just fine without being driven. And if truth be told, we can often do less work and still do a good-enough job, but cutting back on personal care and creativity routines, always leads to more stress, less wellness, and more chronic issues and illness.
When an artist as accomplished as Picasso urges us to work with restraint, he upends the idea of working to death to succeed. There’s no wisdom in that–no fun, pleasure or joy either.
Over-commitment to work, no matter how “good” the work, is a form of violence that serves no one, least of all the person filled with the ardor to “do good.”
I reflect on this constantly, and still struggle to set limits. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write that grant, it means pulling back on other things while I do–and constantly reflecting on, and letting go of, the things I’ve said yes to.
In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton wrote:
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”