January 1, 2014 by Zara
If not anything else, 2014 has been life-changing. Yes, already!
Last week, I began a creative sabbatical — a (at least) month-long period devoted to the disciplined pursuit and study of reading, writing, dancing, music and my personal artistic/pet projects; neatly-parked things I’d made lists of to further, or notes and outlines to develop, but never quite find sufficient time or head-space to do so properly in my day-to-day hubbub of getting our new business, our baby, born and walking. That’s been the last year and a half or so.
Freed of the din of constant and unending tasks, e-mails, phone calls, meetings, admin and all sorts of business activities to attend, I’ve been blissfully rekindling a neglected soul — finding my dance body and its connection to movement and various music again, sitting hours-long at the piano learning new songs, mastering known ones, singing and finally managing to satisfactorily (at least to me!) accompany myself, pouring through article after article, clip after clip, feeding my hungry and almost starving intellectual curiousity for topics I’ve put on hold, and piecing together thoughts and positions on them, and finally having the creative collage of brac-a-brac ideas that’ve been floating about in my head come together in sketchy, basic but potentially workable forms.
Most significant though, is somewhere along the way, my values have, I think shifted — just slightly but enough to potentially alter the course of my life. At the very least is a resolution of a long-held internal conflict around doing what is ethical and what I felt I just couldn’t leave ignored: the salient issues of our time — poverty, social justice, sustainability, peace, humanity and raising of consciousness — versus what I would really love to be doing: exactly what I’ve given myself the permission to indulge in on creative sabbatical. This has been my routine, nearly every day for the past week or so, and I could do it over and over again endlessly, it feels!
These are things I’d loved even as a child… reading for hours on end, every day if I was on holiday, lost in my own little world. Then, when older, starting to ask and ponder “fundamental questions” which I never realised at that time was “philosophy”. I loved my music classes, my piano, cello, choir practice, choral groups, singing classes, band camps, karaoke (ack! #embarassedtoadmit) and being part of the youth orchestra. I loved art class. I loved the revues and variety nights we would hold in college, and remember sneaking out in the quiet of night to play the piano in the chapel, to be alone enveloped in the dark by just music and the beautiful space. In my twenties, I (re)discovered dance and this time found exquisite pleasure of movement to music, body mastery and sublime states of surrender and transcendence of self to one’s art; it promptly became my religion, my obsession, and my raison d’etre.
All this I suppressed, first because of necessarily practical but utterly mundane reasons of “earning a living”. I had wanted to study music. But upon dad’s questioning about whether I was going to be a teacher (to which I said “no, I wanted just to play”), was advised, from a place of well-intention-ed love of course, to do something that would pay the bills, never-mind passion or soul, then do what I loved later if I really wanted to.
Then later, as Bangladesh and leaving home opened my eyes to the dismal state of the world around me, which partially (alongside leaving the cult I had spent a good part of my formative years in) triggered a deep questioning and desperate search for meaning, and at times existential crises, I again, feeling a strong moral obligation (a calling even!) to serve the case for humanity, relegated my love of dance and music to “self-indulgent luxury”, and the sadly deprecated place of mere “hobbies”, like they were things of secondary importance.
So it has been, for many years, this state of conflict between my prudential interests and what I felt as my ethical duty, and for that time, very much so “my vocation”. Stripped of religion and the idea of “God”, and questioning even spirituality, the life of service to humanity appealed to my need for higher purpose. And for a good while volunteering with organisations, and the endeavour of social business — thanks to my exposure to the inspirational Mohammad Yunus from my time in Bangladesh — captivated and satisfied me as ways to fulfill that.
But now, while my ethical and socially idealistic side still holds, for some reason — a confluence of several circumstances — I find myself in a state deliberating whether or not I can suppress any longer my desire to pursue more ardently my creative interests. And I’m veering toward a strong no — that it can’t wait any more. That is the whisper of my heart, if I am to be honest. A whisper that is gradually turning into an scream.
There is perhaps a wisdom to be heeded, I think, in this:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
– Howard Thurman
And I have always been strongly swayed by the persuasive romanticism in Joseph Campbell’s decree to believe, whether founded or not, that:
“When you follow your bliss…doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else. ”
My conscience, of course, goes “Wait! But you made a promised, my dear, to devote your life to the service of humanity”. Yes, I had passionately made that vow somewhere in 2008, as I emerged at the lighter end of a long, at times very dark, passage of seeking “truth”, answers to my “big questions”, and finding once again, but independently this time, my sense of self and my place in the world (after renouncing all the socially and religiously prescribed labels, roles, expectations and horribly distorted worldviews that had been fed me). I had also, incidentally, made a vow, in hindsight quite laughably considering I had renounced religion, to live a nun-like life of simplicity, frugality, chastity (which has so not happened! But that is another story for another time), devotion and service.
That was my Saturn’s return, some call it (not that I believe in that mumbo jumbo!). And what is this now, my mid-life crisis? ;-P Ah, must be an early bloomer.
So, here I stand, somewhat at crossroads. And with a blank slate, although not entirely so — there are still existing responsibilities, commitments and obligations to look after and sabbatical’s end. But it could be, and I definitely hope, a very interesting year. The next few weeks will tell. I think I have coined a way, which incorporates dancing and music and which also draws upon philosophical underpinnings, to unify both my prudential and ethical interests, so there will at least no longer be a conflict or denial of my soul-food… but I’ll let the ideas incubate a little before any premature excitement. At the very least, I will not be letting dance out of my life again (fingers crossed circumstances permit!).
In an ideal world (yes, without poverty, injustice, inequity, marginalisation of minorities and “the weak”, cruelty, hatred and conflict, planetary rape etc), one could just be free to dance, make music, indulge in literary pleasures, do art, play with and create great stuff with great people. A girl can dream!
There is, then, that pesky inconvenience of having to ‘make a living’, of course. But, I see that as a mere means to ends. Where there is a will, there will be a way. What is entirely vital is that I have, at least, found what, for me, is my “purpose” (to use a commonly found idea, but a misleading one — for very much an existentialist, in my books, we exist for no purpose, we just exist; and “purpose” is for us as meaning-makers to each determine for ourselves).
This, I must underscore, is something not to be taken lightly for granted; so many never find this precious “thing” for themselves — so they inherit socially prescribed values and follow circumscribed life paths and lifestyles, go along with the latest trend or copy what the Jones-es are doing, react to events (rather than act) without having examined the larger picture, or flit to the next thing that adequately (but not maximally) fills time, and basically just allow other people’s, the media’s and corporation’s agendas to become their own.
Indeed, many never even think to ask, in the first place, what a life worth living might mean for them, much less be able to answer or attend to it. So I count myself very lucky, especially having known what it is to live “empty of meaning”, to not want to fall asleep because it’s too delicious being awake, and to wake up each morning wanting to jump once again straight into life.