Today's blog post originally appeared in April as a guest post at Betsy Lewis's blog. What constitutes success? It's a subject I contemplate often these days-- my definitions of it have changed over time. Here's what I wrote:
Earlier in my life my definition of artistic success was becoming a famous writer. I wanted that big outer validation and thought that being famous and successful would make me happy. When I was in my 20s, 30s and 40s my artistic successes took place in a climate of striving and struggle. The weather was often overcast, stormy or tumultuous. These days I agree with whomever it was that said, “Success does not bring happiness, happiness brings success.”
Over the years, I certainly have had artistic successes. I published a best-selling book on herbs (Gaea Weiss, Growing and Using the Healing Herbs), and many articles and poems in national and regional magazines, wrote and performed two-one woman shows and created several shows of voice and personal stories with other artists. I channeled my artistic impulses into environmental activism and supported some very worthy causes. I became a healer and with the help of others, healed some of my old wounds. I became a Buddhist and learned about stillness, openness and compassion. None of which made me famous. (Such a blessing—I was allowed to grow and flower without much fanfare).
For years I have explored the links between creativity and happiness. Creative expression makes me happy. I love creating a well-written poem or essay, a beautifully sung song, an inspiring or provocative story, a beautiful drawing. When something really works, I disappear as the expression utters or creates itself through me. These are moments of joy. Who is creating here?
We live in a universe filled with countless billions of beings, so it’s natural to share artistic expressions with others. But does artistic success depend upon being recognized or considered notable by others? Not really, though I find it delightful to connect and communicate art with others.
“I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody,” says comedian Bill Cosby. I have to agree. It can take a long time to find one’s voice and gifts, letting go of the need to please others. I took me quite a while. I finally know myself and am comfortable with myself. That allows me to be much more free to enjoy and share artistically. My artistic medium these days is the experience of aging.
It usually takes years of practice to become skilled in an artistic form, though some fortunate folks seem to have done their prep work in a mystery dimension. They arrive with their art fully formed. For most of us though it takes willingness to fail over and over and not lose heart but rather learn from each experience.
These days, after decades of struggle and striving over artistic expression and success, I find I’ve entered another territory. I love setting wildly improbable goals. I think what the heck, we create everything from nothing, so why not this? I enjoy the experience of creativity and sharing my art more than I ever have. And yes, the weather is always marvelous. Sometimes it’s chaotic and turbulent and sometimes gorgeous as a bright day on the beach. There are brisk days when the wind clears things away, making room for something new and days when I feel as if I’m walking through a meadow filled with flowers.
Artistic success-- like the weather-- is pervasive, fascinating and changeful. Like breathing it is completely natural and of the essence. When we relax into the experience of wholeness and rest in stillness — then whatever pours out as artistic expression is a gift and an offering to oneself and others.