The Mountain

Art + Creativity, Thoughts + Life

I’ve been thinking about time.

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between time and creativity on the micro scale, the intense focus that goes into a single brush stroke, and the macro scale: what is one’s creative practice, as an overarching theme? I’m intrigued by the way time bends, stretches, compresses and bounds in the interstices between now and the next moment, and then out to the other end of this arching line which is a life.

I’ve been thinking of the way creativity lives in the present moment. Creativity, true expression, state of flow – call it what you will, it’s a phenomenon of being attuned to the work we do at the very moment of doing it. It’s an experience driven by an intimate sensory feedback loop, between hands or eyes or voice and the marks, movements or sounds that we make. It’s making love to our own minds, and it requires security to thrive.

When we are safe to make mistakes, we make wonders. We do our most daring work when we forget to fear failure.

In being present, we can focus fully on the current moment because we trust that when we look up our destinations will be there in front of us. Secure of our destinations, we’re free to wander and explore. We know we can always reorient toward a fixed mark. Secure of our destinations, we are free to fully inhabit our present moments. In this way, creativity is the essence of trusting both the immediate moment and the faraway outcome: both the breath and the eulogy. It is escape from the tyranny of the near future.

“Vision is the true creative rhythm.”

– Robert Delaunay

Yet we cannot inhabit this state as long as we’re seduced and bullied by fears and fantasies of the middle distance. When bounded by the near future – tomorrow, this week, this month – we shy away from mistakes and toward short-term gains. We fear failures which cannot be amended in such short spans so we turn and turn about, re-writing our goals to align with our latest small successes.

Think of this: a city on an island, with a mountain at its heart. You wish to reach the mountain. Wherever you walk in this city, that hill remains in sight and is your constant guide. One may wander safely in this city, up intriguing alleyways and down, following some alluring scent or a flash of inspiration. Even when you walk into dead ends, you can always find a way back to a desired path, and there are many desirable paths. Many paths will take you where you wish to go, because where you wish to go is a mountain both sure and clear in your sight. Affluent in choice, you can afford to pursue delight.

Watercolor painting illustration, a city, with a mountain at its heart.

Another city sits in rolling hills and humps of land, each with a hope at the top. Which one to aim for? You ask one person and then another, and each points out a different hummock as the best. You choose one and set out toward it, and soon you are lost in the gorges between these hills. Since all hills look more or less the same, you ask again for directions. Only, the person you ask points toward a different hill, and so you turn to that one. Again, you lose your bearing, again, ask for directions, and again, you’re turned toward a different mound. The best you can do in the end is to pick the nearest small hump and settle, or scrupulously follow a careful course to one just a little farther off.

That second, lumpy city is what happens to our creative practises when we don’t know where we’re aiming in the end. Fearing failure, we settle for the nearest sure thing and don’t dare wander spontaneously. Why take the risk? we’ve tried that before and been lost every time, and worse, our desires have been muddied by another and another and another stranger’s influence. Best to settle for what’s safe.

What if, at the heart of that lumpy city, there was a mountain? What then?

Stepping out of the metaphor: the mountain is, of course, our overarching practises, our visions of a life well lived. No one else can see our mountains because it’s not their life, their vision. The little hills they point us toward may well be mountains in their eyes; but they’re not our mountains.

I want you to find your mountain. Heck, I want to find my mountain. Yes, that’s still a work in progress. I’ve been wondering about it a lot lately, so I asked my circle for advice. Here’s what came up:

• Daydream, then reflect. Look outward with abandon, and then go deep inside. Rinse and repeat. What comes up again and again?

• Take a walk.

• Stop surfing for inspiration. Skimming over the top of other people’s hills will not help you find your mountain.

• Take a break from what you’re doing, and look at role models who inspire you. What is it about their work that you admire? Distill that. Go deep.

It takes patience, and along the way we make many errors, and that’s all right. I’m going to follow my friends’ advice and take a walk now, maybe do some daydreaming. See you later, gators.

– M


Some art in this post is available as stationery, apparel, and other printed goods. Click on an image to learn more.

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