In one particular episode of House of Cards, a group of monks were invited to the white house for a one-month exchange. They spent their days painstakingly creating an intricate sand mandala, their work visible to any passerby on the lobby floor. Their focus was unwavering.
At the end of the month, they'd created a delicate, beautiful work of art constructed completely from sand grains. After a short ceremony, one of the monks took a brush and lovingly swept each side of the circle inwards, smearing all the sand into a multicolored pile in the center, which was transferred into a simple jar.
At the end of the month it was as though they'd never been there at all. I couldn't help but think of the many hours the monks had spent making the sand mandala only to have it all swept away.
It's something I've been wrestling with this month. How do we stay joyful in the process without attachment to the end result?
I think we naturally gravitate towards attachment when we spend hours creating something. We tend to want it to live on in the world, because a part of us lives in it. The hours of creation are our lifeblood, because we're all granted the same time in a day. It's what we do with those hours, minutes, and seconds that determine our lives.
But what if creation itself was a separate entity. What if creation was a joy, in and of, itself?
What if everything you created, you had to destroy after its completion? I think about writing stories, crafting worlds and words that make my heart spin, and then having to hit delete at the end of every day.
How many of us might stop creating altogether because of the pointlessness of it all?
The Tibetan Buddhist monks ritualistically create, and then ritualistically dismantle, their creation as a symbol of the transitory nature of material life. The jar of sand is taken to a river and released back into nature.
At first, this process made me sad. So much work, and nothing to show. But that's what the process is about. It's finding the joy in the creation, not in the showing of the end result.
And when I thought about it more, this belief that the mandala has been swept away is just an illusion. We are the creativity. We are the vehicles for the muses. We pluck inspiration from the ether. It's all around us. Everything within the mandala still exists in us. The well of creativity where that came from doesn't get swept away down the river. It remains in us, always.
We contain the memories of cities, of fairytales, of ancient relics, of colored sand, and strings of words hung together like pearls. Something created never dies, because it lives on in us, shaping us, becoming a part of our story, being woven into the fabric of the world.
Create. Create. Create.
Because it's in creation that we find ourselves.
*This article, and audio, first appeared on zzoccolante.com