Winter #5: Living Amends
How creative acts help restore the world (plus a particularly random selection of links).
Welcome to Winter, Issue #5 of Making Time. Each week, I share a seasonal perspective on the creative process. This month, my theme is Structure. If you’d like to follow along on this year-long experiment, you can subscribe for free.
Recently, I finished reading Faith, Hope and Carnage, a series of conversations between musician Nick Cave and journalist Sean O’Hagan. It’s a heartbreaking book, covering art, creative expression, religion, grief, and love. I came away from it with a real sense of the ultimate fragility of life, and how an awareness of that fragility can lead to more kindness and compassion towards the world and all the people in it.
A few days after I finished the book, I had a conversation with some friends about grief. When you go through the catastrophe of loss, you begin to feel that there are the “before times” and the “after times”. Something cracks open inside of you that cannot be put back together. It’s horrendously difficult, but there’s a gift that comes along with it, if you want it. That gift is to really truly see that we all have to suffer, we all have deep pain – or will someday.
In other words, suffering deepens compassion. And grief is not only the worst form of suffering for most of us, it is universal.
These themes float throughout the book. But something stood out to me at the very end, when he posits that his music is a form of “active atonement.” He says:
“It can be a way of redressing the balance somehow by explicitly putting good into the world, the best of ourselves. And, of course, that requires the participation of the world.”
He goes on to talk about regrets, these things that we carry with us constantly:
“They require our attention. You have to do something with them. One way is to seek forgiveness by making what might be called living amends, by using whatever gifts you may have in order to help rehabilitate the world.”
This idea, that each of us has our own gifts, and that we can use them to create something that improves the world, reminds me of this quote from Martha Graham:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.”
But this idea goes beyond offering your gifts to the world. He is talking about atonement. With atonement, we must acknowledge that we have damaged the world and the people and creatures around us. But we can also take all the suffering we experience and turn it into a gift that lightens the burden for someone else. In that way, we help to restore balance in the world.
It reminded me of this from Shunryu Suzuki:
“The reason everything looks beautiful is because it is out of balance, but its background is always in perfect harmony. This is how everything exhists in the realm of Buddha nature, losing its balance against a background of perfect balance.”
There is an invisible balance, and our suffering is a part of that balance. When we create something out of our suffering, however we are able and whatever form it takes, however imperfect it looks up close, it helps to restore the world.
Head, Heart, Hands
Things to make us think, feel, and do.
She dressed Kate Bush, need we say more? I’d never heard of this designer, but that quilted gold dress!
Holly Whitaker’s thoughts on loneliness feels quite real to me, having moved to the woods and also being exceptionally bad at meeting people (or, you know, leaving my house). I’m trying, though.
This video of a Canadian bull moose shedding its antlers is so cool. Don’t you just want to shake off the stuff you don’t need like that?
I referenced it above, but I just finished Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, which is the sort of book I’m sure I could reread over and over and absorb something new each time.
How to make a DIY custom pinboard for under $100. I love having a pinboard in my office (it’s an entire wall).
I like that this lampshade looks like it’s wearing a cute little skirt. Covering lampshades seems like a great project for scraps.
If you don’t already know this about me, I’m a big Bruce Sprinsteen fan. Recently, I’ve been listening to the Born in the USA album over and over, and it is just so good. It’s full of huge hits, but every song reverberates with so much frustration, anger, and tension. In particular, Downbound Train has been echoing in my head. Probaby the best song on the album, and that’s saying something.
This is a particularly random collection of links for the week, yet somehow highly representative of me. Hope you enjoy.
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Suffering does change us, and I say that from experience. I was forever changed by my daughter’s suicide, and yes I gained compassionate for people in general and for her young son in particular, though not as much for myself. That particular ache is more difficult to accept. I have noticed that when I am creating I am more at peace with myself, even if it is simply creating good food, a wardrobe for myself and a welcoming home for family and friends. But the idea that creating in itself contributes to the world, bringing balance to a sorry world, well that does give me comfort and encourages me to keep at it.