Letting It Happen
Today's Sunday Letters article is an extract from The Artist's Manifesto chapter three and looks at the contrast between letting it happen versus making it happen. The popular advice and resultant often unchallenged perceptions are that if something is to materialise in our experience then we've got to make it happen. It's as if our precise detailing and planning are paramount and without them, we fail. But this is a false idea. Often, it is our allowing things to happen on their own, our detachment from the result is what brings us to those experiences we crave.
Becoming recognised and applauded for our work, even if only by a handful of people, is something to which all creatives aspire.
To belong, to be accepted, to be surrounded by appreciation and to be resonated with are some of the basic human needs.
However, without vigilance, that need for love and esteem can result in the realisation of the exact opposite of what we want; lack of success, empty pockets, isolation, frustration and bewilderment with the very work we have been designed to do.
So do we forget about success?
Do we attempt to rid ourselves of desire?
Is ambition a fools game?
The answer may seem too simple, even counterintuitive, but to become fulfilled, psychologically, creatively and practically from the work we do, we must forget about the outcome.
Tomorrow never gets here and to pursue a future based ideological version of ourselves through the achievement of some experience or material possession, is ultimately unfulfilling.
The Principle of Purposeful Accident and the nine dichotomous aspects that comprise it suggests that if we disconnect from the need to have results appear a particular way, we might realise the notoriety, love and acceptance we crave after all.
I'd Rather A Surprise
Some of the most significant life experiences I can bring to mind came about without any conscious planning on my part.
Meeting and marrying Joanne, having our children, buying our house, making money, and starting a business are some of those.
Now that I am older and somewhat wiser, I see that all these things and more, came into my experience by dreaming dreams and doing what I was drawn to do with little doubt of whether I could succeed or not.
In the early days, blinded by naive enthusiasm, a metric of success was not at the forefront of my mind.
There may have been an idea of that in the minds of onlookers, but for me, there was no other reason to work than the freedom I had gained by starting a business.
Mind you that did change.
When I was 25, I felt hemmed in by my job, restricted. I couldn't grow.
So I started working for myself.
I borrowed five grand from the bank, bought some tools and a 1995 maroon Ford Fiesta van and began with zero doubt that I could make a good living.
Merely taking the step to do my own thing, in truth, felt like I was already successful.
I was excited and thrilled that I was my own boss.
The work I initially gathered was small and fecky, but within six months of starting, the phone rang with an opportunity that would take my income exponentially upwards.
I had landed a large project with a multinational corporation and hired my first staff member.
A Silk Purse From A Sow's Ear
I didn't plan that, it just occurred as a natural consequence of following my nose and doing what I wanted to do.
I didn't need to make things happen.
All I needed to do was follow my gut and do what I was inspired to do without resistance or fear of an adverse outcome.
There was a process of which I was a part, but it was not a linear one that could be broken down step by step.
Rather it was a complex, multifaceted process with too many moving parts to possibly identify.
Regarding work, I needed to develop skills, of course, tools of the trade that took 12 or 13 years or more of daily practice to establish.
I still had much to learn about business and the technicalities of being self-employed. But the seed had been planted, and the scene had been set, and there was little in my way except myself.
I would leap out of bed in the morning full of enthusiasm.
I was thrilled to be setting out my own stall. Contrastingly, as soon as I began “trying” to build a better business, it all began to unravel.
Now, I have detailed that for you already so I won't bore you any further in that regard.
The critical thing to get across here is that apparently “good” and “bad” things come about in our experience by merely doing what we do.
The measure of the result can be made in advance, however, by assessing how energised and engaged we feel in the process.
As the old Scottish saying goes; you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear.
Purposeful Accident In Action
Perhaps the most notable demonstration of Purposeful Accident showed itself when my wife and I bought our first house together.
I've told the story before, but let me tell you it again.
Fifteen years ago I lived with Joanne in Blanchardstown, west Dublin. It was a rough kind of kip.
There was a lot of social housing where we lived, facilities were run down, and crime was prominent.
Next door to us the neighbours liked to party hard, and drugs were always in the mix. Bogey looking dudes would regularly be seen toing and froing at all hours of the day and night.
One night our house was raided by the cops searching for a stash that, evident to us, was most undoubtedly located next door.
Another night, a local hard man was shot in the face and killed in the nearby pub.
Needless to say, after that incident we developed a strong desire to find a better place to live.
So I went searching online and after about a month found a three bedroom semi-detached house 15 mins drive from the city.
It looked ok to me, nothing special, but it was the right price, so I decided to book a visit with the auctioneer.
It was evening time when we met at the property, just coming into summer and days were getting longer. Mature silver birch lined the road and the milky evening sun flickered through the leaves as I drove towards the house.
I walked in the door of the vacant, very run down property and knew instantly that this place was for us.
The auctioneer was an older grey haired gentleman with a deep voice, nearing retirement from what I could tell.
He had a calmness and steadiness about him, and he made an impression on me. There was no hard sell or usual sales bullshit you expect from a commission-hungry younger salesperson.
He just showed the house and answered my questions.
Everything seemed right that evening, and I had a good feeling about the place as I drove away. I told Joanne I had found our new home and the next day we made a bid.
Joanne didn’t have time to view the house with me, but she trusted my judgement.
A couple of weeks passed when the auctioneer eventually called. “The is out of probate and family want to move it fast. There’s nobody else bidding, so if you are willing to go 5k more they are willing to sell to you,” he said.
We increased our offer by 5k, and we closed the sale on the same day.
Now for the interesting bit…
Now there’s nothing remarkable in this per se, other than it was 2006 and the housing boom was at its height here in Ireland.
People were queueing around the block for properties at that time.
It was in a prime location, close to the city centre and ten mins from the M50 circular route so it was extraordinary that we were the only ones in the picture.
Anyway, we secured the sale, and within a few weeks, we received the keys.
We spent a ton of money renovating it, and by the end of the summer, we had moved in.
It has been such a great place for us, and our three kids to live and provided me with the only real sanctuary during the proceeding ten years of business and financial turbulence. For that alone, I am forever grateful.
For months Joanne and I would have mail come through the letterbox for Anne Doyle.
We noted to each other that Anne must have been the lady who lived here and wondered what she must have been like.
One ordinary afternoon, my wife was talking with the next door neighbour about Anne Doyle and her husband Jack. Jack had died some years before, and Anne lived in the cold house on her own before she became ill.
According to our neighbour, Anne was unable to care for herself, so her family moved her to a nursing home in the countryside.
Two years passed and from the nursing home, her deteriorating health took her to the local Connolly Hospital, Redwood Ward where she later died.
The house went up for sale shortly after that.
Redwood Ward specialised in caring for older patients, most of whom were on their way out. Joanne was a nurse, in Connolly Hospital, Redwood ward – The penny dropped.
Suddenly she remembered the old woman she had nursed through her final days.
All that time we watched Anne Doyle’s mail come through the door, it never clicked, but as the neighbour told the story, it all came back in a flash.
Joanne remembered tending to Anne, talking with her, brushing her hair.
She remembered how much Anne loved having her hair brushed.
I got goosebumps all over. I realised the enormity and complexity of events that needed to conspire to make the purchase of no. forty-two happen, and it blew me away.
Even now, 15 years or so later as I write these lines, I can feel the enormity of it all.
I consider how we were in the process without any conscious, intentional involvement in the outcome.
We were in it, we influenced it and it also influenced us.
It was a mutually effective arrangement with an almost infinite number of moving parts, direct control over which we had very little.
We can say that the further beyond our direct sphere of influence things were, the less our degree of control.
Just imagine trying to consciously orchestrate something like that?
Time & Space
I have many more stories like this, both positive and negative events that came into my experience seemingly out of the blue.
Some would call these things the products of chance or luck.
Others would suggest that there was a linear process that can be figured and understood with retrospect.
I was just unaware of it. But I have come to realise that chance and luck have merely become the explanation we adopt for those things we cannot explain.
The notion of chance is a cheap account for the multifaceted, complex processes that occur deep within the black box of a broader, more intricate mind.
These processes are the basis for all human creativity, ones we can never ultimately understand and in fact, don't need to understand.
We should undoubtedly explore them because in that there is discovery and growth.
But to expect to realise completely what it is that makes any given circumstance occur is naive.
Because in reality, there are no separate events, only a continuous happening of a thing we call life.
There is no time or space. It is all happening now, unfolding in our experience.
There is no linearising for our limited forebrain understanding that which is a multidimensional and unknowable process.
However, society, and the broader economic industrial complex that drive it, has conditioned us to believe that we must plan our future.
As if there is a thing called future that we could ever design a route to, or indeed reach.
Tomorrow never gets here, and our lives are not linear, running from the day we are born to the day in the future when we die. For us, in this time-based mindset, it is an affront to our common sense to suggest that there is no future.
We have so entirely convinced ourselves that such a thing exists that we believe our present and future move out from the past and are dictated by our past behaviours.
We cite the linear concept of cause and effect as proof. In reality, the future and past move out of Now. Now is the only creative moment there is or will ever be and it is in that moment we live.
It is in that moment that all our creative power lies and when we project ourselves from it to the past or future without that understanding, we become lost.
The Happening Of Life
Life is happening whether we like it or not, and the truth is, often we will not like what it shows us.
But sometimes, and perhaps more than sometimes, if we are willing to look for it, life will surprise us with remarkable things. Perhaps all we must do is work in harmony with it.
Why do we believe that we need to control it?
Why are we so naive to think we can?
We are an aspect of a gestalt happening, part of something significantly more intelligent than the personality of I. The “I” I refer to is the surface level human being and its collective, the physical entity with an ego.
The reality we find so hard to see is that we are a part of, and contribute towards the greater intelligence.
We are not apart from it, we are it.
Despite our narrow perspective, life is not something we need to wrestle to the ground and dominate.
We are not dropped down here on this planet, aliens in a foreign world tasked with defeating our environment in order that we might prove our worth or justify our existence.
We might try it for a few generations and even get somewhere materially speaking.
But the gratification gained from material exploitation never lasts and we are left empty, wondering why we spent so many of our best years in pursuit of status and financial gain, focused outside ourselves and hardly ever on what really matters.
Besides, I don't know about you, but I like surprises.
Now with retrospect and the benefit of my mistakes, I wonder where is the enjoyment in knowing what's going to happen next?
Would you really plan your life to such an end degree if you could or would you rather be surprised?
Where's the fun in knowing what's going to happen next?
The thing is you can't plan it, so relax, immerse yourself in the work and just let it happen.