My mother considers her birthday the start of her new year, and thus makes her new year’s resolutions at that time. My sense of time is different. Because winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, marks the start of days beginning to lengthen, it has always felt like the start of the next year, a more appropriate reset.
On this calendar, summer solstice is the midpoint. Perhaps this is why my birthday, which falls in midsummer, between solstice and Lammas, feels less like a beginning and more like a turning point. My birthday is the hinge of my year, when I consider what has resulted from my efforts thus far and in which direction(s) I wish to go for the remainder of the year.
Winter is my internal time, when I plan, scheme, and set intentions. Those sparks of inspiration often kindle larger fires: a business venture, a job, a relationship. But fires don’t burn by sparking—what fuels fires sustains flames far more powerful than what ignites the first sparks.
Given that the highest heat usually occurs after summer solstice, late July’s heat is an apt analogy for my hinging time. Lammas, at the beginning of August, is a harvest festival, during which people reap what they have sown, hopefully with enough proportion to provide food to store for winter. Halfway through the year, I have witnessed how and what my winter sparks have ignited. By that point, I tend to be in some of the strongest intensity, the highest heat. (Naturally, the season encourages this sensation as well.)
Not that I’m complaining—by choice, I like heat. Perhaps because my first season ex utero was humid Georgia summer—much like the watery, heated environment before birth. Heat is my most familiar, and it can be immeasurably satisfying. I feel productive and excited when doing intense work. I like to collaborate—whether writing, planning events, teaching, playing music. I prefer to be in the heat of any work (personal, creative, professional, etc) than in the chill of detachment. For example, I would rather get up at 5:00am to practice yoga than not witness myself day to day. Despite the intensity, the incessant literal and figurative sweating, I still feel more rejuvenated than I ever feel during winter. Sweat begets rebirth, like a baptism.
That said, sometimes heat frightens me. I worry that I’m not actually capable of realizing my intentions, that the pressure will overwhelm me. Emotions flare wildly; relationships become intense. At times I feel like I am standing in a literal fire, desperate to flee. Not a bad thing, that life becomes empassioned. But in those moments, the summerlike heat creates the greatest temptation, the best rationale to give up. So, the hinge of my birthday is the perfect metaphor, the time of year which parallels the heat, the pressure, the passion, the burning of what I do.
“If a [person] has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flambouyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work.” ~ Beryl Markham
I first encountered this quote in my senior year of high school; my parents used it for an ad in the yearbook. Life continues to prove that sentiment true—anything meaningful I have done has resulted from sustained efforts.
An obvious example is organizing Chantlanta, which requires months of planning: meetings, phone calls, other meetings, discussions, emails, more meetings, further discussions, subsequent emails, return phone calls, and still more meetings.
A subtler example is wishing love towards hateful people, whom I encounter more than I would like. But now I am hardly bothered by spiteful immaturity, such a competing business owner lying about what she does, in hopes to discredit to what I have done for years. Not harboring resentment or wishing her ill has taken years of practice: every day resolving to cultivate compassion and non-attachment. I am grateful for the liberation that accompanies transcendence, that I don’t expend any effort by projecting negativity.
Last month, while I was writing about inspiration, a friend shared an excellent article, “The Radical Journey of Commitment.” At first, inspiration and commitment seemed unrelated. But just as I was discovering synchronicities which taught me about inspiration, the article similarly showed me the potent connection between inspiration and commitment. I began to consider what happens after inspiration, what is kindled from those sparks.
“[I]f you’ve made a commitment to hang in there and crack the code and get it right,
the commitment itself will help you move through all those obstacles.
Our personal commitment engages that force in the universe that we call grace…
commitment itself will open the doors you need to mastery.
Passionate, consistent, committed activity releases an energy in us that is eventually mirrored in the outer world.” (emphasis added)
In other words, “not in one flambouyant hour.” So reassuring, that I don’t need to discover some brilliant strategy or truths yet unknown—simply that my commitment will reveal all that I need.
This journey of commitment is indeed radical—a word that I discovered can mean not just extreme, but also fundamental. This commitment fundamentally requires stamina and work beyond inspiration. Inevitably, inspiration is not enough. When I lack enthusiasm or feel inclined to procrastinate, I often consciously disregard the value of inspiration—I tell myself to do/work/learn/play/think/write anyway. Truly, the unconditional, radical “commitment itself” can also sustain, regardless of inspiration.
Spiritual practice reiterates this lesson every day. Recently someone told me, “Stephanie, you have yoga; you’re lucky you’re so grounded.” Because she was amidst a major personal crisis, I refrained from correcting her language. Many yoga practitioners avoid the expression “do yoga”—that it fails to represent that yoga, like many other spiritual traditions, is never mastered or owned. To many, the phrase implies a superficial experience with a profound tradition.
I add that the expression doesn’t include the requisite commitment that engenders a profound experience. Though they were not contemporaries, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Thomas Edison had similar summations about commitment:
“Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory.”
“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
I also didn’t mention to the same person that she probably cannot fathom my determination. I have gained much wisdom, confidence, inspiration, community, delight, and peace from my practice, but only because I treat it as such. Though I can easily get out of bed after sunrise, even on little sleep, I still struggle to get up in the dark, even after years of early mornings. So I set my alarm at 4:50am, so that I can use the snooze minutes to wake up more fully. I also don’t choose before bed whether or not I will wake up early; I simply go, without giving myself a chance to reconsider.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful [people] with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and dedication alone are omnipotent.”
I wonder if it’s a paradox to call this quote inspiring…. Not because I wish to discredit my opinions about inspiration, but simply to reiterate that inspiration is not the determining factor of our fullest potential.
Another yoga instructor made the analogy of commitment to spiritual practice with running a marathon, that many people quit just before sight of the finish line, even knowing how close they are to it. (I’m not a runner, nor do I know the accuracy of the statistic mentioned.) The article explains how to remain committed while still acknowledging doubts: “Different from giving up, surrendering in the context of a daily spiritual practice is the equivalent of having faith.” In other words, stay in the fire, even when the intensity seems unbearable. The commitment itself will sustain you.
Back to Lammas, at the crux of the heat. (Appropriately, some traditions celebrated it by setting a wheel on fire and rolling it down a hill.) For years, I have been standing in figurative fires: the pressure to earn a liveable, sustainable wage; the struggle to find meaningful time for friends, family, and creative projects; the wish to do useful work beyond my immediate circumstances. I recognize now the gift of standing in those flames. And rather than darting my eyes in search of escape, I should surrender, start smiling, raise my palms in gratitude. That surrender creates faith, which fuels my commitment further.
“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~ Viktor Frankl
SK © 2012