When you’ve become a victim of your own success and you face the existential void of having no tasks on the calendar.
I have a much easier life than most. And I’m not comparing myself with the 3rd world either. I’m talking ‘bout the U.S. I have a much easier life than most Americans. And I’m not talking about the “great downtrodden masses” either. I’m talking even compared to most rich folks.
I’ve structured my life to be as streamlined and simple as possible, to be free 24/7 to work on my films. No children, no car payments, no hobbies, no house repairs or yard work… hell, I barely even clean house anymore – I’d rather pay someone else. Everything easy and convenient.
When I’m really focused on my work with Warrior Films all that’s great. When I’m totally out of my mind possessed with creative juice that arrangement is even better. Like Picasso. He was legendary for getting up even in the middle of meals with family and friends to go to the studio and work.
But what happens if you’re not possessed? Or not any longer? I used to be able to work diligently for months on self-designed projects. Get up every day – write. Get up every day – edit. Get up every day – plan, fulfill tasks, sell, sell, sell! So what is my excuse now? Now that I’ve created the perfect life for myself – perfect woman, perfect home, perfect location, perfect lifestyle, perfect company employees, I’m my own perfect boss… There’s nothing else for me to do but perfect work. And now I can’t seem to do it.
I once read that extroverts need outside structures to fruitfully sustain their work. They need deadlines, bosses, schedules. Introverts are self-motivated; they best design their own work flow. Historically, you could say I’m more introverted. I certainly have designed my own projects, deadlines, and delivery dates. Since I was a teen I’ve only occasionally and for very brief periods worked for other people and institutions. Like Sisyphus, I’ve gotten a certain amount done each day to roll a certain boulder to the top of some new mountain. I’ve always had an intuitive, if not totally structured, sense of “here’s what I need to do next.”
But I’ve also recently learned that I have ADD. Like extroverts, as a person with ADD, I know it’s important for me to have structure. To get up each day with a list of tasks that need to be accomplished, even if it’s a general task like edit the film. The key for me is to always have something(s) practical to work on and accomplish that day: write a proposal, do a budget, watch a film and give feedback, make fundraising calls… It almost doesn’t matter what the tasks are. Just so they can be ticked off.
But I’ve managed to become a victim of my own success. I’ve successfully offloaded and streamlined so many tasks that now, suddenly, without a project to work on or start, I’ve got nothing to do! And when I’ve got nothing to do there’s only one thing that looms before me – The Great Abyss.
The Great Abyss is the name I have given the existential void I find myself in when there are no tasks in my datebook. What awaits me down in the Great Abyss? Unneeded reviews of my life, self-recrimination, self-pity, and ultimately, inevitably, despair. Do I get the irony of this? Yes. When so many people, the vast, vast majority of beings on the planet feel like there’s too much to do in a day, I occasionally confront the problem of not having enough.
I made the decision that I was not going to develop any new projects or make any more movie trailers. This may be a contributing factor to The Great Abyss. At this moment I have about ten projects that I’ve written, researched, developed. They’re all ready or very near ready to go into production. Two of them are feature films. The rest are one-off documentaries; there’s also a TV series and a mini-series. About four years ago I told myself there’s no further need to develop new projects. What I need to do is focus more on getting one made. Chop wood, carry water, make a film. Stop dreaming about new ones. In my astrological horoscope I have an even balance across three of the four elements: water, fire, and air. Fine. But no earth. If I’m not careful, I’ll drift indefinitely through the visions in my head and not bring any of them back to earth and realize them in 3 dimensions.
So is now the time to take one of the ten off the shelf and commit to getting it made, like Sisyphus, no matter what? Or is now the time to turn a not-feeling-particularly-fertile mind loose and start something completely new? The hell with my earlier commitment?
Is there fear involved, the paralysis of starting a new project? Certainly. But I begin every project with a heightened level of fear so it’s nothing I’m not already familiar with.
I don’t know. I also wonder, is this indecision, this not knowing, a function of burnout? Quite possibly. Though it’s only been 6 months since I finished four short films last year it’s been a whopping 6 years since finishing JOURNEY FROM ZANSKAR. The point is I always feel burned out when I finish a film. That state of psychic unwillingness to begin something new can last for a while. In fact, it usually lasts until… I begin something new!
Can meditation help? It certainly can and does when I reach the bottom of the Abyss and succumb to despair. Meditation always brings me back from what seems real in my head to what’s real in real life. But if I’m not feeling despair then meditation can actually make things worse. I can and do meditate every day and remind myself that bliss is my human inheritance, that life truly is a wonder and most problems are of my own creation by viewing what’s real as somehow wrong or insufficient. But meditation can also make me spacey. Even as it grounds me in the moment it can diminish my sense of purpose, my drive. That’s why I tend to think of most forms of silent sitting meditation as very Yin practices. Chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” like SGI practitioners do, is one of the few Yang Buddhist practices I know of. I usually need more Yang.
Yang. That “male” energy of drive, purpose, commitment. That “F— it! I’m going for it!” energy. That chop wood, carry water, but move your ass resolve. That’s what I need! And there’s only a few places I know to get it.
To be continued…
Originally Published at WarriorFilms.org
Photo: Getty Images