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There’s a Tibetan Buddhist tradition where monks spend days building beautiful mandalas of sand, illustrating various principles. Then at the end of this long ritual, they destroy the entire thing. It is a nicely evocative example of the impermanence of all things – and a lesson to writers and artists.
Imagine you are making a mandala, knowing it will be destroyed. You craft it perfectly, knowing it’s impermanent. Every step is temporary, each precise.
Imagine working as people gather around you, in awe, looking at it, wondering. They marvel art artistry, think over the meaning, ask questions. Then they go on their way.
Then you spin it or scrape it away or let the wind come in and it’s all gone.
That’s very likely to be your book – any book. That’s likely to be your art – any art. Few of us will be spoken of in centuries, let alone years ,let alone ever. We’re unlikely to be Kameron Hurley or Terry Pratchett or any of the other greats. We’re temporary things, but in the end we’ll be sand – and even the greats will probably stick around a bit longer before they’re footnotes and records.
It’s worth it.
First, it’s worth it because art is what you do. That is your expression. That is who you are. Be it for religion or creativity or to speak or even money, that’s you and what you do.
Second, it’s what you learn by doing this. The craft, the knowledge, the self-reflection. Each step in your own impermanent work tells you something more. Each step changes you – because you too are an impermanent, shifting, collection, so make it a good one.
Finally, it’s that crowd gathered around you, watching and learning. They may not take home the mandala, they may not see it again. But they’ll think, and learn, and contemplate. You may just touch hearts – they don’t need to take a picture or have their own copy to do that.
What many of us artists can hope for is not immortality as creators – and it’s not what we should hope for. In these impermanent moments we leave behind something greater, not as a work praised for the ages, but in influencing ourselves and others. Just because your book is forgotten a year or two from now, doesn’t mean it didn’t matter or have an effect.
It’s pretty much the same as how I take the Buddhist idea of Projected Karma – that thing that has an influence down the road. Influence of action, not permanence of creation.
Just like the Mandala teaches, so can you work. It doesn’t have to be forever – and indeed it shouldn’t be. Nothing is, and clinging to past forms, worn and tired, isn’t immortality, it’s a specific kind of hell.
Let the sand be sand. Don’t mummify your creativity in the hope people will stare at it dumbly, unmoved, un-involved. Let it be a living thing and go where it may, even when it may die.
Think of how liberating that is.