Beyond my own walls…
It’s Friday. It’s been another tough week in the world. And I am sitting here, in a dorm room at Kenyon College in Gambier, OH, getting ready to head out into the last day of an amazing conference for writers of all things spiritual, the Beyond Walls conference of the Kenyon Institute.
The oddest thing happened at the beginning of the week was that people asked me, over and over again, a question that I had not considered at all myself — why are you here? It may not seem an odd question to you, but I had not thought about that question with the intensity with which it was asked here. In fact, the first timesomeone asked, I really had to struggle for an answer. Now, at the end of the week, I realize that the answer was on a scrap of paper, sitting at home on my temporarily abandoned writing desk.
We’ve probably all been to at least one — you know, that workshop that invites us to focus our life and find our own meaning in our days by crafting a “personal mission statement.” It is a good exercise, for both individuals and organizations. It makes you think about your purpose; if you are a group of people, it makes you talk about things that might only be assumed and not really agreed upon. I have not, in the past, been a fan of such exercises, but I may have to change my mind about that.
Is it coincidence that, just before I left town, that I decided to clean out an old box of papers (I am knee-deep in my summer process of pitching and/or scanning things that have accumulated in mysterious piles over the last year). Is it a coincidence that, there I found just such an ages old mission statement ? Is it a coincidence that I would only understand that mission statement completely after a week in this place? But there and then it was was that I found a small, folded piece of paper that with these words:
To communicate, through musical performance, the beauty that reminds us of our commonality as members of the human community, and that lights that individual spark for each that binds us one to another in our experience of the universe.
I realized many things this week. I learned a lot about how I relate to the act of writing and the use of words. And in this learning, the fog has cleared just a bit. Most of all, I have come to understand, finally, the common thread of my talents and gifts. Funny thing, based on that mission statement text, that thread was already clear to me. I wrote about it long ago–it just needed a slight editing job. You see, I just needed to remove the limitation. I needed to go beyond my walls.
When I was swimming in the turgid soup that was the music business, I completely focused my every waking moment on my success as a paid musician. In our competitive secular society, we so often think that the only thing of value is something that we are paid to do. Don’t misunderstand, money is necessary and there is nothing wrong with receiving remuneration for your talents. For me, however, that cannot be the primary motivator.
And what is the motivator, you might ask? What drives me, what is my obsession? My week here has finally helped me understand the answer to that question. And as I say this, I feel a little bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz (you know, “there’s no place like home”), it is my drive is to communicate. The form is not so important — I communicate by listening and empathy as a spiritual director, I communicate through performance and song as a musician, I communicate through words as a writer. Simply said, I am called to communicate. So, with just a little edit to that mission statement from so long ago, I have something to carry forward:
To communicate the beauty that reminds us of our commonality as members of the human community, and that lights that individual spark for each that binds us one to another in our experience of the universe.
My time here at the Kenyon Institute has helped me see the walls I have built in my own life and the new friends that I have made here have held my hand as I kicked a few holes in the bricks of those walls. I am now ready to face the road ahead and I am increasingly grateful for the road that brought me here. I have a feeling that I will be back.