Close to the Ground: “The Answer is ‘Yes’”

Close to the Ground: “The Answer is ‘Yes’”

Devote Yourself to Your Own Goal

If you stood next to him in an elevator, you would see a handsome man whose shock of white-gray hair, sparkling eyes, and casually expensive clothes suggest a venture capitalist visiting from California, maybe, or someone who owns a string of locavore restaurants along the coast.

Robert Burridge is neither. Instead, he is a prolific artist. From morning until late at night, he creates fabulous, bursting-with-color acrylic paintings. When he isn’t in his studio, he teaches around the world, judges art competitions, and prepares for his own museum shows. Standing next to him in that elevator, you would feel his happiness. The man shines.

To get to happy, Bob had to give up his career as the head of an extremely successful California design firm. As he tells the story, he was chugging along until he caught a television interview with philosopher Joseph Campbell. Something about Campbell’s classic advice, “follow your bliss,” stopped him in his tracks. Campbell was offering people permission to be exactly who they were and to trust themselves when it came to figuring out what that meant.

Bob took the advice and never looked back.

If you are lucky enough to take an art class from Bob, you will be struck by his unwavering insistence that you trust yourself. Seek his advice about a project, and you’ll always get the same response: “If you are asking the question, the answer is ‘yes.’” Bob even hands out Post-it Notes that have YES written in block letters on them.

This is a life-changing message.

It’s no different than what the Buddha taught more than 2,500 years ago. On his deathbed, after some 45 years of teaching and with his last words to his followers, the Buddha insisted that they simply trust themselves to know what they need to do, minute by minute, to live enlightened, joyous lives. “Each of you should make yourself an island unto yourself.” Then he reminded them that everything he had taught up to that point would help them with this effort. Mindfulness. The path of morality. Loyalty to family and friends. Generosity. In fact, Buddha’s last words are echoed by Campbell’s: “Please strive for your own goal, devote yourselves to your own goal. Dwell diligent, ardent, and self-controlled for your own good.” Follow your bliss.

Sitting in the quiet of an early morning at Laughing Moon Hermitage, it occurs to me that we’ve somehow forgotten this teaching and how central it is to our own happiness.

This is a mistake.

When we heed the Buddha’s advice and give ourselves permission to follow our bliss, whatever it is, the world opens its arms to us in ways we can’t possibly imagine. (A good clue as to whether something is really our bliss is to ask one question. Is it healing? If it isn’t, it isn’t bliss.) We start to paint and suddenly find ourselves teaching an art class for preschoolers because they also like finger painting. We begin to write every day—not a blog, but handwritten letters to everyone in our extended family just so they can receive genuine snail mail before it is too late. Out of the blue, someone wants to publish the letters. We realize that we are tired of living alone and organize a house we can share with four other foodies. Sunday nights become a “pop-up” restaurant because we’re always cooking too much food. Next step? Food truck. In this season of wishes for the new year, I wish you so many “yeses” that you can’t keep up with your own excitement. And may you pass it on.

Robert Burridge’s Creativity Warm-Up

Warm-ups are worth their weight in gold when it comes to opening the creativity spigot. This one takes less than five minutes and works for writers, painters, composers—OK, everybody! You need an old thesaurus, crayons, and three sheets of paper. Line the sheets up on a table. Then close your eyes, open the book, and point to a word. Then for one minute only, draw whatever image it invokes on the first piece of paper. Or scribble down a handful of free-association words. Repeat the exercise with two more words. (Since I use crayons for this I save my warm-up sheets for wrapping small gifts.) Now you are ready to go.

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