I re-read The War of Art a few times a year.
Each time, it’s a completely different book. And that’s because I’m a completely different Oliver.
Lines I never noticed much before suddenly leap out of the page at me. Lines I thought I understood previously are now imbued with new meaning.
But some of the lines leapt out the very first time I read it, and they continue to leap out. One of them is from the Baghavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text.
It says: “We have a right to our labour, but not to the fruits of our labour.”
Looking back on the highs and lows of my 28 years on the planet, I can discern an undeniable pattern.
When I feel good about life, it is because I am doing things for their own sake – I am labouring for labour’s sake.
When I feel shitty about life, it is because I am doing things only for what I imagine they might bring me in the future – I am labouring merely to get to the fruits.
Sometimes I’ll go for months before I realise I’m getting it all wrong. But when I find a way to get back on track, oh boy, suddenly life is worth living again.
Another thing I’ve noticed time and time again is that when I labour just for the fruits, the fruits actually dry up. They are repelled by my desperate stench. So I get neither the joy of the labour nor the joy of the fruits! Or, sometimes, I do get the fruits, just like I wanted, only they taste bitter and I don’t want them any more.
When I find myself labouring for labour’s sake, on the other hand, there never seems to be any shortage of fruit. Furthermore, I don’t have to go and pick it – the fruit seems to just come to me, sometimes through unusual and unexpected channels.
What’s needed? A calm, cursory glance towards the future every now and then, just to check we’re not heading towards disaster, and then back to the present. Back to trying to do a good job for its own sake. That’s all.