To a brave man, good and bad luck are like his right and left hands. He uses both.
For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin — real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.
You come to see . . . that suffering is required; and you no more want to avoid it than you want to avoid putting your next foot on the ground when you are walking. In the spiritual path, joy and suffering follow one another like two feet, and you come to a point of not minding which “foot” is on the ground. You realize, on the contrary, that it is extremely uncomfortable hopping all the time on the joy foot.
One is always seeking the touchstone that will dissolve one’s deficiencies as a person and as a craftsman. And one is always bumping up against the fact that there is none except hard work, concentration, and continued application.
Q: We write essays and stories all the time in school. It doesn’t seem like a very difficult thing to do. Is it?
A: Not at all. All you need is a perfect ear, absolute pitch, the devotion to your work that a priest of God has for his, the guts of a burglar, no conscience except to writing, and you’re in. It’s easy. Never give it a thought.
It is not hard work which is dreary; it is superficial work.
A devotee once complained to the great nineteenth-century saint Sri Ramakrishna about not having had any deep experiences of God. Sri Ramakrishna took him by the hand and led him to the ashram’s bathing pond. They both walked into the water until they were about waist deep, and Sri Ramakrishna then pushed the man’s head underwater with great force and held him there for nearly a minute. The man struggled and struggled, and finally the saint released his grip and the man emerged urgently from the water, gasping for breath. Sri Ramakrishna said to him, “When you want God as much as you wanted that next breath, you will see God.”
Once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle, you are equipped with the basic means of salvation.
Whenever I saw a rich person I would ask where his or her money was from, and invariably, or should I say inevitably, the answer was a natural resource, or else an unnatural resource. Oil was a common answer, or real estate, or steel — this was before computers. The answer was never the answer you wanted to hear. The answer was never “Poetry — their money’s from poetry, Fran.” Or “That’s one of the great essay fortunes in this country.”
No group or class should be freed from doing the toil of the culture. One of our current problems is that there are too many people who simply have no idea how much unpleasant, tedious, and repetitive work is required to support their “high-level” activities, and how ineffective they would be without the effort of those they all too often disdain.
Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal in life is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old-time rail journey — delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally with beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank God for letting you have the ride.
One of the great joys of being a painter is the pleasure of being so intimately connected with [the tradition of art]. . . . I mean, the longer you work, the more you appreciate what those marvelous painters did, and how damned good they are. And it’s a little bit of a paradox. You think, I think I’ll give up right now — I’ve seen the Vermeer show. But, he’s a human being like us, and, by God, you can just keep going!
It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.