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The Absolute Self

“No matter what the art, the most important thing is to establish who you really are. That is, move from the ego-centered self to the absolute self.” — Awa Kenzo, Zen Bow, Zen Arrow

When I was a teenager I tried my hand at welding in a class. I found it thrilling to take a torch and create something with it. As a novice, my work was pretty basic, but I felt the potential of the craft. Alas, I haven’t picked up a welding torch since then, choosing a pencil and eventually a keyboard for my artistic expression.

Once, when I was in my mid-twenties, I visited the home of an artist who crafted large sculptures out of commonplace steel he’d acquire at a local junkyard. He used a torch very similar to that I’d tried out a decade before, and for a moment I was startled by the realization that I could tap into that ember of fascination with the craft to become a sculptor myself. And then I remembered all the reasons it was completely impractical at that stage of my life and I released it from my mind as something to pursue.

Just this summer, I found myself on a small island on a lake talking to another artist who uses a torch (along with a paintbrush) to create his own unique and beautiful art. It reminded me once again of that moment as a young teen, and the choices I’ve made in my pursuits since then. I don’t mourn the choice not to pursue that particular craft, but I’m struck by how it pops up again and again in my life. It feels like unfinished business in a way. Perhaps something to take up one day when I retire (I’m sure that would go over well with my bride if I began hauling old auto parts into the garden to fully express myself).

The thing is, at each stage of my life that I encountered the craft, my ego told me to take another direction, towards a career, towards respectable ladder-climbing, away from artistic expression. The art, whatever its form, remains incomplete. And so I write every day to put something of myself out there in the world. The portfolio is incomplete, as the artist is a work in progress.

We are each pursuing our spark of light in this maddening and sometimes dark world. We tend to lean towards the ego-centered self, forgetting the absolute, and yet it keeps popping up in our lives, as if to remind us that there’s still time to establish who we really are. We are each sculpting our identity and who we are becoming. We ought to lean into the absolute, and away from the ego. If only to see where it leads us.

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