Ebb and Flow

Life does not occur on a level plane. There are inevitable highs and lows. Yet this is what gives to life value, and preserves the sanctity of wonder, joy and beauty, so they are not reduced to a monotonous existence, an impoverished understanding of life. Life has what I might call a natural and necessary ebb and flow. This is evident in the changing seasons of life. There is a circularity in the yearly repetition of special occasions and holidays. However, there is also a singularity to these events: they happen once in the entire cycle of days, and their value would be denigrated if instead they were constantly recurring.

This is true of both the creative and the spiritual life (since the two are inextricably connected). Creative ascent is so named because it involves a movement above the normalcy of life. The creative individual is given this unique ability to transcend his human capacity and earthly height, in order to see from a higher perspective. To me, this sort of miraculous rise (and by miraculous I mean creative or spiritual insight that seems to go beyond the limits or processes of reason) can be compared to the climber’s trek up the mountain.

Beginning at the base of the mountain, the way towards the top is arduous and long. The route to the summit cannot be reached instantly, nor can it be reached without effort or preparation. The climber must too be prepared for great risk, aware that his efforts, no matter how perfect, may amount to nothing, or be rendered meaningless by greater forces which he cannot control. Furthermore, the way to the top does not provide clearer sight but instead a field of vision that is frequently obscured. The air pressure begins to increase as we become further removed from where we once were. As a result, it is harder to breathe. Something so taken for granted as breathing, with its incessant motion occurring most often without our mental participation, now requires effort and struggle. Similarly, energy is lost much more quickly: the smallest of steps seem to squander most of our bodily reserve. For much of this time, perhaps, we know we are headed towards the destined higher place, but we cannot see just where we are going, especially not as time stretches out with interminable elasticity.

But if and when the climber does indeed reach the top, the satisfaction (one must imagine) is unimaginable. From this point- the very highest point of the mountain, among the highest of points humans are capable of reaching while still bound to earth- the sight before their eyes is unfathomable. Unfolding before them are tiny yet far-stretching landscapes, colours and shapes of places and people that unite in the fullness of this vision. The climber feels that, through his own effort and the cooperation of nature, he has reached not only the summit of the mountain but the summit of his goals as well, and the promised awe-inspiring view from the very top. Such a view can be pinned down within the four corners of a photograph or relayed in breathless detail to a friend, but the experience can never be fully shared or communicated unless it has been lived. However, the climber takes this thrill, this beauty, this vision within himself and it becomes a part of him in this way, long after he has descended to the base of the mountain.

In my analogy, the summit of the mountain is, of course, the moment of creative or spiritual inspiration. Such moments often follow physical effort and preparation of the mind and heart, but they also require divine participation. While it is true that one does not always need to “journey” up the mountain in order to receive this spark of inspiration, it is also true that if journeying towards particular creative goals or any kind of self-improvement, the way is often arduous and obscured. There are times of bleakness and weariness, and in these times it may be unclear whether or not one is moving up or down, or really even moving at all. The individual may lose sight of their goals, lose sight even of the hope or light that sparked them to begin this journey in the first place. However, these difficulties, these seemingly mundane and fruitless periods are often but the necessary precursors to creative or spiritual enlightenment. And how much infinitely more rewarding is the arrival at the “summit” after a prolonged period of darkness or uncertainty? The light and the dazzling vision it unveils are even more startlingly beautiful and “good” because they can be differentiated from their opposite, of which the individual has also seen and tasted.

During moments of creative inspiration, the individual is able to transcend, in a sense to move beyond their natural abilities to unite with a grander vision. Such a vision provides a deep joy and fulfillment. However, the thrill of this vision cannot be sustained in perpetuity. Although the human is made in the divine image of God, he also cannot stay forever on this mountain top while still belonging to earth. Just as the mountain climber enjoys and appreciates the beauty of the view and yet must descend since the spot is not sufficient for his earthly needs, the individual must naturally emerge from the moment of inspiration and descend to what feels like the “ordinary” and mundane again.

Such a beautiful vision may make the rest of life seem dull or unsatisfying, but we must understand that the very beauty and magnificence of these “high points” are founded on their rarity and separation from regular life. Whether we are at the base of the mountain or lost somewhere in the middle, there are always echoes of this divine creative presence and the beauty of the vision. However, if we are pining always for these heights, we miss the ordinary beauty before us and neglect to share the vision with others, in whatever small measure we can. Life is an ebb and flow and this leads to periods of seeming stagnation and periods of sheer luminescence. Although we desire to reach the summit, true peace and happiness come when we accept the cycle of life and abandon ourselves to the journey which has been planned specifically for us. By doing this, we are able to embrace the circumstances of our life, no matter how bleak or seemingly insignificant they are, trusting ever in this promise of hope, even when it is not confirmed by sight.