The rush of inspiration feels wonderful, as a new idea floods our senses and we get excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. Then comes the wake-up call of hard work. Inspiration must be replaced with perspiration if you want to create something (“you got big dreams? you want fame? Well fame costs. And right here’s where you start paying…in sweat“). My martial arts teacher sometimes quotes Bruce Lee, who said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10000 times”. There is tremendous excitement in the joy of discovering something new, whether it is a new kick, yoga move, creative idea or business technique. If we want to do something with it, however, we have to get our hands dirty with some hard work and perseverance.
The mystics recognised the need for inspiration, but also the need for taking action. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi described how we can burn brightly with passionate fire, but if a flame does not have a wick and the wick is not being fed by oil, or wax in the sense of a candle, that fire will go out (1). He explained that in a spiritual sense, our good deeds are like the oil, we are like a wick and the fire is Divine light that we draw down from above.
This metaphor can be extended to our working lives in a very practical way: What are you currently trying to build in your life? Initial inspiration may take you to expand your business, launch a creative project or do something powerful for your community and help change the world. But in a world where creativity is rewarded, instant gratification is the modus operandi, and the idea of planning and working on details is undervalued, this however, is exactly what stops many entrepreneurs from growing their businesses the way they would like to, and prevents plenty of people from realising their goals. When things move more slowly and the results you are creating are not in accordance with what you have planned, that is the time to go back to your plan and check that you are doing everything that you had intended. These plans are the ‘oil’ that fuel the flames of success.
One challenge faced by playwrights is how to write a compelling Second Act. A traditional three-act structure consists of using Act One to set up the story, give the narrative its initial thrust and set up the Big Questions that will be answered in Act Three. The final act is full of exciting twists and hopefully bringing the story together in a way that will delight the viewer. The problem is Act Two, which demands building out the characters, adding depth and moving along the plot. In David Mamet’s treatise on playwrighting, ‘Three Uses of the Knife’, the great American dramatist exposed the difficulty of writing a second act. Everybody loves beginning a story with the flourish of Act One and then bringing it home to an exciting conclusion with a compelling Act Three, but Act Two is just plain hard work as it demands fleshing out characters, plots and details.
There is a ‘second act’ in the Book of Exodus. As a whole, the story is about drawing down Divine Light, creating a physical dwelling place for Divine energy (2), but the second act, specifically, is all about details: building materials, measurements, blueprints and layouts.
We can focus all of this in a simple question. What are you trying to build, and what currently is not working? Personally, I have found that it is always easier to get distracted by the latest project that is glittering and inspiring, rather than seeing through the thought-out plans delete “that we” made earlier on. Though we love seeing the bright sparks of a flame, the brightness fades quickly without sufficient fuel. Building takes time, but it takes effort. There is always a cost when we get distracted from our ultimate plan. It has variously been said that ‘God is in the details’ and ‘the devil is in the details’. Whatever your perspective, if the flames of inspiration are not based in solid plans and built from the ground upwards, the fire can quickly flicker and fade away. Burn brightly!
NOW TO APPLY THE IDEA…
BUSINESS: What is your big vision? What are the small details you need to follow to bring this into reality?
MEDITATION: Meditate upon the question: where are you currently not following through on big plans? Where are you losing attention on details?
YOGA: Focus on drawing down breath and oxygen to feed the fire within (sanskrit: tapas). As you move through postures, focus on the smaller details, i.e. foot posture, placement of your gaze (drishti).
Debbie Allen hits it home in the ‘Fame’ remake.
(1) See Chapter 49 of Sefer Tanya.
(2) “Make for me a dwelling place and I will dwell within them” – Exodus 25:8