Transforming Core Values, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about three of the core values I recently chose for myself, to use as guidelines for my actions and reactions while I travel from Canada to France. Here, with the remaining four, I’m moving away from Buddhist territory and into the realm of Western self-help books. Still, for all the hokiness, it’s nice to be in touch with my own priorities—until they change completely yet again.

  1. Creativity

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

No shocker, to find “creativity” on an artists’ list of core values. Yet it’s a good reminder to myself not to take it for granted. A carpenter might never think to express gratitude for her own steady hands until they start to quiver. I only tend to write about creativity elegiacally, at the points of my life when it feels like my imagination has dried up (it happens a lot, so I write about it a lot). Better, I think, to shine a spotlight on it all the time, whether it’s with me or against me.

I’ve always felt most like myself when I’m writing, but for many years I felt like, if I wasn’t writing, I was failing. Worse yet, this pressure clashed with my other values, especially awareness. For awhile, I fought my own tendency to process all other artistic experiences through a creative lens. For example, I’d be watching a play and start reminiscing about the last play I directed, or daydreaming about the next play I might write, or both at once. Yet how could I do all that and still appreciate the play on its own terms?

The answer was to unask the question. Creativity is a chaotic force, and while it also takes order and discipline to turn imagination into art, the primal current isn’t something I can shut off at will. If a play is inspiring, that’s a good thing, and I can’t fight it. The point of including this value in my list is to be open to creative impulses, and courageous enough to follow them, wherever they may lead.

  1. Personal Fulfillment

“What is a man
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.”
Hamlet 4.4

I almost rejected this one completely. It seems so vague and selfish. But something about the phrase called to me, and after some thought, I realized it meant almost the opposite of what it implies at first. Instead of “always putting my own needs first,” I’ve taken it to mean “knowing when to be content with what I have.”

The ambiguity, and the solution, lies in the word “fulfillment”: to be filled full. For a long time, my Scorpio nature drew me towards excess. I loved to push my own boundaries, to see what I was capable of. In my twenties, I’d forego sleep for days to get a play finished. I’d drink coffee or smoke pot until I knew I’d had enough, and then I’d go back for more. I used the “purity test” as a personal checklist; how many debauched activities could I pack into one lifetime?

I don’t regret much, but I also know I was lucky. I was a libertine, but not a “reckless libertine,” to quote Hamlet again. A fine line, though. Nowadays, I choose my moments of excess very carefully (see below). And I’m learning to relish the feeling of stopping short—acknowledging the threshold, or savouring the sensation of being filled full but not being overstuffed with experience. I can think of many examples, but I’ll save them for another post (with more content warnings).

  1. Friendship

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
–Bob Marley

Drawing inspiration from my Osakan reunion with the junior high boys, I wrote about friendship recently, so I won’t dwell on it here. I will point out that most of my core values might seem to encourage complacency, or at least accommodate a comfortable routine. In other words, I’m not pushing myself to change and improve, and that’s deliberate, because “pushing” isn’t the right verb to suit my life right now. I’ll change whether I want to or not; for now, for this year at least, I’m more invested in resting within myself than stretching out.

But friendship isn’t like that, at least not the way I conceive of it right now. Most of my closest friends are people I’ve known for 30 years or more, but staying close to them remains a challenge in all sorts of exciting and frustrating ways. Our connections are rewarding—those moments of excess I mentioned usually happen when my dear friends are onhand—but they can be frustrating, especially when distance is a factor. I stretch outside myself in order to be close to them, and to help them help themselves.

  1. Community

“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other.”
–Jean Vanier

An extension of friendship, I suppose: all around me there are friends I haven’t met. I’m an introvert, so it’s difficult to reach out, but the rewards are myriad. Seven years in Cape Breton taught me the importance of making choices that support your community at large; I can see how my own ideas, skills, and values have encouraged others in small but profound ways. It’s immensely rewarding to see my influence—as an instructor, an artist, even as a parent—spreading beyond my immediate circle of friends and family, and into the wider world.

This value, more than all the others, terrifies me as I travel to a country where the culture and language are unfamiliar. Yet if I can make even one true friend, and if I can leave even one small mark on the community (or permit it to mark me), I’ll come home a better person.

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