The downside of getting better is being able to look back and see how much worse you used to be. This is true of just about everything. A more sensitive soul will look back at where they were and what they used to do, and cringe, or feel badly and this can be a hindrance to development. It also makes the process a far less happy one.
Stasis is easy. Leave school, stop learning, don’t do anything new, settle into a few safe ruts and get on with your ‘life’, never doing anything that might give you pause for thought or reason for discomfort. There are many people out there who consider themselves good enough already, or imagine that they would be brilliant if they could afford to put in the time. I’ve encountered my share of folks who ‘know’ they’d be at least as good a writer as I am if only they had the time. These are not people who write anything, mind you, they just know it is so. They will never test themselves, never find out and never write anything (or do anything else of note). They have chosen to be safe and comfortable and not to risk failure.
To be a bard is to seek creative excellence. You can’t progress unless you acknowledge that it is possible to be better than you are now. It is always possible to improve – technique, presentation, insight, experience, stagecraft, speed, memory… and many others. There is no point of completion in the life of a bard, no time at which you can say ‘I am perfect and now I don’t need to try anymore.’
To be a Druid is to make the same commitment to your spiritual life. It’s not the case that once you finish a given course that’s it and you’re qualified, and can rest on your mistletoe. It is always possible to improve, to know more, hold deeper empathy and connection, achieve greater insight and compassion, there is always more work to be done.
Committing yourself to any kind of path, means recognising that you aren’t everything you could be, and never will be. A path is a continuous journey. Folk who want to achieve fixed things so they can stop bothering need to get themselves on courses and take exams after which they are ‘qualified’ because a path will never give them that sense of completion. To be a bard, a Druid, or a person on any other spiritual or creative path is to acknowledge that you are never going to be done, never going to be totally satisfied and able to stop bothering. It is all about the bothering, and being the kind of person for whom that matters. To do it, you have to be willing to challenge yourself all the time.
Inevitably there are days when you look back, at an old piece of work, or a way you used to behave, and wince, because from where you are now, it looks awful. Did I really say that? Did I actually wear a picnic blanket to a ritual? Did I truly believe that a call for peace meant shouting ‘peace’ at the top of my voice? Did I really think that was a good way to use a paintbrush? Did I actually try and sell that…. thing? Looking back and cringing is one way of knowing that you’ve progressed. It also raises the continual suspicion that in years to come, you might look back at now, and feel equally silly. Sometimes we need to do that.
Judging ourselves is part of the learning process. But it’s just one aspect. Balance it out by imagining how you would have felt back then had you known what you would be capable of now. Note the distance covered, you have every right to take pride in it. Recognise yourself as a work in progress, and everything you do as process. There is no end point, no time when it’s all done and you can forget about it. You have chosen a life that is never going to let you off the hook. And you’ve chosen it because you know that it is life, and the not-bothering option is like being a zombie. Walk your path with the confidence and delight that comes from knowing it is worth it.
(For Denarius, who made me realise that I needed to write this.)