Agni is a Sanskrit word for fire. We talked about it a lot when we were learning about Ayurveda in relationship to someone's digestion at yoga therapy training in Nashville. If your digestive agni is diminished or goes out, trouble will follow. We have all met someone like this (or maybe been someone like this) - no appetite, low energy, generally not very engaged or excited by life. They need their agni sparked up again. The good news its that it isn't hard to do if you catch it before it becomes something more serious. There were a couple of people who were experiencing low agni and, after making some simple dietary changes, they were perkier and happier and feeling much better by the end of the training.
But what about other kinds of agni? I have been wondering if it is ok to let some fires go out. Readers of this blog may have noticed that I tend towards doing a lot of things. My motto usually is "Go big or go home" or, as George Carlin once said, "If you are going to play…PLAY!" No half measures for me. This has certainly been true with my art making. Ambition has never been a problem for me.
Or has it? For the past year or so, I have been reluctant to admit to myself that I just don't have that same burning fire of ambition about my art making that I once had. This fire fueled many of my projects, allowing me to work long, hard hours to get things done. It also fueled some less attractive aspects of myself - a competitiveness and jealousy about other artists' successes. It doesn't make me happy to admit it because these are very small-minded places to live out of but, if I am honest, I see how they are inevitable partners with that kind of ambition. The ambition that I am talking about is the difference between saying, "I want to be an artist" and "I want to be a famous artist." For most of my adult life, I have leaned heavily towards the latter.
As I have been working to finish the pieces for the two shows opening at the end of August, I have been somewhat alarmed to find that I can not conjure up that kind of fire. I love my ideas and I think the work will be interesting and provocative but that all-consuming, obsessive energy around it is just…gone. I keep looking and looking but honey, that fire has up and left. The ashes are cold.
When I mentioned this to Elizabeth, the Ayurvedic practitioner who was leading our training, she immediately said, "oh good!" I was puzzled. Is it good? It certainly makes meeting deadlines a lot harder for me! Later I realized that, when you take away the "famous" part of famous artist, then you are left with just the artist part. In other words, without the striving for attention and accolades, you are left with the work; you are left with (dare I say it?), the Art.
It feels a little like walking around in new shoes. There are places where this rubs me the wrong way and I am getting blisters that hurt. I think it is a positive thing but it is a big change after so many decades and that makes it feel uncertain and a little painful. What I think will happen (is happening) is that all that agni that was fueling my ambition for my career and my art world status is now free to fuel the actual art. You would think that this would feel so refreshing and wonderful that it would be a glorious thing. But I am not finding it to be quite like that. It isn't that simple. I had a lot of my identity caught up in that striving, ambitious part of me and that makes it a little hard to let go. Our faults, even when we know they are faults, can be very comforting on occasion.
All of this is has been dancing around in my head as I fill my living room with yet another huge crocheted piece. At least that part hasn't changed.