When Nobel prize-winning West Indian poet Derek Walcott was asked by an interviewer what he liked to do when he wasn’t writing poetry, he said he liked to paint.
“Oh, I didn’t realize you were an artist as well,” said the interviewer. “I’m not an artist,” said the poet. “I don’t paint pictures. I paint things—the walls of my house, my fence, my roof. It relaxes me.”
What Walcott was talking about was something that many people who live on the outermost limits of consciousness—be they poets, our scientists, or sages—have long realized:
reach for the sky by all means; just remember to come down to earth after you’ve done so.
It’s like a high-altitude mountaineer who, daring all dangers and difficulties, ventures into the thin cold air of the tallest of peaks.
Having taken in the all-embracing view that he commands from the lofty height that he has reached, the prudent mountaineer descends to the flatness of the plains, where the air is thick and heavy and dense with the oxygen that our bodies and our brains need to perform routine daily functions.
We can’t forever live in the rarefied air of mountain tops or the pinnacles of consciousness; we must come down to the flatlands of daily reality to draw our breath and take comfort from the familiar and the predictable.
It’s like an athlete, or a student studying hard for an exam. If the athlete trains too hard, or the student studies without the relief of a break, he will suffer a burnout: the body and the mind, pushed to the limits and beyond of endurance, will seize up.
That’s why poets paint their walls. Or why monks—be they Buddhist or Benedictine—who live the meditative life in monasteries ensure that they have a daily regimen of manual work: growing fruits and vegetables, keeping butter lamps lit, polishing stone and bronze.
Mahatma Gandhi and his disciples followed a similar discipline in their ashram, where they cooked their own meals, swept the floor, and cleaned the lavatories. Bapu knew that such menial tasks were experiments in truth as valid as turning the spotlight of consciousness within oneself.
Go after your dreams, work hard, follow your passion, But don’t forget that Garden you still have to tend. And stay blessed forever.