We were about to start recording for my podcast, when my guest paused for a moment. ‘Let our conversation be of service to all those who need it’, he said, and it felt somehow like a blessing, a presence hovering over us.
Dozens of interviews later, I still find myself using it myself before I start each one. Bless this work. Let it be of service.
I’ve been thinking recently about the dedication of our creative – and other – work. For me it reminds me, quietly and effectively, about why I’m doing whatever task is at hand. It takes away my ego, and some of the fear of failing. It also makes me step back and have a moment of calm. It’s hard to do a blessing if you’re shouting at the kids, swearing at your computer or frantically running to your next meeting. (Well, you probably can. But remembering to do it is a different matter).
Blessings probably go back to the dawn of religions. They’re generally about making something dedicated, or holy, or protected in some way. In Christian culture, labour was often seen as sacred (even if this was also a good tactic for keeping the power and powerless in their place).
We still have dedication ceremonies for new buildings, ships, even artworks, as they begin their new public life, as well as for children. Saying grace before a meal, especially when food is the result of hard manual work, still serves as a reminder not to take it for granted.
At its best, dedicating our work to something outside us reminds us that our work is about more than ourselves.
Creating work nearly always has two sides to it. We create because we get some kind of personal fulfilment from it, even when it’s also agonising. But we also create because we want it, in some way, to be of service to other people. We want to inspire people, perhaps, to move them to some kind of action or emotion, to entertain, or provoke.
Blessing is a moment to pause. A moment to stand away from all our own emotions that go with the task we’re about to do, whether fear, excitement, joy or boredom.
It allows us to appreciate the privilege of using our skills and talents, as well as the responsibility that goes with that. Somehow, it grounds us in something other than our ego and the desire to be acclaimed for our brilliance.
When I don’t feel like doing something – writing when the words don’t come, editing when I’m tired and empty, fighting the tech gremlins – I’ve found that blessing my work takes my focus off me. It reminds me of why I’m doing it.
When I started searching for some inspiration on dedicating our creative work, I came across this rather lovely blessing, or Beannacht, by Irish poet John O’Donohue. It feels particularly about grounding ourselves, again, in the beauty of the world and our creative processes, on the days when everything is weighty. Here are the first lines, or click here for the full work.
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
Bless this work.
Bless these hands.
May our work be of service.