Destroy your best work

SandMandala-051The rightness of the sand mandala:

The sand mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation of mandalas made from colored sand. It is a beautiful ritual, traditionally taking several weeks to complete, resulting in intricate pieces of art.

The most interesting thing about the sand mandala, however, is this: after it is completed, it is ritualistically destroyed. After hours and hours of very meticulous design, the monks sweep all of the sand together, eradicating the design. And it is the destruction that I find most fascinating; symbolism of the  transitory nature of material life – the fact that, simply, nothing is permanent.

All things beautiful and good are also short-lived.

I thought of sand mandalas today because, for the first ten minutes of my morning, my computer would not turn on. And I wondered, as I stared at the lifeless screen, whether I had lost all the writing I had done.

But my second thought was: well, if that is the case… that’s okay.

Because, my whole objective in the one million word endeavor is, in fact, to effectively throw the words away.
I have repeatedly read that artists and writers must churn through – and throw away – the first thousand-some-odd hours of their creative work. To be true to the endeavor is to understand that it matters very little whether this happens when you decide, when you’re good and ready, or if it instead happens unexpectedly, before all million had been accrued.

Maybe it was the optimism that perhaps my laptop was not fried or perhaps I had a backup somewhere, but somehow I just did not feel terribly upset by this realization. I could have lost 86,000 words, and all of that is okay, because it’s all a labor of love – an exercise of creating something and throwing it away; preventing the work from becoming too “precious.”

I absolutely despise “precious.”

And while my words were not going to be sweep into any river by getting lost into the ether, the exercise of “sweeping them away;” of losing them entirely – is valuable.

It emphasizes the fact that the creative work is a process; that it is meant to be fluid, not stagnant – that to write is to be actively writing, not sitting on a stack of words. And that to write and then relinquish your words, easily, is to open yourself to the flow of words to follow.

This doesn’t mean we should create mediocrity, though, just because we are throwing something away or creating it simply for the exercise of creating it. It does not mean that we should not be putting in some solid, substantial and real effort in our work. (I am not creating anything nearly as beautiful as a sand mandala, overall. I am making sand castles. Nothing here is calculated – except my daily word count – or measured or outline or planned. Those hours that are put into the designs encompass hours of sketching, measuring, outlining and planning. I do none of that. I freehand.) But all work deserves an honest effort.

That aside, the exercise of sweeping it away – of the humility in destroying your own work – is incredibly invaluable. Let us all destroy our own work, over and over. Let us all create beautiful things and then sweep them away and start anew. Let us not allow anything to become stagnant and stiff; precious and protected.

Let us not, in other words, have stiff-jointed, senior citizen sacred cows.
Nobody likes that.

I don’t, especially.

And so, the sand mandala. Let us all practice the philosophy of the sand mandala – that of sweeping things away; an exercise in understanding and appreciating that nothing in life is permanent; that everything begins anew.

Let us destroy and create good work; create good work and then destroy it.

For more sand mandala goodness, check out this video:


One comment

  1. […] my most common word was, apparently, “want”) to include reflections on writing, work, writing as work… the concept of time; the importance of inertia… thinking, feeling, people, philosophy, […]

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