Up to this point, my number one impetus for almost anything I did had always been some form of gratification. Whether it was gratification in playing with people, sharing with listeners, or even the process itself, the prospect of feeling a positive, even pleasurable, emotion was what drove me.

When I was a kid, I had an interest in everything. If I wanted to open a restaurant, I would open it – in our kitchen. If I wanted to put on a play, I’d put it on in our backyard. If I wanted to deliver a church sermon, I would do so on the front porch. Produce a film? The world was my set.

I wasn’t so much concerned about the outcome of these projects as I was about the actual doing of them. But somewhere along the way, I started paying attention to how many people actually showed up. I started thinking about other things than just the excitement of doing something for no better reason than I wanted to.

There’s nothing wrong with gratification. It’s part of being human. But gratification from doing something because of an authentic desire is much different than gratification based on external validation.

Having an audience, or people to share the project with, is nice, but it can’t be the defining factor behind an authentic action. Even if a project receives a scathing review, this too can be harmful just knowing that someone cared enough to write a review in the first place. The ego is to fragile to be tested.

Someone close to me said something beautiful just a few hours ago: “It could also be how you measure that gratification.” If we can’t escape gratification, at least we can choose how we define it. If any of us were the last person on earth, we would still (once we had achieved a manageable level of stasis) derive some sense of gratification from our actions that obviously couldn’t be measured by other beings. And it seems to me that this is worth finding some way to come back to.

Quote accredited to Thom Keating.

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