I was speaking to the iconic Debra Brown this week, the founding choreographer of Cirque du Soleil and just a downright beautiful human being. She was talking about the creative process, and she remarked about a piece of advice she was once given about not needing a bright light to know where you are going. All you need to have is a small lantern and to put one foot in front of the other.
It resonated so deeply as I recognized all too well the impatient desire to know, and the anxiety of things either taking longer or the feeling of being lost…and yet she was so right. I saw this quote “Go as far as you can see and you’ll be able to see further” outside a church in the heart of Toronto, Canada, many years ago and it has never left me. When the light has seemed dim and I have not had clarity about what was next, I have reminded myself of this wisdom. Often we want to know how things will work out before we take the first step, but ultimately, each step determines the next one and as Debra also points out in this week’s podcast, we have to be ready to change course if need be.
I have often felt that this notion is tied to faith. Not faith that things will work out or faith that someone has your back. Faith in the basic premise that we must honour the brokenness of our ability to know and the dignity in giving ourselves permission to take risks. There is a longing for our actions to be complete, our experiences to have a beginning, middle and end, and that we learn from our mistakes. All of this may be true at times, but other times, there may simply be a need to remove any expectation from our actions and allow them to breathe and exist without the demand for meaning. Perhaps the hope that what we do means something can often hold us back from that first step of a trajectory that we cannot yet imagine.
As Debra pointed out, all we need is a small light, and the ability to take one step. What felt so impactful about that image is that it felt like it freed me with the need to know. But even more than that, it felt like it was saying something true about how anything is built or transforms, living on the edge of the unknown. That is one of the reasons I was so excited to speak with Debra, because she has worked in a circus for most of her life, and there is no other artform as far as I’m concerned that holds the tension of being on the edge of everything falling apart; the acrobat risking everything to walk the tightrope…that language has even become common when we want to express just how risking something is “It’s like a tightrope act”.
So perhaps if we keep in mind that we are all holding our small lamps, hoping and longing for more clarity, but still putting one foot in front of the other, it might help to provide the strength to just imagine things a little further along the line.