The Abyss is Always There

| September 26, 2012

Among the small pleasures I treasure is sitting in my quiet living room in the moments before dawn with a cup of coffee, and watching the darkness slowly fade into the colorful views of red rock and high plateaus covered in aspens and conifers. This time of year, the sight of golden foliage on the large elm tree in my yard coming slowly into view, framed by the thin wooden patterns of the old window, never fails to put a smile on my face. There is something graceful and comforting about this little old house that I never felt when living in other places, and that made its presence known, subtly but undeniably, since the first time Sarah and I entered it. It is easy, in these silent moments, to also allow the mind to drift, and when it does there is no telling what thoughts and memories may surface. Bliss may give way to worry, joy to fear, contentment to bitterness, and peace to turmoil. They are old rivals, as much a part of life as close friends, and partners in a never-ending match of wits and resolve. On any given day one of us will win, and these days, I’m happy to say, I win far more often than I lose. Almost every time. Almost.

Years ago I took a motorcycle safety class before receiving my license. I remember struggling with turns. The instructor, noticing my hesitation, came over and said: “the bike will go where you look; trust me on this – keep your eyes looking ahead, through the turn, and never look down; if you look down, you’ll go down.” Learning to resist instinct took some discipline, but I did it, once, twice, and then I just stopped thinking about it and launched myself into the turns with unwavering confidence. Since then, whenever I ride, I think of that piece of advice each time I enter a turn. The bike may lean so far that a foot peg may scrape the pavement but my eyes never venture from the exit point, and the bike obeys. Never look down. If you look down, you’ll go down.

Nietzsche stated it more poetically when he said: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Read at face value, one may be tempted to believe that such advice applies in the rare cases when one fights with monsters or happens to be in the vicinity of an abyss, but the fact is that we all fight monsters all the time, and the abyss is always there. No matter who you are or what your situation is, there are always reasons to worry, things to fear, others to envy, challenges to meet, and deeds to regret. Aristotle knew this when he said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Never look down. If you look down, you’ll go down.

As artists, we are perhaps more attuned to the ups and down of our creative core and all the things that revolve around it. We bind our lives with our work – we measure ourselves by it and hang the value of all other experiences on it. When we are inspired and creative, everything is beautiful, and when we are not, all else loses magic and flavor. On some days we can do no wrong, and on others we fear that we may never accomplish anything worthwhile. I find that the cycle is not really a cycle; but more of a pendulum. You can only hope to go so far in one direction if you are prepared to swing as far to the opposite. To reach the highest highs, you sometimes have to endure the lowest lows. But, we come back, again and again. Put your trust in the ride and look ahead. Do not gaze into the abyss. If you look down, you’ll go down.

If there is a lesson here, it is not to fear the abyss, but rather to trust and hope and to look ahead, especially in those times when it gazes back into you. It’s never going away. It is always there if you look for it. Put another way, though, when life bears down and hopelessness beckons, it may really just be that you are looking in the wrong direction. Look ahead. Never look down. If you look down, you’ll go down.

There is endless beauty wherever you are, and endless opportunity to create, to engage with life and with the world, to be inspired and fascinated. The only way forward is to immerse yourself in the work – not work, THE work. Circumstances will change and shift, you may not always be as inspired or as free or as wealthy or as healthy, but the work remains and the work rewards. In our work we look forward, and away from the abyss. In our work we find beauty and value and meaning and satisfaction. We carry it and are carried by it into life, into our relationships and studies and interactions and decisions. Engage in it with vigor and passion and honesty, and all that you will put into it you will get back and more. Forget the abyss. It will be there no matter what you do. Look ahead. Don’t look down. Create. Live.

The Non-Eternal Flame

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is a published author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau – a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (20)

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  1. Greg Russell says:

    Really lovely post, Guy, and some very poignant thoughts, especially as we enter autumn, arguably one of the most gorgeous seasons. When I read your pendulum example, I immediately interpreted it differently (perhaps a little optimistically): for every low, there are at least two highs, because as the pendulum swings, the low point is completely surrounded by high points. I think that’s true in life, and it really goes along with what you’re saying regarding the advice of Nietzsche, to be cautious of the abyss.

  2. Samantha says:

    Hey, Guy! Thanks for sharing your lovely room with us and your thoughts on where we should focus our energy and thoughts. So true. It’s easy to become negative and takes discipline to forge ahead. This was a very helpful post to me as hours and hours of office time are staring at me (I’m trying not to look) during the season when I feel most that I should be putting my hands to all forms of creative and healthy harvest.

  3. Brad Mangas says:

    All I really need to say is, I enjoyed that, thanks Guy.

  4. Wonderful essay, Guy! I always enjoy the way in which you weave together your thoughts, words, and inspiration. Creative work does indeed bring solace and looking forward brings hope.

  5. Kumar says:

    Excellent post and a good inspiration

  6. Jay Gould says:

    Hey Mate, looking forward to putting words into practice with you in February. You are so right in your thoughts. IMHO, the abyss has created more armchair sailors, armchair travelers, and armchair photographers than any other singular cause. If you allow it to overcome you, the fear of the unknown becomes paralyzing. TFS Guy, see you soon. :-)

  7. My favorite lines:

    “To reach the highest highs, you sometimes have to endure the lowest lows.”

    “. They are old rivals, as much a part of life as close friends, and partners in a never-ending match of wits and resolve. ”

    The bikes story was awesome! Sipping morning coffee, as I stare at my monitor, I am inspired by your write up. I can related closely with my own personal experiences with some of your lines here. Will come back to this post again and again many times in future. I am sure!

  8. Excellent and well written as usual Guy!

  9. Eric Pye says:

    I think I’ll get up before dawn tomorrow.

  10. Abhijeeth Aarey says:

    Staggeringly good post ! Very well written! A rare gem in a sound byte world ! Kudos and have a great Fall!

  11. I’ve been following your blog for quite some time now and I have to say that each post is extremely well written and is almost always very insightful. This post in particular works on so many levels, it’s just perfect!
    Hoping to attend your workshop some day and learn more from you in person.

  12. Beautiful. The Nietzsche quote is one of my all time favorites and has sat in my office for nearly ten years. It is my motto to live life by.

  13. Paul Beiser says:

    Wonderful as always Guy, thanks! Loved the Aristotle quote, so useful in everyday life and interactions. There is an old saying in skiing, ‘always look where you want to go’. If you look at a tree, you will ski into a tree :-). Look where you want to go – and dont look into the abyss.

    All the best

  14. Rafael says:

    Amen!, thanks for your energy Guy, have a nice non-eternal flaming season! 8^)

  15. Mike Green says:

    An excellent and beautifully-written post as usual. I’ve long liked that Nietzsche quotation and I’ve found it’s applicable throughout life. More simplistically, ‘don’t look down’ is near-invariably a good approach!

  16. Chris Nagle says:

    This week sees the end of three years that my wife has been fighting leukemia (hopefully successfully). My creativity feels to have take a bashing and why? because I’ve been looking down or at least not looking up enough. Thanks for the article. Tonight, my head has started to lift ……

  17. Daniel Ruf says:

    Beautiful words and beautiful image. Thank you, Guy.

  18. Rafael Rojas says:

    Lovely Guy. Thanks for the article…