creative inspiration

Contentment vs Restlessness

oil painting landscape art

It seems that one of the goals of every world religion, philosophy and self-help guru is the propagation of inner contentment. I love that all too seldom cherished inner quiet. The search for that illusive contentment is why I go hiking as much as I do, but it honestly seems that the world, though preaching the value of contentment, is dead set against us actually experiencing it. I mean really, turn on the TV or listen to the radio or go to the mall and we are constantly and ruthlessly bombarded with the message “you are not content! But…THIS will make you feel content!” The thing is, nearly EVERYTHING is sold with the promise of contentment, and because we’re so desperate for it, we buy “it” (whatever it is). Then we feel a moment of bliss (maybe) and then in moments, “it” gets old and no longer delivers any contentment at all.

In no way do I want to diminish the longing for contentment. I could not do that even if I tried. My faith informs me that every human being was created for absolute contentment, but that the whole system is broken now and humankind currently is cut off from the very source of contentment. And so we long for the very thing we run from. This is the ultimate conundrum.

Restlessness has fueled every quest and exploration and is responsible for all the innovation of our race.

However, I don’t think the concept of restlessness is the opposite of contentment. I think ingratitude, entitlement and greed are the opposite of that inner peace we value and search for, but I don’t really think restlessness qualifies as the opposite. Honestly, my opinion is that restlessness is to an artist what life blood is to a living creature: it feeds and stimulates the creation of something amazing and beautiful and life-giving. What I’m most afraid of is to become too “comfortable” and “complacent”, that I stop longing for something new, dreaming of something better and pursuing something of greater value and beauty. For the most part, I think restlessness has fueled every quest and exploration and is responsible for all the innovation of our race.

So, we may well sit and think of all that we have, all that we’ve achieved (or have been given, depending on your own outlook on such matters) and we can feel a sense of immense gratitude, peace and contentment. And the next moment begin wondering “but I wonder what would happen if I tried THIS?”. Can restlessness and contentment become friends? I believe so. I don’t think one negates the other at all. In fact, I think that true contentment and gratitude creates a quiet place in our minds and in that quiet, dreams are born and imagination can explode.

As an artist, as a painter, I paint mostly landscapes. I love my studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. I love creating artwork in that context, amidst such a great group (over 220) of artists with open studios. It feels tempting to just get comfortable with what I do; to get comfortable with what sells and to become predictable. But then I’d never feel restless, and though comfortable, I’d stop truly creating. And I would more closely resemble an assembly line worker than an artist.

I’m an artist, and I long for contentment. But I am trying to experience contentment in the context of a sublime restlessness that never seems to stop looking around the next turn in the road. What’s there? Is it the same as here? Let’s go and see. That mindset fuels all my creativity and I think compliments the inner quiet I (sometimes) truly experience in life.