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Opportunity Pruning

(A still shot taken from one of my absolute favorite hosting assignments. Had I been all tied up doing a play, I would not have been able to accept the job!)

Opportunity Pruning—it’s when God (or the Universe or Fate or simply the course of time) takes away the things you think you wanted and makes room for something better.

Sounds hippy-dippy? Well, sure, maybe it is! But I can’t tell you how many times I wanted something, worked for it, didn’t get it, but later on got new information that made me SO HAPPY that I didn’t get it. Whether it’s a prestigious role, a material thing, or a certain person’s attention, I have armor-clad spiritual borders protecting me from Every Wrong Thing.

When I feel disappointment setting in, I re-center myself and watch. Inevitably some other poor sucker will suffer the stress and the strings attached to The Thing, from which I now realize, I’m free.

An example: I think of a few times I’ve auditioned for local stage shows in California, and then came incredibly close to booking. The feeling of disappointment when I heard “no” was tragic in the moment…and within days I’ll find different, equally wonderful opportunities with considerably less hassle attached. Stage plays and musicals in Los Angeles are notorious for becoming all-consuming, six-week commitments for nearly no money and hellah drama.

It’s like the Infinite Mind saying, you don’t want that. Wouldn’t you rather have THIS instead? You’re welcome.

Opportunity Pruning…Ta-Da! But this isn’t magic. It is a happiness-conditioning tool, and recognizing its effects creates a lovely, harmonious feeling of balance.

I might say to myself, Didn’t get that role? No big deal. A week later, I might find out it conflicted with a huge offer to travel for work. Cute guy didn’t call? Who cares? A closer look at his Twitter feed reveals he’s an egomaniac. Now I know.

Nothing can stop our Things from flying towards us with magnetic urgency, as long as we show up every day and put in the work.

Ah, there’s the catch: We have to take bold, productive steps in the direction of Our Things.

Opportunity Pruning isn’t a new idea. Last time I was home, my Mom gave me a book, co-written by Sister Mary Corita Kent. Corita was a well-known serigraph artist who was active in the 1960’s, and my Grandma Elly studied with her. It was a workbook for thinking creatively, and mom thought it might help me sculpt my writing.

I pulled open the cover, and on the very first page was a quote from the Bhagavad Gita. One of my absolute favorite spiritual texts.

Go on, I’m listening.

Corita was a Catholic nun, until she wasn’t anymore. She taught my Grandma’s classes at Immaculate Heart College, pretty close to where I live. She made fairly controversial art, reminiscent of the colorful, bold work of Andy Warhol, and her serigraphs combined words and images in an attention-grabbing contrast. They made you rethink each phrase, away from its face value.

Corita was cool.

She stirred up fusses here and there with her views, but as a kid I always just pictured her as “a catholic nun”. She taught some art classes, so she probably smacked students with a paintbrush on the knuckles, right?

Nope. She made things; said things. People noticed.

One of her works was chosen for a post office stamp, the popular “Love” stamp. It says, “LOVE” in her pretty cursive handwriting, with colored stripes below it. But the USPS cut off this phrase from the bottom of the original:

“…is hard work”.

Basically, the entire message of her piece. Edited! By the USPS! Can you imagine?

My mom handed me a pile of postcards featuring Corita’s work. These cards were a collaboration with another artist/writer who had given her a series of Zen phrases to put to images. I laid them out on the table and begin arranging them. Total awe.

Feeling the seeds of a kinship, I flipped the pages of the book, titled “Learning by Heart, Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit”.

The wisdom she collected was as relevant to me as if I’d been studying a book about how to be an actor, or how to write creatively, or how to do anything that demands a work/play ethic. Corita had surrounded herself with a great variety of classic spiritual texts, as well as the art and traditions of cultures worldwide. Histories. Myths of every age.

That said, she also recognized the ability of any old thing in front of her to be a perfect starting point to begin to work—and she encouraged it.

I heard the voice of a friend as I read,

“Lessen the prestige and the expectations of art and turn your endeavors into a good solid, working job—like using hammer and nails. Thinking about making something great that should be admired for centuries is enough to freeze anybody. When Barbara Walters asked Sir Laurence Olivier how he wished to be remembered, he replied, as a workman. Walters was surprised and asked if he didn’t want to be remembered as an actor or artist. No, said Olivier, that doesn’t matter. Shakespeare was a workman, poets are workmen, God is a workman, and that is how I wish to be remembered.”

Another page had the studio rules that had been hanging at IHC. Number seven was, the only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all the work all the time who eventually catch onto things.

Immediately I recognized both Corita and my Grandmother (whom I’d never known well) as old familiar friends who probably had friends in common. It felt like the happy surprise of finding mutual friends from social networking sites, except our “mutual friends” were Jesus Christ, Yogananda, and Gibran, long gone in body but wholly alive; fully living and breathing in their works and the art they inspire.

They knew about Opportunity Pruning long before I discovered it. It is a principal of Life; it is one of the Ways the Universe Works, shedding away the Wrong Things and making room for the Right Things…as long as we focus our work and play.

Because no matter how many great opportunities get pruned away, I have never regretted doing the work that prepared me for the Right Thing.

Our job is to chip at the marble every single day. Students of Life find their work. As an artist, we hit the text and make choices. As a partner in a relationship, we love as an active verb, a work/play that requires showing up. You must show up, ready to work, in order to sculpt something magnificent.

We’re the workmen. Love….and art….are hard work. And it’s the people who show up to work who eventually catch onto things.

(You can see Corita's art at Her book was co-written by Jan Steward)

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