Start Anywhere

A Journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
— Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)
The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake.
— Meister Eckhart

In order to take the first step, one has to transcend fear. People often fear the beginning so they don't want to try. Many claim they aren't creative, that they aren't artists. Have they ever tried? More importantly, have they tried and tried again?

Being an artist comes with practice and discipline, just like everything else. Learning meditation as a Westerner is much like beginning a creative practice. Our culture does not value slowness or silence, so it's easy to give up. Meditation is very simple, yet difficult. You are taught to sit without expectations of an outcome, or else meditation could never benefit you. The goal of meditation is to train the mind, to control the mind and emotions rather than letting them control you. The ego wants to think about what is the purpose or benefit, and whether time is being used effectively. Art is the same way. Let me explain.

Being a human is creative. We are constantly coming up with ideas, solutions to problems. What we may lack is the best motives for our well-being. Some common goals of making art in our American culture are: fame, money, respect, reputation, quantity of work. These can all be positive outcomes, but are not necessary for being a successful artist. If you begin a creative practice for the first time, or sit down to execute an idea; first let go of your attachments to fear. Fear of failure, fear of creative block, fear of being mocked, fear of being misunderstood, fear of not measuring up to others.

To the person experiencing a creative block, it feels very scary and frustrating. Although I'm young, I'm starting to realize that I go through a year of artwork I don't like, followed by a year of everything falling into place, experiencing the flow. I know the periods of frustration are my teacher. When the work comes together, the dry spells make them that much richer. I had a dry spell my first year of grad school, but I finally feel things coming together. One night I felt compelled to take photographs outside at night with my digital camera. I thought that was too simple, but they ended up being beautiful.

Accept the possibility of failure, the dry spell. No one has to know it but you. The best way to start is to discipline yourself, make a schedule. Find out when you feel the most creative, the most energetic. For some people, it's the morning; for others, at night. Go to your creative space as much as you can, with a regular schedule. Don't tell yourself you shouldn't go to the studio because you don't have an idea. What matters is that you're there. You cannot plan it all out. Be in your studio and play. Draw one line. Arrange the objects on your desk. Take one photograph. You'll be surprised where it goes.

And if it goes nowhere, it will go somewhere eventually. An important lesson I learned from a monk in Thailand was discipline. This surprised me. As a Midwestern farm girl, I thought I already knew discipline. I worked hard all the time, every day moving closer to my goal of making art my living, which is not easy in a capitalist country like the US. But this kind of discipline sometimes left me feeling exhausted, unable to enjoy the reaps of my harvest when they came.

Again, what's missing is the motive. I feared not having success, not having money, being a nobody. Buddhist monks, although relaxed and withdrawn from society, are just as disciplined as a successful business-person. Their discipline comes from having no motive, other than inner peace, compassion and non-attachment. During a meditation retreat our teacher would say over and over, "Please, PLEASE, try your best, guys. Never give up. If you never try you cannot achieve your dreams. Learning English was very hard for me, but I never stop trying. And now here I am talking with you. So please, don't give up."

There are so many incredible ideas underneath the surface of your mind, at all times. All you need to do is begin. Say out loud, "I can't wait to see the good that's going to come out of this!" If you don't like the first thing you made, throw it away and try again. It's important to break through the barrier and persist. But persist with faith that you will make something beneficial to yourself and society if you decide to share - with patience, compassion and a good sense humor.