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Shining a beam of light towards the mist (the fear of the blank page)
Finding comfort in the mist
Uncertainty is a tough feeling to live with, even though it is part of life. Not knowing where we are going, feeling lost, doubtful and unconfident… it can be quite daunting to keep walking when we are pulled out of our routines and habits. Similarly to perfectionism, as discussed in last month’s newsletter, the struggle that uncertainty presents is the loss of control (and prediction, in this case). Seeing this, resilience seems like an essential skill to develop, and I believe art-making can make us face this fear in a safe space (you can always stop and quit the image-making process, unlike other concerns in life), helping us reevaluate our perspective and acquire certain practices that we can later translate to other areas of life.
This fear is constantly present in the creative practice — it is the fear we deal with when starting a new project: the fear of the blank page. Most times we are afraid of uncertainty because it opens the possibility of failure. But the unknown is also an opportunity for curiosity, a portal for awareness outside the comfort zone, a space for new narratives. In the end, it almost seems like art and uncertainty go hand in hand. Where would creativity fit in if everything was predictable? Don’t we all sometimes yearn for the change and escapism that uncertainty offers?
Mystery is part of the art equation. Having a vague idea (or no idea at all), navigating the darkness, seeing shapes but not knowing what they are until you are up too close (a kind of artistic myopia). Sometimes uncertainty looks like dense mist, all white like a blank new page full of nothingness; sometimes it looks like a wild ever-changing river we are too afraid to step in, especially if we do not know how to swim or what to get hold of to not get carried away.
From an existential perspective, uncertainty also poses a question that humanity has asked for millennia: why are we here and where are we going? It makes us feel small and insignificant, humbled by the vastness of the unknown. As uncomfortable of a feeling as it is, there is this comfort in knowing it is a shared human experience.
A guiding star amidst the turmoil
I have a star tattooed on my chest, close to my heart. It is a reminder of my inner light, the gut feeling, the intuition, the one who knows before I know, the visionary, my inner compass. Uncertainty becomes familiar when you have crossed the river many times, when you trust your steps even on the darkest nights. It will still feel uneasy to dive into the mist, but you will bet on wonder even if you don’t know what’s behind it. This inner light is guided by trust and fuelled by radical imagination, and you carry it with you wherever you go.
Trust is the first step towards action: trust in your ability to adapt, trust in your authentic self, trust in the world you walk in. A catchphrase often repeated in creative spaces is “Trust the process”, and albeit a bit corny, we have all understood its meaning at some point. As Joseph Campbell’s monomyth shows, dipping into the unknown is essential for any story of change and transformation. The relevance of faith is apparent when we reflect on how important religion and spirituality as means to navigate the world are for many people. Crossing the river is also a labor of love.
Some uncertainties are beyond the scope of our current paradigm — this is where radical imagination comes in. At times uncertainty calls for myth-making, inviting us to rebuild our world from scratch (think about the crisis of late capitalism or climate change or an art piece we have overworked and doesn’t feel right anymore). Intuition and non-logical action (“logical” as in what is usually considered the “correct” step in our conventional ways of thinking) are key in these moments, the blank paper turning into an essential tool to create new realities. Putting pen to paper helps give shape to those alternative realities, the future and its possibilities, and the realms beyond conscious thinking (the outer space and the deep sea).
As always, taking that first step is the most difficult part, but many times there is no point in waiting, we just have to sit through it and feel the river’s momentum in our bodies. There will always be a bit of resistance when dealing with uncertainty. The answers will eventually unfold, but not always when you request them. This time of questioning with no reply from the universe is equally valuable; it is an open door for the practice of resilience, patience, and courage — key skills in overcoming present and future uncertainties by tolerating ambiguity and contradictory information. Sometimes this can mean losing ourselves first to find ourselves again, adjusting our plan (or absence-of-plan) as events unfold. Thinking big, acting small… the answers are already within you.
Past resistance, there is abundance.
Sources + Further reading
— This quote by Rainer Maria Rilke from his Letters to a Young Poet
— The Gap by Ira Glass
— The value of uncertainty (Aeon)
— Art is a way of knowing by Pat B. Allen
— Navigating the mysteries by Martin Shaw (Emergence Magazine)
— The hero with a thousand faces by Joseph Campbell
— “Life is about curiosity, not certainty. Cowabunga”, post by @gendersauce
✸ Take a sheet of paper and divide it into 8 sections (you can draw some lines or just fold the paper so the creases create the divisions). Set a 3-minute timer and draw a different thumbnail/quick sketch in each division based on a prompt or an idea you are struggling with. The timer will give you the adrenaline to push through it. This is shock therapy for the fear of the blank page.
✸ Start a new page on your sketchbook. Scribble, write, or draw anything you want — the only rule is that you cannot erase or cover anything. Face the white page with vulnerability.
✸ Take a walk in a different neighborhood with no expectations, and see where your steps take you. (I started Geocaching recently and it’s such a fun way to dance with mystery in your day-to-day walks!)
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