As I sit here and stare at the blank page, anxiety builds. There many things to say, too much really, and carving that down into an essay feels hard sometimes. But is that the real reason? Fear is also involved in the confrontation with the blank page or canvas. To start interacting with the blank canvas in front of me I must begin. To begin I must make a choice. To make a choice means I must let go of other ideas. Letting go of other ideas means I am saying this idea is most important – or at least important. By saying this is important, I am putting myself out there.
The blank page or canvas requires us to go to it. We must move forward into that space and begin to create something out of what feels like nothing. We can no longer rest on our heels. But is the blank canvas ever truly blank? Have we already begun somehow through our relationship to that blank page? Or is it truly blank? Is there really a blankness “out there” waiting for us? How separate are we from the blankness? What does that blankness represent in the process of creating?
Getting into the blank page or canvas is the same as getting into life. I must put myself out there if I am to fully engage my life. The blankness requires some part of me and that scares me. Even though history says that once I begin things flow and I find a rhythm, I still experience the anxiety and fear of starting. I think this is the same with life. We never lose the anxiety and fear that comes with Being – existing as a person.
Many of my clients often experience their anxiety at its worst in the morning. The blank canvas of the day brings anxiety. The day requires something from us. It requires us to be in it. When we are fully in it we risk. We are always risking the sense of loss or what some call non-being. Death is the ultimate way of non-being but it need not be its only form. Avoiding the blank page is a way of avoiding Being, which is a way of avoiding non-being (Paul Tillich). But the actual experience of avoiding the blank page could be likened to a felt sense of death or non-being. If I don’t really show up for my life, then it is sort of death like. I might be more of a walking zombie, going through motions, avoiding much of what might actually fill me up with real flesh.
Life requires us to confront it. I’m making this sound all scary and depressing, but it is in the engagement of the blank page or canvas, the engagement of my life, my story, the engagement of my relationships, where I find fulfillment and a sense of what “life” is. I am more alive right now as I type these words than if I shrink back from the anxiety of the blank page. I am in it and I am experiencing the rewards as we speak. It feels good to me to write and produce the thoughts from my mind. It can often feel exhilirating (which is some form of excitement mixed with anxiety). More fear and anxiety come when I share that writing, which is another way of putting my self out there. But again, if I don’t share my creativity, what’s it for? How alive is it without the eyes and minds of others reading it, interpreting it for their own?
A lot of my work with clients is to help them engage their lives more fully. I start by engaging them fully and ask them to do the same. I listen for ways they avoid themselves, censor themselves and punish themselves. I also listen for ways they avoid life, stamp it out, and choose not to engage. I also listen for ways they do engage life. I listen for the person that is constantly asking to emerge, or is trying to emerge, or is emerging, both in their lives and right there in front of me. Aren’t we always emerging regardless of what we are doing? Aren’t all choices and attempts at life, attempts to emerge, or merge, or engage? Aren’t we all trying to experience what it feels like to be alive? Does it scare us and can we avoid it? Yes, but even that comes secondary to the initial desire to be in it.
Rollo May, in his book The Discovery of Being, explains, “The term ‘existence’, coming from the root ex-sistere, means literally to ‘stand out, to emerge.’ The blank page in front of me, whether it be a literal page, a computer screen, a canvas, or my actual life, are all welcome mats to my experience of emergence. And Joseph Campbell said, “People say that what we are seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.” We cannot have the experience of being alive if we are not engaging the blank page, falling forward into our lives, having the “courage to be” (Tillich).
Image above is of Virginia Woolf’s writing desk, courtesy of this blog HERE.