January is an optimistic time of promise and possibility, but It can also be overwhelming. So where do we start? As we begin a new year, a new decade, and for me and my husband a new life in a new place, that question reverberates within my mind.
We've all heard the usual “self-help” strategies: create new habits, start small, write out specific goals, etc. Last Wednesday I came up with five general areas for improvement this year. On Thursday I wrote out specific goals, three of which I had already begun a couple of months ago. Friday, I broke down in tears because it all seems impossible. My poor husband Kevin (a yogi and mental health counselor) listened to my Gordian knot of thought for half an hour before slicing through it by asking, "What is the purpose behind your writing or painting? Why do you do it?"
That truly is the beginning, isn't it? It's easy to slide down the rabbit hole of why people do or don't acknowledge us, or why someone has more (friends, money, prestige, etc.) than we do, but those are just distractions. If we focus on why we do what WE do, then the distractions fall away. Thinking in those terms allows us to begin moving forward, taking baby steps, and focus on doing the next thing without the pressure of doing it perfectly.
For me, it all begins with love. My paintings and writing serve the same purpose, to share my absolute wonder at the grace and significance of every atom, plant, animal, human, and experience in this Creation. I create paintings to reveal the beauty and intrinsic value of the creatures we share the world with. And I write to help people let go of the distractions that often cause us misery, focusing instead on what truly matters - the beauty and intrinsic value of ourselves and our experiences.
As life happens, we will lose our focus. It's unavoidable. But when things spin out of control, don't simply ask why. Ask yourself why you're there doing what you're doing. As Father Laurence founding Abbott of the New Skete monastery puts it in the book In the Spirit of Happiness, "Always keep in mind the reason you have come." Begin at the beginning.