So. I’ve been doing some sophisticated doodling. If you follow trends at all in the social media world, you’ll know this doodling is now called ‘Zentangles.’ I took up the quirky little expressive art form about two years ago. I was looking for activities to suggest to clients as a way to discharge anxiety and to deal with a too-busy mind (one of the best ways of dealing with both anxiety and obsessive thoughts is a focused distraction) and decided to try this one for myself.
There is something soothing and calming about the repetitious patterns, the need for precision requiring concentration, and the constant attention to the size and balance of the work in progress. The activity does exactly what it’s supposed to do:create a Zen space or as I call it, a “quiet mind.”
Looking for patterns to learn, I started a Pinterest board, ‘Possible Zentangles,’ and promptly began pinning. Actually, what promptly happened is that I thought I should give up Zentangling and go back to children’s coloring books. Most of the pins that pitched up in my feed immediately produced a great sense of dissatisfaction with myself and my feeble scribbles. I took to calling what I did ‘doodling,’ and apologizing for not being very good. (I also didn’t post many of my efforts. No. I did not.) Critical of myself and my abilities, I was constantly comparing my finished pieces to the tiles I was pinning to my board. As disappointed as I was sometimes in my final effort, I kept at it because I enjoyed the process and the activity works. I regularly reminded myself that it’s about the ‘Zen’ of it, not perfection.
Recently, I came across a new Zentangle by someone whose work I enjoy very much. In fact, I often use designs from her tiles in my own because she’s creative, precise, and uses shading in a way I like. My tiles never look like hers, though I am now able to reproduce the pattern itself with practiced precision. I just can’t quite ever get the overall finished piece to look as polished as hers. But I keep trying, and looking back, I’ve clearly gotten much better. Hoo ha.
With that new Zentangle post was a link to her blog, which I’d never read, so I slid over there to see the YouTube video on how to create the new pattern. Just as I was clicking on ‘play,’ my eye caught the word, “Photoshop” in her blog. Wha….?!
I’ve been working really hard to perfect my own patterns, struggling to control my pen tip, trying to keep the black a uniform depth, practicing my shading over, and over, over, while comparing my efforts to the pieces I’ve seen posted — and she’s been photoshopping!
Every. Single. Tile.
Apparently she doesn’t post a single piece without “…correcting the white balance, cleaning up the lines, erasing the smudges, and removing any mistakes I’ve made.” Color me angry, and disappointed, in myself.
Somewhere, in the midst of that Zen-producing activity, I lost Me. The ‘Me’ that is confident, educated, accomplished, successful… blah, blah, blah. That ‘Me.’ Over something as simple as drawing repeating patterns. I allowed my ‘Internal Critic’ to come out of the hole I’d stuck her in long ago and proceeded to allow her to pass judgment for almost two years. Over DOODLING! At least it started there. Since I let have her seat back in the Peanut Gallery, she took to passing judgment on every little thing again. What a pain.
Fast forward to now. Reading that blog and comprehending that I was comparing my REAL life to someone else’s fakery completely changed my perspective. It’s like the difference between the uncut version of life and the Facebook Highlight Reel. I’ve never been caught by that particular false projection, but unwittingly fell into the self-critical trap over doodling. It’s not that I was suddenly unsuccessful, or incompetent, or unconfident, it’s that my shift in perspective wiped away much of my enjoyment in life because self-criticism never stops at the doodling (or whatever). Once that voice is allowed to speak without correction, eventually everything becomes “not quite right.” It’s a subtle, progressive descent into dissatisfaction and the Slough of Despond.
Have you ever banished that Internal Critic to the deep, dark hole where s/he belongs? Whose voice is it that you hear? When do you mentally dismiss your own efforts; intelligence; accomplishments; talents; because the outcome isn’t perfect? Comparison always murders the unique, amazing ‘Self’ that you are. Striving for mastery motivates but striving for perfection paralyzes.
Are you motivated or paralyzed?