The sight of the mid-winter hills of England was spectacular. Their two easels were side by side. The master looked at the icicles hanging from the tree a few miles ahead. Dew stuck to his feet, which he barely felt. It was an ordinarily beautiful winter day.
A few hours went by as the master painter and his apprentice withstood the unbarring cold. Their brushes shook in their freezing hands, yet both had acquired such a level of precision that when the tip of the brush touched the canvas magic still happened.
‘I’m done.’ The apprentice said, and he stepped back from his canvas. He had completed his work in a few hours. When he looked at the master’s painting he wasn’t even close to finishing. Only part of the canvas was covered in paint. The other part was almost invisible against the snow.
The master looked at the apprentices painting and nodded.
‘You did well.’ He said. Laying down his brush. He examined the painting closely. The apprentice stepped back. Looking at the master’s work. It was full of detail. In the left-hand corner was a small rabbit full of color, and with such precision that you could see the look in its eyes. He hadn’t noticed the rabbit at all. He must have missed it when he was focused on painting the icicles hanging from the tree.
The master saw much to be improved on the young apprentice his painting. It was good, but his drive to finish things quickly got the hold of him. The master painter didn’t say a word about the painting. He simply asked the young apprentice a question.
‘Are you satisfied with your work?’ The master asked turning towards the apprentice.
The apprentice looked away, staring at the ground. He felt ashamed. He was sure the master hated his work. It was of no quality compared to that of his master.
‘I’m not actually. It’s terrible compared to yourself. I should start all over again. It’s no good. I doubt you like it, or if anyone will.’ The apprentice rambled on with enough reasons he wasn’t good enough to fill an entire book with writings of his self-doubt, and criticism.
The 3 Meditations
‘Why is that?’ The master asked.
‘You aren’t even finished with a quarter of the painting. Your work is…’
‘I didn’t ask you to compare your work to mine did I?’ The master interrupted. ‘I asked you to tell me what you think of your own work.’ He added stroking his frozen beard.
Now the apprentice started feeling bad about himself for comparing. Inside he was blaming himself, doubting his quality as a painter. ‘How could he be a painter if all he did was compare himself to his master all the time.’ He thought to himself.
‘I see you are doubting yourself.’ The master said calmly. ‘Come sit with me. This is a perfect time to teach you about the war that’s going on within you. It is of essence to find peace in the midst of that chaos, for otherwise you will live your life always thinking it isn’t enough.’
The master wiped away the snow on a fallen tree trunk on the hill and sat on one side. The apprentice sat next to him.
‘Over the years I have learned 3 meditations, 3 discoveries about myself to help me with my journey through life.’ The master began. ‘I think it is time I shared these 3 meditations with you.’ The apprentice nodded and remained silent.
If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity. -Eckhart Tolle
Doubting Ourselves Before Anyone Else Can Do It for Us
‘I’ve doubted myself for a long time as I began painting.’ The master began. ‘Just like with anything we start with, we begin with the uncertainty of it. Not knowing if we like it, if we are good at it, if it is what we were looking for, or if we will ever be able to sustain it. It is this uncertainty that can turn into fears, fear of not being good enough. The fear of being a failure. The fear of never be able to buy a loaf of bread from your work. It happened to me when I began taking painting seriously.’ The master paused for a moment.
‘I wasn’t any good at painting. I could paint a simple flower, but I never imagined myself being able to paint an entire landscape. It all felt really uncertain, and most of my friends and family discouraged me to continue on this path. I decided to do it anyway. Because you see, that’s the entire point of what makes an artist an artist. The people that discouraged me, gave in to their fear of uncertainty. They couldn’t accept the fact the life is uncertain and will never go the way you wanted it to go.’ The master looked around.
‘This world is full of uncertainty. The weather can’t be predicted, a flower could just pop up out of the ground out of nowhere. It’s all uncertain, yet all of life has had to find acceptance with this. There is no other option for them. Now we humans think we have an option. That we can either accept uncertainty or control it. Which isn’t really control but rather fear. We can’t control life from happening. If we think we can we are actually not accepting it. We are fearful of what might happen if we stop controlling it.’
‘But what does this have to do with me doubting myself?’ The apprentice asked all of a sudden.
‘You’ll have to accept the uncertainty of never knowing if you are good enough, never fully knowing what people think of your work, never knowing if you’ll be a master. Just now you didn’t accept the uncertainty painting brings with itself. You finished your work earlier than me, which doesn’t have to mean anything. Yet I didn’t say anything about it, and in that time you started to doubt yourself.’
‘Why?’ The apprentice interrupted.
‘Because you couldn’t handle the uncertainty. You didn’t know what my response would be. So instead of waiting for bad news, or criticism, you started to criticize and doubt yourself. That way you didn’t have to deal with my possible opinion.’ The master said.
‘I see, now. So what are the other meditations?’ The apprentice asked.
When we are present we can not doubt
The Key is Right Here
‘The second meditation isn’t hard. It’s just like…’ The master stayed silent for a minute or two. The apprentice waited. Unsure of what was going on.
‘I don’t get it?’ The apprentice said after a couple of minutes.
‘That’s because you are waiting for an answer. When there is no answer. When you want to stop doubting your own work, all you can do is to be present. To just live, my young apprentice. Feel the brush moving over the canvas. Hear the sounds of the landscape. See its textures and colors, that’s the beauty of painting. It’s not just your sight that adds to the painting, it’s using all your senses, being present, that makes it a marvelous piece of art.’
‘But I often can’t seem to get rid of my thoughts of doubt and criticism. It’s like I am caught and every time I try to get rid of them they come back stronger.’ The apprentice asked.
‘I did the same. It’s part of the process. But you see, your thoughts of doubt and criticism are happening in this present moment as well. You don’t need to force them away. All you need is a slight shift of attention. Instead of paying all this attention to our thoughts, trying to get rid of them, or resisting them, we can pay attention to our senses. Like sight, sound, touch. If we do so there’s no place for thoughts. You are just living.’ The master smiled and rubbed his hands together to get some warmth in them.
Butterflies can’t see their own wings. They can’t fully see their own beauty. But the rest of the world can. Humans are just like that. ~ daan uijterwaal
The Butterfly Who Can’t See Himself
‘But still, if I do all of that. I am still not as good of a painter as you. Am I?’ The apprentice asked.
‘And why do you have to be a painter like me? Why be as good as me?’ The master asked.
‘Well you are the master, shouldn’t I become just as good as you are?’ The apprentice asked confused.
‘What would that mean to you? When would you be just as good as I am?’ The master asked laying his hand on the apprentice’s shoulder.
‘Well that my painting, like I just did, is just as good as yours. That they look the same, are as detailed, and well. That I am just as good as you.’ The apprentice started to doubt his answer.
‘So what you are telling me is, that to be a master like me, you need to create work just like mine? Almost copying it? Doesn’t that sound silly?’ The master burst out into wild laughter. The apprentice felt offended but then realized the insanity of what he just said. How could he ever be a master when he would just copy other painters. He completely forgot that to be a master one has to follow his own style, craft his own recognizable hand at his work.
‘You see my young apprentice. We are all butterflies, but just like the butterfly, we can’t see our own colors. Only others can admire those. We just have to trust that we are beautiful, which we always are, because have you ever seen an ugly butterfly? I haven’t.’ Again the master burst out into laughter.
‘I haven’t seen any butterfly lately, they are all hiding from the cold.’ The apprentice said, joining the master in his laughter.
‘You must learn to do what it is you feel it is you should be doing. If that is copying other masters, do that. Sooner or later you’ll figure out your own style. What’s most important on that path of becoming a master, is to first become a master of oneself.’ The apprentice looked questionable.
‘And how do I become a master of myself?’ The apprentice asked.
‘Definitely not by trying to control yourself, or be like a slave master. Being that kind of master to yourself is unloving, and won’t ever feed your sense of being alive. Being a master of oneself means we understand ourselves like you just did. You have begun the process of becoming a master. Because you started to learn about yourself, about your self-doubt. That journey is an ongoing process, without a beginning, and without an end. It is the journey that’s enough to satisfy us.’ The master looked out over the snowy land. ‘So, shall we go inside and warm up?’ He asked his apprentice.
Recognising It’s Part in Existence
These 3 meditations will hopefully help you to enrich your life. It’s normal for us to doubt ourselves. We all go through this process. Some more than others. Especially people who are in the creative business will deal with self-doubt. As a response, we will start to be critical of ourselves. But my journey as an artist, as a writer, and creator has learned me that to be like the master I look up to, I first need to be a master of myself.
For which we need to step into life. To open up to it, and see that all is part of it. I have tried for years to get rid of my self-doubt but to no avail. It is self-doubt that is just as much part of life, as its counterpart confidence. A master of himself isn’t defined as not doubting himself, he shows himself by being confident in his self-doubt. By not shying away from it, but recognizing it. By seeing that it is part of life, as any part.
For too long have we pushed away, ashamed, and banished our self-doubt. Saying that it is no good, that we should get rid of it. But we can’t get rid of it. We can only see it as part of the journey. It will come and go, and the more you learn to feel it the less it will appear on your journey. Sometimes it will show itself because you do need a reminder to be humble and to not be cocky about your skills.
Know that you are a butterfly, unable to see its own true colors. But when you look within, master yourself, you will see that everything you doubted is a beautiful part of life. For the things, you doubt came forth from life itself. Because today you live, fall in love with all of life. So that you will make the most of it.