He grabbed the paper and held it into the air. Looking at his parents. The young man looked happy, but on the inside, he felt quite different. He saw how the entire room was filled with parents. All looking at the stage with a twinkle in their eyes and a wide smile on their faces. If he looked at his parents he saw nothing but joy and a sense of pride. Something he hadn’t often seen in their faces. He walked off the stage and handed the paper, to his parents. They looked at it and hugged him. He felt a strange mix of resentment, fear, and pride. After all, he graduated so he should be proud. But he knew that it had not brought him any further. He was now, as he thought, exactly at the same spot as where he had begun. In the same auditorium where he walked 5 years ago. His body was then filled with stress and anxiety for a new period of school. Oh man he regretted making that decision, but he could let anybody notice this. He finished school and that was all that mattered.
“Well done son!” His mom spoke loudly, trying to make herself audible over the loudspeakers that were now booming party music. “Thanks, mom” The boy answered whilst shrugging his shoulders. “I want to go home,” he thought to himself. He wanted to do something. After all now was the time he should start making money with his craft. Nothing was demanding his attention anymore. “No more excuses!” He had thought to himself many times. School is over and now the real next phase was about to begin. So a few hours passed with him shaking hands and trying to look proud of his achievement. After some time he went home.
The young adult sat in the back of the car. His father driving and mother sitting in the co-driver seat. It was dark outside. He saw one after the other streetlight pass by. He lived about 30 minutes from his school. Normally he would travel by train. He loved doing the same thing as he was doing now. Looking outside whilst enjoying a podcast or audiobook. He loved the solitude of traveling. Over time his eyes started to become heavier. Following all those streetlights made him tired. His eyes constantly moving from right to left trying to keep up with the streetlights was tiring for his brain. He closed his eyes and fell asleep.
The drive home seemed to last only a few seconds after he fell asleep. The rest of the night wasn’t any special. He placed his diploma on his desk and went to bed. He was excited about tomorrow. His first day working on his dream was about to begin.
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The alarm clock woke him up abruptly in the morning. It sounded different. As if he liked hearing it today. He jumped out of bed full of excitement. The shimmering light of the moon was softly entering his room through the blinds. Winter was well on his way, so he was used to getting up and seeing only the moon and a few stars. He looked in the mirror and splashed some water in his face. That would wake him up. He didn’t notice how quickly his heart was pounding in his chest. His teeth grinding on one another and his tongue in constant stress. His breathing was shallow and caused more of the stress responses he didn’t notice. He thought it was exciting, and it was. Part of it. But most of it wasn’t.
He continued his usual morning as he had been doing for years now. Waking up, followed by meditating. Yet this time it felt different. It was as if his mind was clouded. He loved to take photos and his mind felt like a blurry picture. He couldn’t focus on anything. Not on his breath, nor his thoughts. In a desperate attempt to get control over his mind he started breathing in more forcefully. Which in turn only increased his heart rate. Still, he didn’t notice what his body was telling him.
He stopped meditating, he couldn’t focus. He went down ate his usual breakfast and went back up again. Into his room. He placed his easel in the middle of the room. Made everything ready for his first-ever painting made for a living. He felt a certain pressure. So after he finished setting up everything he decided to wait a bit and grab a cup of coffee before really starting. His easel, canvas, brushes, and paint waited for him. Quietly yearning in the back of his mind to just be used. Without thoughts. They wanted to take him away. Into his world. Into something here and now. But he was too distracted. He needed everything to be exactly right. So they waited.
They waited for a few minutes. Then the young painter came up again. He placed his cup of coffee on a small table. Its brown liquid steamed and made the room smell burned with a hint of hazelnut. Which the boy didn’t seem to notice. He looked at his canvas and made a plan. He thought of what people would want to buy. “What would someone like?” He asked himself. The brushes wept. They couldn’t speak but they knew that their use wasn’t pure. It was used to make money. The young painter was still in a blurry state of mind. Rushed. No focus. Quick heart rate and he even started too sweet. His feet were constantly tapping the floor and the coffee seemed to enhance the effect.
Quickly he thought. I have to create something.
The master at play
Soon after some form of inspiration hit him. He took it. Even though it wasn’t his best idea he just started. Picked up one of his brushes and layered one after the other stroke off the paint on one another. The brushes seemed to do their work. He was sucked into his work. Continuing to paint. Stroke after stroke. Forgetting his coffee that was still on the small table beside him. He finished after an hour or two. He looked up and wondered what time it was. He was shocked. His entire morning gone and what had he done? He only painted just one canvas. No way this was enough to make him any money. He looked at his freshly painted canvas. He hated it. This wasn’t enough. His mind seemed to finally be clear but filled with nothing but thoughts that made him tremble.
“Was he able to do this for a living?” Yes, the young painter thought this after painting his very first painting as an artist. But it wasn’t him who thought this. It was his ego he let peak through the brushes. A character in his mind that could get him to think of anything and who loved to make things tremble and shake. It wanted stability, but when it acquired stability it didn’t want that. The ego played a trick on him. Constantly making him think that if he did this one thing he would make money. He would have found stability but nothing was more of a lie than this. The ego was a master at play. Constantly tricking the young artist.
The young artist stepped back and looked at his painting. By now it had dried and he placed it on the side. He grabbed a new canvas. Again staring at it. “He had to do another one. This one wasn’t good enough.” Thoughts the ego creates for him to believe. So he grabbed the brush again and started on a new idea. A flower he loved to draw. Something he had done many times and many of his friends and family bought one of these flowers for themselves. “So surely other people just like this.” The young artist thought to himself. The brushes scoured across the canvas. The sound of sandpaper on a wooden service came closest to the sound it made. He was on fire the young artist thought. This was what he was made for. He finished his painting and step backward. He loved it, but it was so simple. He had done it many times already. And so the ego took control of his mind again.
All this time he didn’t notice his hands shaking, his heart still beating at an increasingly rapid speed and his body never standing still in one spot for longer than a few minutes. By now it was somewhere in the middle of the afternoon. So he decided to stop and upload his paintings to his social media. To see if people wanted to buy it. He had a small following of people who loved his work. So surely someone must want to buy one of these. He uploaded them and stopped working. Or at least his body stopped working. But his mind continued.
Every hour again
For the rest of the day, the young artist was still in a hyper active mode. He did his work for today but his mind didn’t make him rest. Every hour he checked his social feed again to see if someone wanted to buy his painting. This was all the ego at play. Trying to get him to do another painting that day. He created thoughts like “you haven’t done enough” or “you do not need rest now” as well as keeping his body in a constant anxious and stressed state. The young artist dreamed of this day. Of this life. But all he seemed to think about now is selling his work. Finally, he felt how his body was stress. How he was in an overactive state from the moment he woke up to this very moment. He hadn’t been aware of it. He was so focused on creating that his mind wasn’t clear. It wasn’t ready to create.
This was the very moment the boy broke the ego. The ego tried and tried over and over again to convince the boy that he was okay but that he should just create another painting. It tried to make him believe that his work wasn’t good enough. But the boy finally cleared his mind. The blurriness disappeared and he could clearly see this character at play. His body started to calm down. Understanding that the very thing he hated about school was always being judged and always having to keep doing something. But now on his very first day, he had done that which he hated to himself. He created a cage for himself in which he could only be happy if he created. No rest was allowed. But all this was, was an illusion. Because he didn’t remember anything about creating. He didn’t remember how he felt or what he thought of his paintings. He didn’t think of creating the best work possible. All he thought about was making money.
The one thing he wanted was to create but it wasn’t this kind of creation. He wanted peaceful creation, doing it to create something beautiful not to please others and do it just to make money. He wanted to give people something beautiful and that would only happen if he created that which he loved. But now he found himself on the couch still stressed, still anxious. He got carried away and he knew it. He decided to put away his phone. He didn’t want to be distracted anymore. He knew the phone wasn’t the cause of this all, but it did reinforce its feeling of stress.
He took it away
Day by day the young artist created a new painting. Just one. Each day, sometimes once a week. He created his most beautiful work. He decided to stay away from distractions. He kept reinforcing himself with the feeling of peacefulness and calmness. There were days were he felt stressed and rushed, but they seemed to occur less often. His mindset and emotions carried over into his paintings. He created for the sake of creation and that worked. His works started to sell. It wasn’t about the quality of his work, but it was about how he felt creating it. He started painting to feel joy, to be at peace, and to give others something they would love to look at. Instead, he started with the mindset that he needed to make money. This took away all the joy, peace, and giving. That is what made him restless. Both in his creation and in his downtime. This was the reason why he felt anxious doing nothing that day. It was the reason why he was stressed about doing nothing. Knowing this changed his works and made him feel one with his paintings as if it all flowed naturally.
What can we take away
The young artist is one that is in all of us. It is focused on money and greed, instead of joy and giving. I’ve talked about this topic many times with friends of mine. How the world is so focused on money instead of happiness. I wished to change that, but I didn’t notice how I was still this artist. This creator that wasn’t created to give and to help but to take and to earn. I felt anxious, stressed, and rushed even in moments of relaxation. In some way, this young artist is me, as well as it might be you. So what can we learn from him?
Listen to your body. Everything happens for a reason. So if you don’t feel like creating there is something blocking you. Something is in its way for you to create something beautiful or to do your work. That’s why some days are bad and some days are good. If we don’t listen to our bodies we create entire days that are bad. We push through instead of taking a moment to listen and to make it calm down again. We don’t need to feel stressed or anxious the entire day. It just takes a moment of reflection to calm it down and open up your mind for endless possibilities.
Get rid of distractions This is not the cause of your feeling, but it does reinforce it. Phones, people, videos, or other things that can distract you should be put on hold. Put your phone away, ask people to leave you for a few hours, and focus on that one single thing. We can’t multitask. It only makes us tenser and stressed.
These are the two things that can massively help you. It isn’t about producing more but about working effectively and in unison with yourself and the world. Creation and work are more of a spiritual practice than it is a practice to make money. We can’t save time by doing this quicker. We can’t earn time by working more productively. All we can do is focus on that which we love. It’s not a question of how we can save time but how we can enjoy the time that is given to us. It is about the experience of it all. Because remember Today I Lived!