Painting a mandala on a wall has taught me many lessons. One of them is: Just start.
As you may have read in an earlier blog, I never planned to paint a giant mandala on a wall. It wasn’t my idea to start with, but my friend’s, and she was supposed to paint it for me.
But life took her to a different country before she’d even made a start, and I was left with a blank wall staring at me, a box full of paints and brushes, and the colourful design in my head.
I realised I probably just had to do it myself. Then I had to convince myself that I could do it. That wall is big. Well, not that big, but definitely a lot bigger than a sheet of paper in my sketchbook.
Big as in overwhelming, maybe even intimidating.
Big enough to put me off, to make me procrastinate.
Big enough to make me doubt that I could do it, to come up with all sorts of excuses why I couldn’t just start the work:
Too hot, too late, too busy. Don’t have a ladder. I need scaffolding, but there’s no one to help me build it. Don’t have anything to copy an enlarged version of my design onto that wall. Don’t know how to do this.
That wall was big enough to make me want to stay in my comfort zone forever. Because starting that wall-painting would definitely be an out-of-my-comfort-zone experience in many ways.
This was a conundrum. I didn’t like the empty wall. But I didn’t like getting out of my comfort zone either. Which was worse?
Then it dawned on me that if I would just start by drawing one little thing, that wall would be “broken”: not empty anymore and thus less intimidating. By stepping out of my comfort zone for just a little bit, the whole situation would start to shift. By shifting my focus from the biggest (read: final) goal to the smallest (just get started) I was able to drag myself out of the rut of fearful paralysis.
So I went and borrowed my neighbour’s ladder. Fixed a stub of pencil on a string, and stuck a nail in the centre of the wall. Then I drew a very big circle (I had to move the ladder several times to cover the whole wall).
Stepping down from that ladder, looking up at that big circle (10 feet diameter), I still felt intimidated by its size. But the wall wasn’t empty anymore. It was now carrying the first seed of a big project. The first sketched line of a huge painting. It occurred to me that no big painting has ever been painted overnight. I heaved a sigh of relief.
I had started. And it was no big deal after all. I even felt like pushing on, and wanted to make a start with the actual design on the wall.
So I found a wooden bench, stacked some blocks and boards on it to create an even higher level, and got myself some improvised scaffolding. No help needed.
A compass, a ruler, a protractor and a pencil became the toys for my creative brain. Oh, and an eraser. Before I knew it, almost two hours had passed and the centre of the mandala had been sketched in.
What do you mean, difficult or scary? This was fun!
I was doing something that I had never done before, that nobody had ever taught me, but I managed quite alright. Of course it didn’t go flawlessly, but I’ll spare you the details of all the mistakes I made, of the eraser that I rubbed to shreds on all the lines that I put in the wrong spot at first.
The only thing that counted in that moment, was that I had started. I had begun a huge project, and the fact that it sits in a public place makes it impossible to give up halfway in. Now that I have started, I will have to keep going.
And that was the lesson I learned that day: if you want to achieve something big, all you have to do is just start with something small. Breaking through the wall of our own resistance, we find out it is just a sheer layer of false beliefs that was holding us back.
We are capable of so much more than we want to believe.
All we have to do is just start.