The Blank Canvas

(Originally posted on Huffington Post)

“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.” Paul Cezanne

Looking into the blank canvas of my day, I emerge riddled with the anxiety of uncertainty and restless with unknowing. Instead of basking in the delight of each day’s mysteries, I all too often wrestle with them in an attempt to know. It seems the blank page often comes before the blank canvas; the page might be an outline or sketch but the work that begins on the canvas is, in essence, one of our many final creations.

Creating anything from scratch begins with uncertainty; we set off on an exploration, an innovation, and something that truly is undiscovered territory. We begin with the day laid bare before us, our blank canvas is also our space of infinite possibilities. Yet, despite the appeal of certainty’s veneer, are any of our creations ever fully complete or entirely lasting?

I’ve come to know the discomfort of uncertainty for as long as I can remember. At the age of 8, I began having reoccurring dreams where I would find myself dead and floating in nothingness: alone, lost, and stagnant in limitless space and eternal time. Between these reoccurring dreams my mind began questioning nearly everything: spirituality, the eternal, making meaning of life, understanding death, the whys of life, and so on.

Now, 23 years later, I stand before the same blank canvases as I prepare to paint my days and find myself with similar restlessness asking questions of each moment. Is what I’m doing, saying, creating or being a means to an end or coming from an ache that needs to be spoken to, addressed, expressed, or otherwise? In other words, am I stepping out of my own way and truly giving who I am to the day’s blank canvas?

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“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” Agnes De Mills

When it comes to my life and work I often paint too much on the canvas. I over-define, re-do, and overdo until things arrive back where they began (and often belong) – a pile of unknowns. Just when I think I have a final piece or creation, the blank canvas reappears at every turn; the paint is lifted and I’m left precisely where I began. In these moments, my tightened fists holding what I once thought was known are peeled open to fully encounter the work, the moment, the art.

To be present with the blank canvas and remind myself that it is okay to begin again, or even rest with the emptiness, is also a process. The moments of being at peace and wonder as I look at the blank canvas do not exist for me without moving through and being present with that still unsure part of me: the anxiety, uncertainty, the grasping, the pains, the sadnesses, and ultimately moving through the unknown to a place of acceptance.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke

Alas, each day again begins by gazing into the blank canvas of life coupled with my restlessness -how and what should I paint today? In remembering my 8 year old self, I look anew upon the mysteries with reverence. I remember I can give the questions the love and respect they deserve. Now, when the anxieties and agonies of my unknowing climb up to meet my busy brain, I can be present to myself and say as Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, “I am here for you dear one”.

So, in remaining here for myself and everyone else with a restless spirt striving towards wonder, I say along with Thich Nhat Hanh: “I am here for you dear one”.

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Published by Cassidy Hall

Cassidy Hall (MA, MDiv, MTS) is an author, filmmaker, podcaster, and holds a Masters of Divinity, Masters of Theological Studies, and Masters in Counseling. Born and raised in Iowa, she now works at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Indianapolis where she is pursuing ordination in the UCC. Throughout her time at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, she worked as a Teaching Assistant while studying for her MDiv and MTS degrees (December, 2021). During her time at seminary, she also served as the Secretary of the International Thomas Merton Society and continues to serve on the board of Enfleshed. Cassidy co-authored Notes on Silence (2018) and has had her work featured in devotionals including most recently: Thirsty, and You Gave Me Drink; Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, from Clear Faith Publishing (2021). Her essays have been published in the Christian Century, The National Catholic Reporter, Convivium Journal, The Thomas Merton Seasonal, The Thomas Merton Annual, and she has also been a contributor for The Huffington Post and Patheos. Before pursuing her MDiv and MTS in Indianapolis, Cassidy lived in Los Angeles where she worked on the production team of the documentary feature film, In Pursuit of Silence. The film’s success on the festival circuit and beyond led to its worldwide theatrical release. Her directorial debut short-film, Day of a Stranger, paints an intimate portrait of Thomas Merton’s hermitage years and received the Audience Choice Award from Illuminate Film Festival.   She is the co-host of the Encountering Silence podcast, which explores the ambiguity of silence in our modern-day lives. And more recently, she created a podcast hosted by the Christian Century titled Contemplating Now, which examines the intersection of contemplation and social justice.

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