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Blank canvas

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

Traveler, your footprints

are the only road, nothing else.

Traveler, there is no road;

you make your own path as you walk.

As you walk, you make your own road,

and when you look back

you see the path

you will never travel again.

Traveler, there is no road;

only a ship's wake on the sea”.

Antonio Machado*

A new year begins, and the sensation of change saturates the air, sneaking into every corner of our daily lives. However, as unpleasant as it may be, renewing our calendars does not necessarily mean change, but just a simple modification on the date. That this one’s ending and the next one’s coming does not necessarily translate into endings and beginnings in our lives. For centuries, nonetheless, humans have used the conclusion of a new lap around the sun as an excuse, a reason, a source of inspiration or however you might call it, to allow themselves the illusion of contemplating a blank page, a refreshing beginning. No matter how in line with reality these sensations are, the feeling that invades us when contemplating a pristine and unmarked canvas before our eyes, gives us goosebumps and infects us with energy. After all, our perception is our reality and, humans at last, if we can create a warmer, safer, and more pleasant one, we will not hesitate in trying to do so.

The challenge of what’s new

It is easy to get carried away by the spirited impulse of a fresh start, free from debts and doubts, and it is precisely for this reason that, more times than we would like to accept, the new verve quickly fades, lacking organization and orphan of order. Because that's how good things are in life: needed of planning and care, calculation, and protection. All the hope, excitement and promises of a new beginning will see their flight cut short, if we expose them to inconsistency and improvisation. If we feel pushed to start something new, it is necessary to know what all that novelty is about, to establish our priorities, to calculate risks, and to draw an action plan that takes due account of our strengths and, especially, our weaknesses.

Those of us who struggle with conditions such as depression and anxiety, tend to easily lay our hopes on what’s new, just because it is… new. We embrace what’s different as if, in doing so, the past, with its pains, failures and guilt, would magically evaporate. Our desperation to mend past mistakes overcomes our capacity to remain calm, dragging us, unfailingly, down a path that’s anything but new. Victims of our haste, we go back to walking down old roads, stumbling over the same stones, and finding ourselves at the same dead end we were trying to avoid.

This is, however, avoidable. At the risk of sounding repetitive ad nauseam, setting goals, drawing up plans that are divided into stages and providing the step-by-step necessary resources, will open trails where before there was only jungle. That same jungle of despair and frustration that has preyed on us, but of which we are also survivors. The secret always lies in planning and perseverance, tools so often hidden in plain sight or, perhaps, just ignored due to our own lack of accountability. The good news is that the way in which our future presents itself to us depends, to a large extent, on our actions in the present. Unexpected, imponderable blows and circumstances beyond our control will always lurk and, from time to time, succeed in striking us a blow. Even so, we should never, ever capitulate in our convictions and efforts because, in the end, the fight belongs to those who want to fight it the most.

The advantage of what’s known

Even with the emotional rush and the sudden inspiration a new beginning awakens, what we already learned in those past tests that did not end as we hoped, should not be discarded, or put aside. There is an intrinsic, unrepeatable, indispensable, almost sacrosanct richness in the knowledge obtained from experience, especially that which caused us the most pain and disappointment. It is not always wise taking the "clean slate" approach. There are traces in our life that do not deserve to be erased, marks that serve as a compass when we get lost amid noise and despair, and scars that remind us that the one we are fighting now is not our first battle. All these things, put together, make up a toolbox we will draw from on countless opportunities, whenever a doubt comes to take away our sleep, or a blow makes us wonder if we are fit for battle. It is extremely necessary to transport what has already been learned to this new adventure in which we are trying to embark. It is prudent and wise.

Yesterday is not discarded just because its shadows seem to overpower the light. Shadows delineate light so that we can appreciate it, and they are also the ones that indicate how far our own brightness reaches.

Share the canvas, and the road

The coming future is yours, your own blank page. You already have your brushes and inks, at least some of them. Some might be missing, and you will have to manage to find them. There are always new colors and nuances that are yet to be discovered. I am certainly grateful for several strokes that were not born from my hand, nor did they use my colors. By pure fortune and, on rare occasions, some merit of my own, other hands have crossed my path, helping me to beautify the painting, decorate the canvas, and discover other shades. Without those nuances, my existence would be poorer.

What other colors surround you, and how many hands have reached out to you? Sometimes it's easy to give ourselves the unique right and obligation to face life alone, without considering anyone or anything else. To a certain extent, that sense of accountability that doesn’t point fingers or seek responsibility outside of our own being, is healthy, mature, and courageous. However, it is inadvisable to walk through life as exclusively singular beings. There is more out there, beyond the boundaries of our fears and reservations. Opening to whatever is outside challenges, like few things, our most human survival instincts. Even so, for the well-being of that very life we protect so much, it is necessary to seek support from other arms, wisdom from other minds, and understanding from those who, just like us, also struggle with questions, doubts, and fears, as they move into their future.

The outstretched hand asks for help, but it also offers it. This ambivalence is constant and unchangeable.

In these first days of a new year, when so many plans and ideas run through our minds, and where so many doubts and questions hang from our backs, let's begin to paint the canvas with order and purpose.

Like a blank page, the wild landscape before our eyes anxiously awaits for us to trace the path that leads us into tomorrow. Our tomorrow.

It is yours. Just start painting.

* Antonio Machado Ruiz (July 26 1875 – February 22 1939) was a Spanish poet and one of the leading figures of the Spanish literary movement known as the “Generation of '98”.

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