Begin where you are and go from there
When people express feeling unsure how to proceed with working on something they are desiring to work on in their lives, and when my input about this conundrum is solicited, one of the responses I sometimes give is akin to this: to proceed, begin where you are and go from there.
Recently, I won a painting from the Bath Artisans group via a draw from names put into a metaphorical hat. What I won, specifically, is a progressive painting, a painting made by the efforts of several local artists each taking turns painting a different part. When I picked up the painting earlier this week, the women who greeted me explained what a progressive painting was and showed me examples. “That is awesome,” I thought, and so touching. To me, the method for creating the progressive painting highlighted nicely the concept of begin where you are and go from there. First one person works on the canvas, then then next person meets the canvas where it is at and adds more, then the next person meets the canvas where it is at and adds more and so on.
What I also found interesting, though perhaps this is a bit of an aside, is that there is not always a set plan. The women explained how in the progressive painting they are working on currently, each artist responds to the canvas freshly and goes from there, meaning each artist can paint into the piece virtually anything based on whatever flows from each artist’s personal meeting of the canvas and the direction each person senses in which to go.
Returning to the phrase, “begin where you are and go from there,” what does the “go from there” part mean? I think the going part can mean many different things in application. What it looks like really depends on where we are and what we are needing. Going could actually mean staying with or noticing part (or all) of our experience a bit more rather than fleeing from or not paying attention to it. In essence, going could mean trying something different or it could mean staying the course.
In psychotherapy as in life, beginning where we are and going from there is what we do, what we can do. We notice where we are, how we are, as we are. We start there. We go from there. We repeat.
I came across a passage in the book, Mindfulness in Action: Making Friends with Yourself through Meditation and Everyday Awareness by Chögyam Trungpa (edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian) that also spoke to me of this. In the passage, Chögyam Trungpa was writing about meditation although I think the concept can readily and helpfully be applied more broadly. He wrote
When we first begin meditation, we don’t begin “properly”. We begin as we are. We may even begin in a somewhat distorted or confused way. Having no idea how to begin properly, you begin somehow or other. You just do it (2015, p. 85).
We begin where we are. We begin as we are.
Chögyam Trungpa continues
People are often bothered by this haphazard way of beginning. They are looking for perfection right from the start. But there is no such thing. You have to start on the spot with the confusion and the imperfection. Spontaneity begins with the clumsiness, the imperfection, by making a fool of oneself. Let us be fools; let us do it (2015, p. 85).
As you read this, whatever moment you find yourself in, whatever month, whatever year, whatever age, whatever circumstance, there is always this possibility: meet yourself where you are, just start there. And there is also always the invitation to try, if possible, to experiment with meeting yourself with a motivation of friendship. Each moment is an opportunity to practice—to try and try again. You don’t have to get it just right; rather, you tune into your motivation to cultivate something helpful, and then, quoting Chögyam Trungpa, you “begin as you are…having no idea how to begin properly, you begin somehow or other”. You begin where you are and you go from there.