OK… Here I am, breaking through the blank white page phobia.

That’s all it takes. Two strokes and I’m back in the swing of things. Today I write, tomorrow, I paint.

I used to think that painting and writing were functions of opposite sides of my brain; i.e., when I am writing, I am working from my left hemisphere (rational, logical, spellcheck, editor) and when I am painting (emotional, flow, free, fun), I am working from the right side of my brain. Now, I know this is an oversimplification of a much more intimate and integrated process. Since I am not a neuro-scientist or expert of any kind in the area of brain function, suffice to say when I am writing or painting, I reside in an altered state of consciousness.

“A little bit of this and a little bit of that,” my old Jewish grandmother used to say when I asked her what she was putting in the blackened pot on the stove.

During the last two months, I did not have one drop of energy to put into painting or writing. Because of this, I made sure I didn’t have any time which might be construed as a perfect time to do either. I felt crushed by emotional abandonment, loss and whirling obsessive thinking. The uncertainty with which we live everyday suddenly surrounded me in shades of gray and black. The darker it got, the more depressed I felt.

Then, one day, I found a very special book on my shelf. I took it out,  placed it on my nightstand and began to read a section of it every night before closing my eyes.  “Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion” by Pema Chodron (an American Buddhist nun and one of the foremost students of Chogyam Trungpa, the renowned Tibetan meditation master) consists of a day-by-day collection of thoughts to accompany the traditional 108-day Buddhist retreat.

The first thing I learned was her belief that any assumption which leads one to believe that meditation or any type of spiritual training will lessen our habitual patterns and ultimately lead us to become more open-minded, more flexible, and centered in the now… is not quite what happens, certainly not immediately. What actually happens with any new and ongoing practice is that our patterns first intensify. She calls this “heightened neurosis.”  Even though we wish to remain steady in the face of uncertainty, “we hold on tight in very habitual ways.”

Pema says “Compassionate inquiry into our reactions and strategies is fundamental to the process of awakening. We are encouraged to be curious about the neurosis that’s bound to kick in when our coping mechanisms start falling apart.” At the very moment of anger, pain, depression, fear, groundlessness – no matter the size or shape or color – we need to lean into the discomfort of life, to be with our experience.

She claims, “This very moment is the perfect teacher.”

I inhaled her words, drank her wisdom and filled up my mind, heart and spirit with a new way of  looking at my depression. Time to acknowledge my feelings, forgive myself for being human and make a fresh start; time to get rid of the old stories, make room for whatever comes next, connect with the moment and continue to practice the four qualities of loving: kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity to myself and to others.

This didn’t happen overnight. Visualization also helped me to get over my obsessive thinking. I imagined a large red stop-sign and every time my thoughts wandered to my pain, to the old story, the sign appeared and I brought my mind back to the present. I’m still using this as a road-block for lapses in intention but, I am painting. I am writing. And, I can breathe the fresh air, smell the flowers and love unconditionally.


I’d love to get your feedback on this post. If you could like to share similar (or not so similar experiences, please do so.  Just write under the comment section or send correspondence to myrna@myrnacohn.com.

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