Zen Buddhism says that pressure is caused by one of three forces: tension, conflict, and wandering. Buddhists speak of these in a spiritual sense, but I’ve found they are the pressures of the creative world as well.
Tension occurs when you try to force something and it doesn’t work. You keep trying, maybe the same way over and over again, or perhaps you try something new. But you feel as though you’re getting nowhere. You grow frustrated, your muscles become tense, and your patience wears thin. The more time you spend trying, the worse it seems to get.
Conflict is pressure that comes from two sources. You’re either being pulled in different directions, or you want to go one way but someone or something is forcing you in another. Conflict can be internal, as in trying to decide between two equally compelling paths, or external, if you’re feeling pressure from outside sources.
Wandering is the most intriguing pressure to me, precisely because we don’t tend to see it as one. Wandering is the discomfort of being a beginner. It feels uncertain, unmoored. We don’t typically think of it as a pressure, but that’s what makes it so very difficult to overcome. It’s the lack of pressure, the lack of direction, that keeps us from making progress.
When an idea grabs you by the shoulders, it’s hard to ignore. When a creative vision arrives complete, when its edges are palpable, it’s easier to realize.
But when it’s hazy or mushy or uncertain, doubt seeps in around the edges. We start to see choices as bridges burned, that once we’ve chosen a path there’s no going back. We see progress as linear, when in reality it’s the fractal of a flower in bloom.
There’s a creative adage that one’s first idea is often their worst, but it isn’t true. The first idea is usually the one that arrives fully formed, wonder-full and ready to be born into the world. It feels instantaneous, but in reality it’s been simmering in the corners of our mind for weeks or months or even years.
It’s the second idea that’s the hardest.
This article is part 1 of a 3-part series. Read part 2 here:
The Three Forms of Pressure: So, Yes. Wandering