As I prepare to open my own gallery (The Susan Pitcairn Gallery) in March 2010, in the midst of the worst economy since the 1930s, at age 60 and while increasing the mortgage on our home we could have otherwise paid off, I sometimes wonder: is this too big a risk? It's next to a very busy restaurant and we got it for a decent price. I've heard lots of encouraging words. But........
Especially if I hear some dire predictions or see more closed businesses, my mind speculates:
"What if -- the economy gets even worse as predicted?"
"What if-- one of us dies or gets disabled or just hits a health crisis? We aren't so young anymore."
"What if-- it's not a good location after all, especially for a business that's not easy to start with?"
And yesterday when I learn of planned road construction this fall, I added:
"What if ---endless traffic problems do me in? "
Worry can be endless. That is the nature of the mind, isn't it? And much of the time the mind means well. It's just trying to look after our survival. And we do live in a world that requires reason and thought, especially when it comes to practical things like money and the things it buys.
So.....thank you, mind.
And, giving the worry-wart mind its due (be it my own mind or that of anyone concerned), yes... there are risks in it.
And, yes, I do have backup plans for the foreseeable ones, as I always have done in previous ventures that always seemed to turn out fine. So there are risks. So what? What else is new?
And on the other hand none of those challenges may even happen. So then the worry would just be wasted. Or some may. Or, worst case, all may come falling down together like a house of cards.
In that case, we will all be in the same boat and we can enjoy the ride together I guess...!)
But... there is also one Very Big Risk, a very predictable one that we all can be sure of:
That's the risk of not taking risks at all, especially at the collective level. What will happen if the vast majority of us were to freeze up out of fear, stop taking chances, reduce our buying to bare necessities only (even if we have the money), or invest in unproductive things like foreign currencies or gold that MAY help us but not others, rather than in positive businesses or services, especially those that are part of the solution? (To say nothing of charitable giving.)
Let's consider that in one sense we are all artists — artists of our lives. We are all painting our past, present and future, together. We are all creating this story.
So let's take a deep breath, get a little perspective and consider that the "economy" may not actually be so half-empty as we think:
• First, we still have all the talents, real resources (stuff) and ingenuity we had before the bubble burst.
• Second, Life clearly wants to live and it always finds ways to adapt. (And wow, look at how prolific and diverse it is!!)
• Third, predictions of dire futures have always been with us. That is the nature of the mind, trying to look for danger and protect us, but it's often inaccurate. For my whole life I've heard and sometimes even passed along various predictions of eminent crises: environmental, political, Y2K, etc. And consider that over 60 million Americans have read the "Left Behind" series about an apocalyptic end to the world, Revelations-style. (Wow: I hope not that many actually want such a scenario!)
Recently I've learned that that forecasting our imminent collective demise has been a continuous tendency in American history from the very beginning (probably in human history, I venture to speculate). A sociology professor once told me about a book called "Endings," which shows how people have been predicting the imminent end of the world for a very long time, for millenia in fact.
And somehow we are still here.
So, what is our best course?
I'm not suggesting that we bury our heads in the sand, nor that we spend our money foolishly and extravagantly. And I realize I am in a better position than many, especially those who have lost jobs, homes, and/or health and have little or no savings. And no one seems to have all the answers. In any case, we each have to find our own way.
But I do suggest that how we hold the future will definitely play a crucial role in creating it, both personally and collectively.
Here are some suggestions I offer for that, based on considerable reflection and experience:
The Way Out
1. Learn to be happy no matter what.
Why? Not only does it relieve emotional suffering, but it also, at the very least, gives us the will and the confidence and the intelligence to go out there and solve our problems. Happiness is very practical. It's also good for your health, as studies show.
It's also the most natural thing for us, and quite learnable, even if you have a history of unhappiness.
I highly reommend a book for this, Happy For No Reason.
Also check out the online teachings of Leonard Jacobson
, about finding the still center within our being. I find it very helpful to listen his free A-V snippets while painting or cooking. 2. Exercise your Intentions:
There's something magical about intention, as well as its obvious practical value. Somehow it seems to set things in motion. For example, at several pivotal, low and even scary moments in my life, I have noticed that a strongly-held intent to NOT go down a fearful path (or even for our society to go down such a path) and, instead, to stick to a positive course seems to have engendered serendipitous outer events, sometimes the same day. I could detail that, but for now, I just suggest: try it, as an experiment.
Treat your life as though God or some higher power lives inside you as you (and everyone) and wants the best for you and has the power and intent to create it. Simple enough, and definitely worth a try: what do you have to lose? 3. Keep your own counsel: don't get swayed by others' fears.
I know it's tough out there. Many people are living on the edge, and nearly all of us have experienced some significant decline of income and savings, some much more than others. In some sense we are all in a collective experiment. And it's a number one topic right now.
As social beings, it's natural for us to look around and see what everyone else is thinking and predicting. But even if we look to expert opinions to predict where the economy (or the biosphere) is going, we will only find "mixed reviews," as always. Many forecast that things are going to get much worse. Others think we are beginning to recover. Others cite the old contrarian adage that the time to invest and to buy is when everyone is the gloomiest about any recovery ever happening: that signals the bottom of a cycle that has always gone back up.
The truth is, that no one knows for sure
what will happen tomorrow, either in our own lives or in the world.
(Most likely, the sun will come up and the earth will be spinning around it. Beyond that....?) 4. Take actions as needed to make things better, but be unattached to the outcome: it doesn't matter that much when you know where your true riches are: inside.
It's nice when things to well, but we must never lose sight of the fact that we can't count on the outer world to make us happy for very long. It's nature is ups and downs, gains and losses. So look for the lasting wealth. The greatest riches we have are those that increase the more we share them: the unconditional happiness, love, compassion and peace that we all seem to be capable of accessing deep inside.
Accessing those positive feelings requires that we learn to see our thoughts as just thought, and not important. On a daily basis. To see, deeply, and not just as an idea, that real life and real happiness is only found here and now, apart from any life circumstances. For most of us this is a lesson we seem to have to learn over and over again, but with practice, it becomes easier. With practice we can learn to live more in a calm peace that is apart from the push and pull of good/bad, like/dislike, fear/hope--- all those opposites. Like the grey that is the balance between opposites on the color wheel, this place of balance can hold all circustances with love and ease. Humans have found this peace often in the midst of the most trying of circumstances. If others can do it, we can do it.
5. Welcome the good when it comes, from a calm perspective
. The good news about not caring that much about what happens because you've found those deeper riches is that somehow this happy and unattached perspective seems to engender improvements outwardly: you get the job, you find the mate, you make the sale. Your body recovers. And so on.
That's been my experience for the most part, anyway, and lots of other folks report that as well. It's as those it harnesses the greater wisdom of Life itself, of God, of that mysterious Source of all that is, whatever we may call it. How about just "Universal Intelligence"? Whatever we call it, it surely exists in some manner as the organizing principles of life, and it is amazing.
Think about it. This mysterious force continuously creates the most incredibly complex and magnificent details and vastness of all life, not only on earth, but no doubt in countless other places throughout a universe that contains more stars that there are grains of sand on earth. (Think about that one for a moment).
Think that power can help us all bring the current economy to great abundance, justice and value for all?
I think so. 6. Find your gifts and opportunities to SHARE what you have to offer.
Love and wisdom want to spread. That is THEIR nature. So look for gentle ways to help others, practical as needed, but most of all, the deeper assistance we all offer each other with words of encouragement, wisdom, appreciation and love. Love is one of those things that only grows the more you give it away.
And it creates a world around you in which people are happier, more cooperative and more fun.
But you know all this. Don't you? At some level? Of course!
7. Be gentle with yourself .
We all can get impatient, caught up in our own minds and concerns, and so on. And OF COURSE we will lose touch with all this insight and wisdom just in the normal course of life. In addition to that, our circumstances may take a sudden turn for the worse that may throw us off balance for some time. That's fine. That's life. That's the game. Enjoy it. Get better at it with time. Aim to master it. Happiness is only, right now, one thought away.
My Own Plan (or The Inner Mission of My Gallery)
I am an artist and that's what I do. That's what I sell as well, paintings.
But more than that, I am a human being, a soul that wants to learn and grow.
So the main mission of my gallery is not to make a buck, or even to show my work. It's to offer something of value to people. The art is part of it, but I would like my gallery to be a place where people can find joy, hope, love, inspiration, peace and encouragement.
I hope to be an agent in that process as much as I can. One challenge I can predict are those who may walk in who are discouraged, especially by the economy, but also by any of a number of life circumstances. If they speak in that manner, or even suggest that I have made a mistake in opening a business (and some will) I hope to find the right words to lift our spirits together. It will be a fun challenge, at the least.
I suspect that working in an artist-owned gallery will be much like being a hair stylist or a barkeeper: it's a great venue for meeting new people and a little informal counseling, sharing and encouragement. If people walk out with more hope than they came in with, I will know I am succeeding in my business. And I feel confident that this is the best I can do for myself as well.
So, this my personal "experiment" for 2010 as I undertake a new venture:
to do my best to paint my life as full.
The UPDATE-- (Feb. 2012) As it turned out, I did decently and inspired a few people. We had some great community gatherings at the openings and I loved decorating and arranging the place. The location was less than ideal and mostly I sold prints to people who were not serious collectors. It was a hard place to paint, with people coming and going, and with my love of plein air (outdoor) painting.
One of my staff (artists working on commission only) left town and another passed away. I could have hung on, economically speaking, but it turned out that I just found keeping the hours, doing the PR, planning and changing shows, and dealing with other artists and their issues just more than I wanted to continue to handle, especially during the long slow summer. Too much "doing" and not enough "being" was, for me, a challenge that made it hard to stay in the state of inspiration that prompted the whole venture.
So, on a hunch, just six months after opening, I asked a business neighbor if he wanted to buy the space. We worked out a nice deal and I sold it quickly at a small profit on the building (and an absorbable loss on the business, mostly due to ad and startup costs).
Now I enjoy the interest coming in monthly on the loan and, wow, do I ever appreciate my freedom!
Advice: If I were ever to do this again, I'd probably want to either do it with a very close and committed partner (preferably a relative) and keep the hours very unspecified. In other words, use it more as a studio. Where I see this working for others, that seems to be the case. I'd also make sure the space itself felt very livable and comfortable. I found it a bit stuffy and it was hard on my health, I think mostly due to locating my workspace next to the high-EMF emitting dimmer switches for the track lights and being drenched in microwaves from WiFi, cell phones and the like all around me. That's another subject!