What to do when you don’t know what to do next


God, it’s taken weeks to write this little update.
Why? I seem to have ‘lost the plot’, thank you English language, that phrase fits perfectly.
Where is the story of me headed? 

I started Red Ladder Studio a year ago by creating a website with the tagline ‘Dharma meets Art’. It quickly became much more than I’d imagined, and various opportunities showed up on the doorstep with me having to do little more than saying ‘yes’. 

When you start a business, like Red Ladder, all the advice is to have a clear plan and some definite goals, like a cook who starts with a recipe. But sometimes when I’m making dinner, I just start chopping an onion before I know what the dish is going to be. I never had a recipe for Red Ladder. 

I’m just back from a month at the San Francisco Buddhist centre where I was teaching some workshops on ‘The Life of Objects’ and a couple of retreats. There was a moment there, where I suddenly saw the gulf between what I can express in person and what comes across online. I’ve not been able to write anything since!  

I couldn’t continue to do what I’ve been doing in the way I’ve been doing it, but I don’t know how to do it differently. How do I translate my actual person into the online world? 

The state of ‘not knowing’ is something we often try to hide. Like when someone uses a word I don’t know, and I keep nodding, hoping the context will give me enough clues to figure out what they’re talking about. But if I’m not willing to be with ‘not knowing’ how will anything new come into being?

Not knowing is a womb, something new is born from it, but first it has to gestate.

Joanna Macy coined the term, ‘creative cognitive crisis’. An impressive way of saying, ‘I’m really confused right now’. It feels like a crisis but it’s super creative. In fact, it’s indispensable if we want to learn anything. 

There are some things I do know:

I’m a good ‘teacher’

I don’t like to use the word teacher in Buddhist circles as it smacks of being some kind of guru or having spiritual status, which is a big turn off. Facilitator? No, I don’t like that either, sounds like I’m separating myself out from others.

What do you call someone who’s pretty good at communicating what they understand in a way that makes it gettable? Who likes sharing little things that seem meaningful in a way that sparks others to see the meaning in their own lives? That. I’m good at that. 

I’m a talker

I’m an extrovert. My best thoughts seem to come in response to real live questions, I thrive on being ‘put on the spot’. While others might ‘go blank’, I get completely switched on. 

I’m not a writer

My ‘drawing a blank’ comes when I sit alone in a quiet room. I’m managing to write this now by intensely imagining my best friend, what would be the point of talking to myself? Though, come to think of it, maybe that is what writers do and imagining a listener isn’t really cheating.

Rachel Whiteread, House, London, UK, 1993-94

Rachel Whiteread, House, London, UK, 1993-94

I’m not an artist

I bring together dharma teachings and art forms believing they shine a light on one another. For example, using Rachel Whiteread’s sculpture to reflect on the fact that we often notice what appears in space, but not the space itself

She sculpts negative space, the insides of buildings, taking away the ‘forms’ and giving form to the space. 

People then ask me if I am an artist. ‘Er, no, not really, not an artist as such, not a painter or photographer, or anything with a name.’

I might be a curator 

That would be a curator with a very small ‘c’ and an apology to any actual curators reading this. The idea was a little gift from someone who’d started to ask me if I were an artist and then announced, ‘No, you’re a curator’. Later, during the same event, I was thanked by someone else with the words, ‘Thank you for curating our experience’. 

Given what I know, alongside my ‘not knowing’, what do I do next? This blog post is me ‘chopping an onion’, waiting for the next step to reveal itself. 

What do you do when you don’t know what to do next?

Rachel Fuller6 Comments