On moving beyond 2020
A reflection of 2020 and an approach to entering the new year with enthusiasm, meaning, and optimism.
The first issue of Beginner’s Mind went out on December 15 of 2019. In the blink of an eye, a global pandemic propelled the world in a new direction. Lives were disrupted and we were exposed to tragedy after tragedy, yet if you are reading this, you made it through the wilderness, somehow you made it through. And I don’t think the world will ever be as it once was. The tragedies blew our cover and exposed the vermin that’s long been taking residence under the rug.
Our hearts sank in early 2020, we saw reports of the Australian wildfires that negatively impacted nearly 13 billion animals. Shortly thereafter, we heard the news of COVID-19 in Wuhan that spread its way to the rest of the world.
As soon as the virus settled in America — a mass response to police brutality took place in the form of riots, violence, and chaos. On May 30th, Chicago was set ablaze by people calling for justice. That day, I spent my morning documenting the conditions downtown and before things began to turn wild, I headed home. That night my sleep was scattered as I listened to the police scanner with concern, fear, and a glimmer of hope. Chicago was burning and our humanity was violated by misunderstanding and a lack of compassion.
Yet somehow, here we are. We’ve made it — however bruised, tattered, and broken we may feel — 2020 comes to a close. All that we can do is move forward and take the new year with lessons learned and a hopeful heart.
This year gave us the gift to contemplate and reframe our relationships with the world, each other, and ourselves. To denounce 2020 undermines the positive effort that was exerted by many. So despite the trauma our world endured — we’re here with a fresh modern real-world education. It’s now time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
What I’d like to share with you are a few things that helped me navigate the turbulence of 2020 — in hopes that perhaps it might be helpful to someone somewhere. They’re things that fueled my creativity, kept my spirit high, and cultivated an increased level of self-awareness.
The importance of community.
It’s become increasingly and paradoxically comfortable to bend our necks downward to our technology as a manner to keep up with the world. We’ve turned our spaces into any place in the world as we communicated far and wide. It became unavoidable to not depend on platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and social media — as they granted us the opportunity to remain connected.
With lockdowns in place, isolation grew, and according to The Brookings Institution — mental health deteriorated, and thoughts of self-harm and suicide claimed their place. So the question I ask is why, despite more avenues of communication and connection, is this an issue? In October of this year, somebody I knew took their own life, and a few years ago, a close friend of mine also died as a result of mental illness. A childhood friend is currently incarcerated and when I ask him if there’s been any effort by the prison system to rehabilitate him, he says there’s been absolutely zero effort. And although mental health education has become more accessible and commonplace — I believe that the most effective way to foster mental well-being is through genuine community and connection.
My community for the past five years has been my martial arts family. Since 2015, most evenings, I’ve spent my time training with people from all walks of life. I’ve trained with children, police officers, construction workers, doctors, etc. Jiu-jitsu granted me the opportunity to calibrate my headspace which then made me more efficient and resilient outside the gym. The pandemic ended this for me but the teachings did not subside.
In May of 2020, I was sitting down reading a design book but with nobody to discuss it with. The idea to commence a design book club came to mind. I published an online book discussion event and to my surprise, ~six people showed up with enthusiasm to learn from one another. Then another book discussion came along and just like that, the group slowly began to grow in attendance. Seeing the excitement and willingness from other creatives, in the comfort of their homes, sharing with each other their spaces and faces with complete strangers — made this something worth continuing to pursue.
Our group then hosted visiting designers for conversations about the craft and theory of graphic design. Both events combined — we nearly had 100 people in attendance. And all of this began with simply the desire to talk with someone about a book. Our group is gradually growing and our programming continues to expand to offer a wide variety of relevant opportunities for our communities. And through this group, friendships have been created, and our collective understanding of our practice and industry has taken on a new meaning.
In conjunction with this, I held dearly to my Zen Buddhist community in my neighborhood. A program called Commit to Sit was formed that allowed people to meditate in the comfort and safety of their homes — not alone but with others, over Zoom. Each morning, I made my tea, lit incense, and sat. This became a beacon-like daily ritual.
Community is crucial. It reminds us that we are not alone and that we are interdependent upon one another. We share hopes, dreams, fears, and all yearn for a sense of belonging. Our communities are our mirrors — we’re able to discover ourselves through others and gain insight that helps us navigate this thing we call the human condition.
Amidst the disturbances of this year, and moving forward, it’s imperative to maintain a creative process that permits the inherently creative person within to come forth. And although this year was hectic in more ways than one — grievances and tragedies are here to stay. The more we tune into our world, the more we see that there’s trouble at every corner. Pre-pandemic, in 2019, America endured over 400 mass shootings, so global pandemic or not, grief and suffering will continue to be quite a familiar face. In 2021, Freedom House will be speaking about the impending threats to our democracy. The end of the pandemic does not signal an end to the world’s problems.
As Nick Cave says in his song Lime Tree Abour,
There will always be suffering
It flows through life like water
And regardless of what occurs in the future, this year, we all collectively developed our own interpretation of the world. We’ve become more resilient in response to what we faced and endured and what better way to document our existence and experience than through channeling our intuitive nature?
This year I adopted a new creative process that was in part influenced by John Daido Roshi’s book The Zen of Creativity and my contemplative practice of meditation. I will call it a collaborative process but rather than collaborating with another person, I worked closely with the essence of the present moment and the medium at my disposal.
In addition, an approach I’ve been working with is taking something that I’ve recently learned and translating it in a manner that encapsulates its spirit without being overt. In Daido Roshi’s book, he mentions that he instructs his students to demonstrate their understanding of Zen Koans through photographs — which is an exciting and thrilling opportunity!
Recently, on social media platforms, there’s been a rise in mental health awareness that advocates for complacency — an acceptance of being okay with being dissatisfied with current affairs but not a willingness to rise and take charge. It’s this rhetoric that I find troubling because even in the middle of dissatisfaction with life, politics, the world — we have the power to respond through making.
I hold the agglomeration of trends, aesthetics, and common vernacular, responsible for diffusing the creative spirit in others. In an effort to inspire others, digital arenas present an unrealistic representation of what creatives and people must adhere to in order to be deemed creative. Screw that.
With the conclusion of every year, we receive long lists of trends catered by institutions with their interests in mind first and foremost. And it’s through these lists and things to look out for in the coming year, that we once again commence a new page with an overbearing expectation to follow a strict set of guidelines. This false narrative is counterintuitive to any form of creative liberation.
Have faith and trust in yourself to create. Expect no results. Make it mandatory to provide the space required to create daily. Unsure of what to create? Create something about uncertainty. Don’t know where to start? That’s okay. You will figure it out.
Care for the vessel.
Kurt Cobain once attributed the angst in his music to his problem with the curvature in his spine. He said:
My body is damaged from music in two ways. I have a red irritation in my stomach. It’s psychosomatic, caused by all the anger and the screaming. I have scoliosis, where the curvature of your spine is bent, and the weight of my guitar has made it worse. I’m always in pain, and that adds to the anger in our music. That really adds to the pain in our music. It really does. I’m kind of grateful for it.
Immediately after reading this, his lyrics and tone took on a new meaning.
Much of what is evoked into the world is fueled by the subtle but present discomfort that plagues the senses. And this year, soothing aid became ever more present and popular. With the rise of normalizing self-care in the form of complacency, dark humor parading the tormented soul has become familiar and threatening. Caricatures of pain have become normalized and can be seen through slogans that advocate toxic behaviors and inflate the ego with attachment to identities imprisoned by demotivating narratives. This rhetoric and frame of mind are destructive as it reduces humans to a patheticism that goes no further than waving a self-infatuated flag of denunciation.
What I’ve found helpful is to rise early in the morning. Connect with people in a meaningful way, exercise the body through meticulous movements that amplify well-being — rather than add pain and discomfort. Investigate what works for you — and don’t rely on experts to represent and advocate for what is right for you. Stay hydrated and moving. Every moment is precious and capable of providing insight.
Approach 2021 with optimism, enthusiasm, and most importantly confidence in the ability to make an impact in the world.
I hope that this coming year is creative, fulfilling, and productive for you. Rise to the occasion with a velvet glove and iron fist.
As always, if there’s any way I can be of any help, don’t hesitate to reach out.