I had the opportunity to witness the final day of a week-long Tibetan monk mandala creation in Santa Barbara, California.
The tradition for this type of Buddhist mandala is to represent an ideal of a perfect universe, transforming our ordinary human minds into a state that is enlightened.
The Sanskrit meaning of the word mandala is ‘circle’, and these art pieces are a combination of intricate geometric patterns, iconic designs, and imagery contained within a circle. The mandala is created using colored sand and is not designed to exist for long. The use of sand as their medium symbolizes the impermanence of existence.
The Tibetan monks I witnessed had been laboring for five long days, hand placing small grains of colored sand in intricate patterns and designs on a 40” diameter board.
There were three monks who worked on this mandala, ranging in age from mid 20’s to late 60’s. They had been sitting for hours each day of the creation with unwavering patience building up small mounds of sand to create colored and 3-dimentional sections that transformed the overall design into an other-worldly vision.
It was beautiful to witness, and I found myself transfixed on the detailed minutia of the patterns within the large circle, imagining the symbolism and meaning for each.
When I stood back it looked like a painting, but when I leaned in I could see each sand granule in its perfect place. I marveled at the ability these monks had to work in such harmony with each other and for the pure enjoyment of the act of creation.
On the day that I attended guests were invited to listen to the monks speak about the meaning behind their mandala and learn more about the general concepts of the practice of making these works of art.
Mandalas are each created with different intentions in mind. For this Medicine Buddha mandala it was created with the intention of healing and the promotion of peace, well-being, and happiness.
I was entranced by their words, nearly forgetting what was to come next.
Creation and Destruction
As is customary with the practice of mandala creation, equally important is the mandala’s destruction. Brushing away the structure and releasing the design from its confines is a part of the process.
It happens fast and in an oddly anti-climactic way. In one fell swoop I witnessed the beautiful design be brushed away. The detail gone as individual colored sand that had just moments before stood together with partner colors were all suddenly blended into one mash-up of non-descript hue.
There was an audible gasp in the room when it happened but also an odd sense of relief. As if the tearing apart of the structure within the patterned design was a liberation of the soul.
The Burden of Being Precious
Watching the hours of artistic endeavor be quickly reduced to dust (literally) resonated deeply with me.
As a long time commercial artist, I have had the privilege of being able to build a career around artistic creation, both for myself and for clients. It’s rewarding to realize a vision that once had lived only in the mind come to life and take its place in the world.
With my business, I could understand creation, but destruction I couldn’t. It went against my work ethos.
Watching this mandala be created and gifted to the world only to see it get brushed away got me thinking about the idea of coveting what is created. About being ‘precious’ in how we view the work we do and the product we create.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, being precious can be explained as “behaving in a very formal and unnatural way by giving too much attention to details that are not important and trying too hard to be perfect.”
This idea of being precious and perfectionistic about what we create is not limited to careers in the arts.
In every line of work and business model, it’s easy to view the product that is offered through a very protective lens. Whether that product is you as a teacher, service provider, or a tangible good, the way we view our product is reflected in how we express our work.
Being proud of what you create is great, but being fearfully protective is not.
It’s hard to speak of being precious without thinking of the character Gollum from the ‘Lord of the Rings’, coveting his ring and never wanting to let it go. This desperation perfectly illustrates the perfectionist predicament business owners often fall into regarding their product.
When we look at the product of our efforts with precious eyes we find ourselves gripping to a truth that may or may not be real, and most certainly is subjective in the greater perspective of the work.
4 Ways Preciousness Impedes Growth
1. Creativity Blocker
Creative Ideas are stifled when the only acceptable outcome is perfection. Common thoughts like ‘when it’s perfect, I’ll get it out’, ‘once I have X, I’ll be ready to go ahead with it’, or ‘after X happens, I can let others know’.
The common thread in all these thoughts is the idea of ‘when’ something happens, ‘then’ I can progress. Being precious about your product inevitably sets your work on a pedestal that is too high to reach and too heavy to move.
2. Immobility and ‘Stuck-ness’
Growth cannot occur when limitations and boundaries are placed that don’t allow space for a product to evolve or transform. When preciousness blocks access to others, there is no forward mobility. The very best ideas and creative endeavors are of no use to the world if they remain bubble-wrapped in your office.
3. Time Suck
Being precious about the work you create takes a lot of time, energy, and personal bandwidth to maintain. It’s exhausting to keep explaining away the litany of reasons why your product is still waiting for its big moment in the sun. Hours can easily turn into days, months, and years as you succumb to the weight of the wait.
4. Confidence Killer
Being precious is a gateway to insecurity. What you see as precious today, someone else may either replicate better or more successfully tomorrow, leaving you holding on to your product without realizing the benefits of all the hard work, ingenuity, time, creativity, and attention you invested in it.
So what can be done to remedy this?
5 Ways to Let Go of Your ‘Precious’
Here are five ways you can start now to loosen and release your grip on what you are holding on to and being precious about in your business.
1. Think BIG Picture
If you hold tightly to what you create, never allowing the opportunity for it to breathe or grow, you’ll slowly kill it. When you grip tightly, you’re thinking from a place of fear and scarcity and viewing your product in a small and non-expansive way. When space is allowed in, you’re able to practice release.
Envision your product making its debut in the world. Take an eagle eye perspective and notice that this version is just being born, and it’s appropriate and wise to see the space around it intended for growth.
2. Allow Energy In
Being precious takes a lot of energy to maintain. When you decide to wait, hold, and simmer on your product for whatever reason you determine, you’re actively participating in the construction of your safety fortress. Walls will certainly make you feel safe, but they ultimately make you feel trapped.
When a product is stuck inside the walls of a fortress, take some time to identify those walls you’ve built around it. Name them (i.e. failure, rejection, loss of money, etc.). Think about the underlying energy behind the words of your walls and question their validity. Are those thoughts true? How does this change the way you view the readiness of your product?
Now, imagine a window opening in your fortress and a breeze containing all the opposite energy flooding in (i.e. success, acceptance, profit, etc.). For a moment, let yourself trust that this breeze brings in the truth. How does this shift your opinion? Has your product changed with this clarity?
3. Own Your Confidence
When stuck in a precious moment with your work, it’s important to ask yourself one crucial question: ‘Did I do my best?’ If the answer is yes, then you need to stop there and own it.
Being stuck in the proverbial headlights of ‘but could I have done better?’ will never get your product released, the article written, the proposal sent, the project put out to a client, or the idea pitched. At one point, you need to believe in yourself with confidence and say, ‘I did my best’, not ‘I did this perfectly’.
4. Let in Others
You’re not an island, but for some reason, women in business tend to struggle most with asking for outside input or help. It’s important to understand that even if you find yourself wearing every hat in your business now, getting an outside perspective is needed to gain clarity.
You know your product better than anyone, but maybe your view is too narrow. Letting others in to increase the aperture of your business will increase the confidence you have in your product’s readiness.
5. Take Action Steps and Celebrate
Take action steps (even baby action steps) toward making this new clarity and perspective on your product more robust than the walls of your fortress.
Celebrate each milestone you cross off your qualifier list for your product. Whether it’s an email sent, a phone call made, an account created, or the final release into the world of your great idea, each of these steps are important in the big picture story of your business and what you’re investing your energy in creating.
Release What You’ve Created
On that late summer day in Santa Barbara, I learned that the most productive (and healing) way to create is to be willing to let go.
Freedom from the preciousness predicament occurs when you see the product of your efforts as excellent and not perfect. When you loosen the grip of expectation and start letting energy in, you own your decisions and what you’ve created from a place of strength and confidence.
This is a daily practice, but when you work these muscles, you gain strength in your ability to move forward.
You were created to create, and the product of your efforts is the gift you give to the world. Let go of preciousness and see where you’re led. It’s a lot more fun to be riding on the roller coaster of life than it is to be standing on the ground watching and waiting for permission to join the adventure.