Meditations on riding the train of doubt

Below is a youtube video of a song called Train of Doubt. It's a love note to creative people and anyone attempting to make something beautiful happen in the world.

Sometimes I think I'm making progress, that finally, after all these years, I've managed to really tire of myself and the negative drivel my mind puts forth as gleaming kernels of insight and truth which are in fact, thinly disguised manipulations designed to berate the self into comparison, compliance, conformity and giving up (it doesn’t work but I keep doing it anyway hahaha).

Sometimes I don't think I'm making any progress at all.

At those times of exchanging sweet nothings, strangled in sweaty bed sheets and wrapped in the arms of Doubt, there's a few contemplations I've found consolation in. This is not an exhaustive list and none of them is a guaranteed fix of course but when one is drowning in the seductive intensity of Doubt's eyes, any floating debris will do to hold onto :)

I'm a pilgrim on the creative path.
What if I'm on a journey to a sacred place and by undertaking the journey, I've agreed to manage whatever snares, foils, roadblocks and hazards appear on the road. And I do it knowing there's no other way to get to that sacred place, no shortcuts, detours, bypasses, or fantasies of rescue involving white horses and sunsets. Just one forward-moving step at a time. This is comforting when I feel like I'm doing everything wrong because I'm doubting so much: like surely, if this was meant to happen, it wouldn't be so hard, right? Maybe not. Maybe it's just part of the road like the branches on the way to our house after a rainstorm or the pademelons who zip in front of fast-moving vehicles causing one to slam on brakes to avoid the death of said cute, bouncing marsupial. Like any journey, I can pack a lunch, avoid driving at dusk and dawn, bring along an extra fuel can just in case but there's only so much one can prepare for. The rest just has to be met as it arises and each challenge met on the road, returns me to some sense of purpose and why I chose to step onto the path in the first place.

The journey is the gold.
Sometimes I wish I had more faith, that believing I'm a pilgrim on a journey to a sacred place filled me with reliable conviction, clarity of vision, awe, wonder, meaning and purpose on a daily basis. That this was more than just a nice idea. Truth is, I haven't yet figured out where the ultimate spiritual journey goes or what sacred place might lay in wait ahead (not necessarily a bad thing... it does breed doubt though hahaha). So, the past and future are concepts of an illusory time-bound reality and the present moment's where it's at (duh). Everything outside of now is beyond control, part of the bigger picture and all I need to do is show up to the task at hand. And pay attention. One slow breath in and one slow breath out at a time. It's about the process, not the outcome. The reward's in the doing.

I'm not alone.
In my small group of arty friends, the "train of doubt" has become a point of instant recognition and relief in response to an expression of angst or complaints about how hard the creative path can be, "Ah, I get it. You're riding the train of doubt!" and we all smile and nod knowingly. And even though one is doomed to ride it alone, it's reassuring to know others stare out windows of fast moving carriages, count their failures and swallow chocolate, self-hating lies repeatedly too. Misery does like company after all. I've also started tuning in more to the stories of successful artists, musicians, poets and writers and it would appear that even the most famous, the most celebrated, validated, financially rewarded, and recognised artists still struggle with doubt (see the Tennessee Williams quote below for a sample). For sure, misery likes company... and normalising the experience of doubt is helpful. For me anyway, it builds compassion.

I can't take the good without the not-so-good.
This is something like a philosophical understanding of the price we pay for our existence as creative beings. If it's possible to reduce life to a series of checks and balances and a transactional, gigantic set of scales held aloft by some celestial starbeing in the sky, if we owe each other anything for our interconnected human lives, if there's two sides to every coin in existence, the light and dark... then I said "yes" to love, "yes" to vulnerability, "yes" to depth and therefore, I said "yes" to doubt.

Doubt defines creativity.
Given the regularity and density of similar conversations in creative circles (not to mention the volume of support programs, mentoring, coaching and meetup groups for artists out there) it would seem that riding the train of doubt defines the creative path in a fundamental way. Part of the job description. If I'm not willing to turn things over, look under the surface and hold it up to the light from a variety of angles, how can I know for sure that what I'm making has any depth or meaning to it?

Am I a sociopath?
This one makes me guffaw with delight and sputter mouthfuls of food all over the linoleum countertop at how hilariously serious I take myself. What if NOT doubting oneself was something only those with antisocial personalities, sociopaths and psychopaths are capable of?

Just do it, hunny.
One final meditation on doubt I'm sure you've heard before (and I owe a debt of gratitude to that questionable emblem of consumerism, sport and child-labour), just friggin do it, darling. Seriously, just do it.

Some more words of comfort from creative folks, poets and writers and lyrics below.

David Whyte's beautiful poem, The Well of Stars...

Lisa Frost's reminder to Love This Moment...

I don't believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me. - Tennessee Williams

The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize. - Robert Hughes

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. - Francis Bacon

Because of self-doubt, the fear of failure, or laziness, most people usually bite off way less than they can chew. - Mokokoma Mokhonoana

To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. - Yann Martel


What other helpful contemplations on doubt work for you? Please send em my way in the comments below! I'd love to hear a little of your journey with this particular sticky teacher...


  1. Mary Ann08:45

    Here is a quote from Maya Angelou that I am well familiar with but actually interpreted it in a different way for the first time today, as the result of your comments/article and your song:

    “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

    Before now, I've always taken this to mean that WE need to take care how we make other people feel, it's that important, it's that lasting, it's that impactful, but now I realize that the way that others, parents, teachers, friends family etc., make US feel will also never be forgotten, whether consciously or sub-consciously. Food for thought indeed, and the fact that you remain committed to your art, to fearlessly sharing yourself through your art and I am confident in so doing helping others around you fortunate to land in your orbit, is nothing less than inspiring. In a perfect world I would wave a magic wand and erase each and every discouraging, undermining ill-intentioned comment that has ever been strewn at you, particularly in childhood, and render those instances, those comments, utterly powerless over you, your creative spirit, and your creative confidence. You deserved better, much, much better, and perhaps the silver lining, if there is one, is that you have the talent, tenacity, and courage to let others who deal with the same issues (don't we all to some extent?) know that they, we are not alone. That in and of itself is a profound gift that you are generously offering, even when it may pain you to do so due to the tender subject matter.

    The last thing I want to say is the article itself, that precedes the quotes which are also excellent, is a work of creativity. Putting those thoughts together and expressing them so eloquently is the definition of creativity, you created something from nothing using words that only could string together in such a unique way.

    I feel I've been to church today, the good kind, thank you for that my friend.

    Oceans of love,

    Mary Ann

  2. Lorne08:46

    As far as doubt is concerned….too big a topic for little me. It’s such a loaded word that I have no idea where to go with it. But if you’re talking about doubt with regard to your art I think I can say that is a universal experience, no doubt. If your art is an extension of yourself and connects to something deeper than the conscious you’ll do it because of inner need or passion or whatever it is that is the flame inside. So if you’re an artist for the right reasons doubt won’t stop you but will likely cause pain. And my observation is that if doubt comes from somewhere deep no amount of praise or success will make it disappear.

    Doubt seems masochistic to me. Ultimately we’re beating ourselves up. But doubt in the other sense as in “I doubt the existence of god” for example, is more of an intellectual process and isn’t self -directed.

    I think the subject of doubt is a good one to shine a light on and maybe turn something negative into a meaningful and useful emotion.

    That’s my one cent.

  3. I suppose some degree of doubt is part of being an artist. But it’s funny, I have never really called it that. To me it’s more about “uncertainty” than “doubt.” The word “uncertainty” has the exciting potential of success (or failure), like a miner looking for gold in some gold-rich hills. There’s a lot of possibility there.

    Related to “doubt” or “uncertainty, I have struggled with (and had much therapy over) the idea of not being “good” enough, as many of us have. Even so, I always trusted my eyes (photography, art) and my ears (poetry, songwriting) with a childlike curiosity about “what if”. I know that failure is a distinct possibility each and every time I write, open the paints, take out the camera. And I don’t mind that. I just keep going, learning from mistakes, educating myself, trying again. Eventually I (or the collective “we”) build up enough experiences that we will surely find some success––whether just in our own minds, or reflected back to us by our friends’ praise and support.

    I am I love with the journey, which I think is the purpose of it all, anyway. Not the end in itself. In fact, there is no end, really. We can always push on to the next level.

    Lately I have been meditating on the word “courage.” (To whomever we pray): give me courage to do what scares me. Give me courage to try. Give me courage to work through my personal sense of inadequacy, whatever that may be. In the end I am as joyful for my own creations, for better or worse, as if I were joyful for someone’s child making something of the imagination.

    And this...

    Instructions for living a life:
    Pay Attention
    Be astonished
    Tell about it.

    - Mary Oliver


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