When I was a small child I loved to color and stay within the lines. I loved getting a new box of 64 crayons and all the projects I could conjure up to create. When about age 10 my mother came upon a large coloring book of the 50 States of the USA with products, pictures of their Capital buildings, and their agricultural primary crop; I set myself a goal to finish the book cover to cover. We were on a long car trip and each day I meticulously worked on one page until the book was completed. As a consequence, I never had to memorize the States on a National Map and I knew all the Capitals.
As I colored I would often use the flat end of my crayon in order to create a darker and precise boundary line around the picture. I liked how it contained and highlighted the color within the drawing. It also marked a completion of that segment. It demonstrated that I was able to stay within the lines. When my children were taking drawing classes in high school, I learned something new – negative space and I watched them learn how to improve their skill of no line by practicing drawing with negative space. Their work is so lovely we had them framed and they cover the living room wall in our house.
Making change in our lives is about learning to create with that negative space. In order to be successful in making a meaningful change in one’s life one has to remove the boundary line that was containing the old concept or idea. I wish I could say that I could teach a child not to place that darker line around things and experiences, but that line is a survival mechanism that is vitally important. Most 3-4 year olds can tell one the sex of a chair or a dinner plate, when they are categorizing life, but they have punched holes in that theory by the time they are 5.
When we are making New Year’s Resolutions or changing our eating patterns, we need to punch holes in the boundaries of our old patterns in order to create that negative space necessary to make the change complete or successful. Those of us who believe in the power of the positive actually avoid looking at those old boundaries and think that just diving in will move us forward and we will not have to deal with the negative feelings.
In my own life I had an extremely difficult time giving up ice cream cones after I was told to stop all dairy products. No problem with cheese, or whipping cream and I find that I feel so much better having given up on dairy; even chocolate without milk tastes fantastic. Yet the need for an ice cream cone persists. I had to poke numerous holes into the boundary around this delight. I found that the ice cream was consistently bloating and lax. That was not a big enough hole/discomfort. I found that I really was upset if others around me were eating ice cream cones and I could not have one. I sorted out all my rationalizations and excuses – one by one. Finally, I was at a friend’s house for supper and I was so worried about the ice cream cone making me sick away from home – I DID NOT EAT THE OFFERED DESSERT. I created negative space around that issue and within a few minutes along came the AH-HA. I was unable to give up the cone because my Father taking one for an ice cream cone treat was the most loving time of owning his total concentration and attention. I was eating the treat because I was craving someone to listen and understand me and what I was saying and thinking. The treat was just the dark line around the need.
It takes time to erase those dark lines and it needs to be an active process which by creating negative space provides the ah-ha faster. It is the principle behind diet programs or restricted eating systems or LENT. It is also a leading principle used by folks who might want to control your thinking or sway a political process – even to create religious fervor or control. No change happens until one punches holes in the dark boundary line around our thinking.
Are you working on making an important change in your life right now? Are you avoiding the negative space? Do you think you will have success or do you think it might lead you in another direction?
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