At the GLS event I mentioned a couple of months ago, I heard Juliet Funt speak on the concept of “whitespace“: that business of intentionally creating a space for NOTHING so that creativity can emerge in the workplace. An excellent reminder and validation of my love for this concept in our personal lives. Our culture is driven by the need for constant activity and most of us are completely enslaved to the merry go round. There are two main traps we tend to fall in for this obsession with activity: The trap of achievement – believing that we are only as worthwhile as our productivity…hence there’s never a time we can feel at peace when we are still. Or, there is the trap of emotional avoidance. Sitting still becomes a dangerous dynamic to be avoided at all cost because it allows one’s pain and anxiety to emerge! Often, you’ll hear folks caught in these traps exclaim, “Oh, I have no time for that”, or “Oh my goodness, I would go crazy sitting around doing nothing” when presented with the idea of rest, retreat, white-space. I chuckle internally when I hear these tell-tale words.
The reality is, we absolutely need quiet time in order to grow. There’s the irony – so often, we go, go, go because we’re trying to achieve, to progress, to accomplish. All the while, in the absence of appropriate down-time, we’re actually moving backward. Often, without realizing it until it’s too late. The epiphany typically arrives in the form of physical illness because our bodies keep score and when we ignore it’s need to rest and recuperate, it eventually takes its revenge.
My focus today though is the emotional aspect. This blog is about personal transformation. With that in mind, where does white-space fit in? Transformation begins with awareness, continues with learning and is then cemented by action. In order for new learning to be integrated, it must be consolidated – a process that cannot happen during activity. It only happens during times of quiet. Have you ever noticed that you attend an amazing workshop where you learn great concepts but weeks later, you’re struggling to remember what you found so revolutionary? Or, perhaps you pulled an all-nighter in college, studying for a big test and then drew a complete blank on so much during the exam? These are examples of what happens to learning without white-space. If we do not take the time to STOP and reflect on our new awareness, understanding and insight, we don’t retain it. We don’t act upon concepts we don’t retain and thus, we stay stuck in patterns of dysfunction.
When clients have covered a lot of territory in session, I always warn them to take some downtime within the next 24 hours to let their work consolidate. Eventually, I teach them to build this space into their regular routine so that there is ongoing room to grow and they don’t have to scramble for it when life brings them new opportunities. Personally, I try to model this in my own life, regularly spending time in nature. This week, during a quick trip to GA, I asked my host about the local parks and was guided to a fabulous nature trail. My friend and I remarked how just one hour on the trail made such a difference in our mental outlooks…not to mention how much better our bodies felt after hours of driving the day before.
You may find yourself resonating with these words, making promises to yourself to find more white-space in your life but if you are caught in one of the two traps I mentioned, it’s easier said than done. Your source of worthiness must be addressed if you are to ever make peace with stillness. You must acquire the skills of emotion management if you are to become willing to let frightening feelings emerge. Likely, you have specific family stories that have left you ill-equipped or believing lies that will forever hold you back. If you don’t know how to work on cars, don’t you take your vehicle to a mechanic? If you never learned to work on appliances, don’t you call a repair company for your broken refrigerator? Yet somehow, when we recognize a gap in our mental or emotional skills, we hesitate to contact a therapist who is trained in the very skills we lack. Strange, isn’t it? Consider breaking that trend and give us a call if you realize your struggle to create white-space goes deep into territory you haven’t yet mastered!