“Mommy, please can you paint the walls white?” his sweet eyes pleading with pain.
What?! My houses are always drenched in color. White walls are for uncreative, unsophicated losers, or so I thought.
Hillel was 8 ½. The first seven years he’d lived in one home; our family home had a subded elegant color scheme. Then came the divorce, we sold the only home he ever knew, and we bounced from place to place.
Now, each time I painted the walls an intense, crazy hue like bold blue, righteous red or gratuitous green. There was nothing calm about our life and our walls screamed the colorful chaos.
He asked me for white walls when I bought a big funky old home with a tri-level zen garden. I quickly started playing with an oversized paint color-wheel pulling out colors of deep purple and lime green. My 15 year old Jonas whined, “Come on Mom! Don’t make the house look like a Miami drag queen decorated it!”
I got the message. It was time for my sons and I to “live in the white space.”
It wasn’t just the lack of color my boys and I needed, it was a tranquil environment to envision a better life ahead.
Living in the white space, as I define it, is:
- a safe, silent tranquil space to think
- the emptiness that allows you to imagine what could be
- the mindset where we yearn to fill our lives with more
Think, imagine, yearn. We were not doing those things. We had been running scared across a crazy rainbow.
I’m now learning the power of creating and living in the white space, both physically and mentally. This piece highlights my journey to understand it, create it, laugh about it and live in it.
Because the absence of everything is where anything is possible.
Physically Living in the White Space
I’m no designer and have no desire to pontificate on feng shui (which sounds like the ugly cousin of a shih tzu), but I listened to my boys and I painted the interior of our new home swiss coffee (light cream), trimmed with antique white just like my German Jewish grandmothers’ Irene Kessel’s z”l home (more Boca, less Miami).
I never consciously thought of my house as a sanctuary, but since this was the first house I bought after my divorce, I wanted to stop the madness and establish a safe zone.
Beyond the white walls, I desired to create a clean, clutter-free home where there are clusters of colorful art and inspiration but also emptiness, white space; room to dance, dream and desire. Think less strip club, more eclectic art gallery.
So far, it’s worked. But it’s big and hard to keep the white space white.
I don’t have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). If I did, my psychiatrist ex-husband would have gladly given me a diagnosis. However, no matter what, I make my bed each morning and clean my kitchen each night. For me it’s my sense of sanity. No matter how insane my life is, I always wake up and come home to a clean home.
When I was married, I was spoiled with a live-in housekeeper. Getting divorced and losing my help to occasionally made me realize the daily conscious act of clearing away clutter and mess is an integral act to clear my mind.
I confess, I still have never moped a floor, that’s what socks are for. But fortunately I have hardwood floors so you can’t see the dirt.
Beyond my desired peaceful state of mind, I crave for my kids to love and feel safe in their broken, yet beautiful home. It’s hard to do, chasing after the natural tendency for boys to love living in filth.
When Hillel was eight, for Mother’s Day the teachers gave the kids “fill in the blank” Q&A letters to write to their Moms. Kids have no filters and of course teachers don’t proofread Mother’s Day cards. When asked, “What’s your Mother’s favorite thing to do?” Hillel wrote “clean”. When asked, “What’s the most important lesson your mother’s every taught you?” he answered, “Hang up your towel.” Oy vey.
Seriously, how can you relax and unwind when your house is a pigsty? Without the white space, messy homes make kids and adults feel anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed. Yet, rarely is clutter recognized as a major source of stress in our lives. But of all the stressors, it’s the easiest to fix.
Have a little self respect, binge watch Netflix while you fold the laundry or do the dishes. The white space is the empty clean counters and a couch free of crap.
Can’t do it? Ask for help. I’m a Jewish mother, I love telling people what to do. I’ll come over and tell you how to create white space in your home (just don’t look in the back seat of my car.)
Whoever coined the phrase “a messy house equals happy kids” is in denial. Your life’s a mess and you’re raising slobs. Own your mess, clean your house and create white space for everyone to find peace and thrive.
Mentally Living in the White Space
As much as I hate the ideas of white walls, I hate life losers more. Obviously I’m judgemental, I think you’re weak if you can’t paint an accent wall. I’m worse with folks who can’t figure out their life.
So why is it that I only attract and surround myself with these types of losers?
I pride myself as having my shit together. I don’t sit pondering what to do with my life. I’ve got all the answers. Yet, I know we’re all mirrors. We attract and are attracted to, reflections of ourselves.
So I wonder why are all the men I’m attracted to, the girlfriends I yearn to hang out with and the entrepreneurs I mentor are unsettled, unsure of their future, and unclear of how to have meaningful, productive professional lives? They are consciously, often urgently trying to figure it out.
They wax and wane, What should I do with my life? What city should I live in? Can I merge my passion and profession? What’s the best way to utilize my talents? Which market vertical do I launch first? Should I pivot my business model to blockchain and cryptocurrency? Why don’t I have a husband/wife and do I even need one? Where is the love?
What’s wrong with these people?
They’re not losers. They’re seekers. They’re mentally living in the white space. The space of contemplation and yearning.
To me, their questions may seem like nervous noise, but to ask these questions, they had to be brave enough to acknowledge they’re uncertain. They have to be confident enough to to step into the silence, into their white space.
I’m not. If I quiet my mind and allow it to wander, I’m scared of where it will go. What if I dream big and fail? I’d rather turn up the radio and drown out the dreams in my head.
When I do the silent Amidah prayer at synagogue, I faithfully read every word, I don’t sit in silent prayer, thinking about my challenges and longings and asking G-d’s guidance for answers. The white space of silence terrifies me.
Yet Jewish Wisdom sanctifies silence. “The vehicle for wisdom is silence” (Ethics of the Fathers, 3:13), as the wisest King Solomon tells us, “‘Closing one’s lips makes a person wise” (Proverbs 10:19).
Living in the white space can only be attained through quiet introspection which only comes through the medium of silence.
In silence, we also tap into the brain’s default mode network. This is the part of the brain that is activated when we engage in what scientists refer to as “self-generated cognition,” such as daydreaming, meditating, fantasizing about the future or letting our minds wander.
So I’m not drawn to losers, I’m drawn to courageous dreamers.
I want to be more like them. I want to think bigger, imagine how far my talents can transform the world and yearn for incredible love.
I may have painted my walls white, but I haven’t consciously created enough silence to consciously live in the white space.
How do I shed my false sense of success and do this?
I’m not sure, but I’ll make a conscious effort to create silence, when before I had noise, in my home, car, on my runs and in my prayers.
Like the people I choose to be with (the friends formerly thought of as losers), I too want to be brave enough to think, imagine and yearn for more.
What about you? I urge you to find some way to mentally live fully in the white space. There’s no formula, but try an activitiy that by design quiets your mind and is non-productive. What activity do you do when you stop thinking of what you have to do and merely exist, be present and be fully engaged with your true self?
Whatever it is, mountain biking, cooking, skiing, sex, dancing, playing music, meditating, laughing with loved ones, reading, dining with friends, yoga, rock climbing, praying, writing poetry, journaling, walking the dog . . . make a mental note, ‘this is me living in the white space.’
And when you get there, remember to think, imagine and yearn… and clean your room!