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Becoming a Blank Canvas

When I look at this bowl of pomegranates, I just see a bowl of pomegranates. How I wish I could do the same when viewing other beings or me!

All this past year, I have focused my efforts on attaining a sense of sufficiency – enough – in my life.

At the start of this journey back in January of 2017, initially my thoughts quite naturally turned to money. My bank balance and I have never been besties, and I thought this might be a good way to cozy up to it and get it to like me at last.

But soon I realized “sufficiency” is a far broader goal than simply amassing comforting stacks of green paper.

I also discovered how very little money had to do with many of the areas where I was feeling the pinch of lack. Money had its place, of course, but it wasn’t the Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtain.

I was. And I still am.

For those who may be wondering, I am happy to report there has been tangible progress towards sufficiency in multiple areas of my life this year.

These include strengthening close friendships and family relationships, new experiences with my partner, wonderful new pet-centric adventures, improved overall physical health and fitness, increased body tolerance (if not yet outright enthusiasm), an ever-deepening meditation practice and – yay! – a move to a space that, for the first time ever, truly does feel like “home” for our little flock.

In the process of striving towards these achievements, I have also become newly aware of persistent obstacles that continue to hold me back.

The most persistent of these is what I guess you would call “preconceived beliefs.” Or ideas. Or concepts.

While I wish I wasn’t this way, it appears I have been a very good student of stereotyping at pretty much all levels. When I was little, I just wanted to please, to fit in, to understand, as I soaked up the biases and prejudices discussed and displayed all around me. Later, I no longer even realized I was seeing the world through biased eyes….I just thought “this is the way the world is.”

This year, I have realized this is definitely NOT just “the way the world is.” 

Not. at. all. This is an absorbed belief system that no longer works for me on any level and I want it GONE.

Here is an example:

Let’s say my eyes notice a large, athletically built male being wearing sweats and a hoodie walking towards me on the sidewalk. He has piercings and more than a few neck tattoos. To put it mildly, he looks….fierce.

So my mind says to me:

Hey, you, that being over there looks tough. Perhaps dangerous. Don’t make eye contact. If you can, try to re-route or, failing that, try to look as un-victim-like as possible.

Even while that conscious mental dialogue is taking place, beneath it there is a whole set of preconceived beliefs driving it:

  • Men with fierce looking tattoos and piercings are best avoided.
  • Big muscular men in general can be dangerous.
  • Hoodies in the middle of the day = drug dealer.
  • And so forth and so on.

If we change the scene and the man is clean-cut and wearing a business suit while carrying a brief case, my entire perception and mental dialogue changes.

If we replace the first man (“hoodie man”) with a woman, my perception and dialogue shift yet again.

If we replace the second man (“business suit man”) with a woman, even more shifts take place.

Whew. That is a lot of shifting! And a lot of extra energy spent on fear, judgment and a totally unnecessary sense of separation from those around me.

Unfortunately, many of my preconceived beliefs (and there are many more where these came from) are born of deep fearfulness, past unpleasant interpersonal encounters, education on “the way the world is” by adults I’ve known, media stereotyping and the casual portrayal of violence against women, plus an overactive limbic brain system that sees fight-or-flight risks around every corner.

In other words, these preconceived beliefs run sufficiently deep within me that I can’t always manage to switch them off right in the instant one gets triggered.

Also, perhaps there are times when my fight-or-flight system isn’t being overactive at all, but is actually attempting to deliver good survival advice.

But either way, in most cases, the best I have managed thus far is to notice when a bias has been triggered and then make a mental note to work on that later.

Then I go home and meditate in a very specific way. I call it “becoming a blank canvas.”

What I mean by this is that I ask myself these questions:

  • What if I could forget everything I’ve ever learned about all the things that separate us?
  • What if I no longer saw skin color or gender or age or occupation or size or shape or any of those sorts of things?
  • What if, when I looked out at the world, all I saw was other beings, with absolutely no preconceived beliefs or biases?

Well, I think that would be just wonderful. Amazing. Miraculous, really.

And here is the real kicker question:

  • What if, when I looked in at myself, I could achieve all of the same?

Wow. That would truly be like hitting the “reset” button on my whole experience of living my life.

It would mean openness and connection would be my defaults rather than fear and suspicion. It would give me the chance to truly make the most of each day, rather than spending so much time and energy that could be better used elsewhere wrestling back beliefs and biases that serve none of us.

It would mean I could really see people as beings, not as descriptive lists of better than/worse than.

It would mean I might finally become a me I can really be proud and happy and grateful to be.

For all of these reasons and so many more, I am really keen to learn how to do this.

At this point, I have just been lightly practicing “becoming a blank canvas” during my daily meditations. During these times, when I am typically in between sleep and waking anyway, I find my mind is more willing to give it a go, rather than fighting me every inch of the way.

This is a very good thing, because I have also lately realized these preconceived beliefs don’t just keep me separate and scared in the presence of other beings. They have the exact same effect on my connection with myself.

Here is a real-life example:

Let’s say I would like to submit my writer resume to begin freelancing for a respected pet website. But the website has a very large readership and is kind of one of those websites every aspiring pet writer wants to write for.

So my mind says to me:

Oh come on, Shannon. Seriously? As if. I mean, look at the names of some of their guest bloggers. Like, these people are “real” pet experts. Some of them have PhDs behind their names! And you know how bummed you get when you don’t hear back or – worse – do hear back and it’s a “thanks but no thanks.” 

Here, the preconceived beliefs are telling me:

  • No PhD, no chance.
  • No best-selling pet book or 100K social media following, no chance.
  • You, no chance.

Not surprisingly, I haven’t applied to write for this particular website as of yet, even though they are openly seeking new freelance submissions.

I mean, all the things I just thought could be true. But they could also NOT be true.

Here, wouldn’t it be so much better if I just went ahead and applied, without having to arm wrestle with some kind of thoroughly uninformed opinion about my personal chances of winning the gig first?

Of course it would.

So that is my focus for 2018. This is the “Year of Becoming a Blank Canvas” – from the outside-in and from the inside-out.

Wish me luck….and join me if you like!

And may you have the happiest and most auspicious New Year!

Today’s Takeaway: Have you already formed a New Year’s intention? Or are you still pondering yours? I would love to hear what you want to work on in your life over this next fresh new 12 months!

P.S. This post is from my free monthly e-zine, “Good News for Recovery + Life.” Read the full edition HERE!

Becoming a Blank Canvas

Shannon Cutts


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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2017). Becoming a Blank Canvas. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 20, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2017/12/becoming-a-blank-canvas/

 

Last updated: 26 Oct 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Oct 2017
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.