As I recently finalized the garden beds for the season with fine mulch and an eye for errant grassy stems that needed a firm pull, the spaces I had created in between the perennials reminded me of the artistic concept of white space. At that moment I didn’t have to understand it completely to know it was powerful. It was natural to feel the emptiness inviting me to relax and breathe. It was effortless to feel the emptiness say, "Take it easy. All is well with the world."
Reading about the use of white space in art and design, I found a partial description of my experience suggesting that the space allows the eyes to rest and my body to relax. Also, just as I clearly viewed the oriental poppy, the white space enabled the object, the poppy to exist. For even though white space is nothing, it gives meaning by contributing to the context of the painting, the graphic design, the garden bed—by providing a place of rest for the object to be appreciated for what it is. Without the white space, I would lay my eyes on a whole garden of mixed perennials standing one on top of the other without any demarcation. I would know only a canvas amassed in variations on a theme in green.
Reflecting on the act of creating a momentary retreat of out of nothing, I wondered, “Can I create other momentary retreats? In my office? In my thoughts and in my conversations? Running through a litany of errands?”
I believe we can and do. Each time we stop to breathe or to think, we are creating white space in our daily life. When we clear the counter or re-do the overstuffed file, we create the space or room to see clearly what we have in our possession. When we make the effort to listen to others, their thoughts come more clearly into view: we become rational observers. When we remind ourselves in the grocery line that we are fortunate to have a cart full, we create a pause in the hurry. In that space we find a quiet and still emotional geography where we find clarity and hopefully peace.
It was a lot of hard work to clear out my gardens this year. I’d let the meadow grasses have their way with my perennial beds last summer without fighting back. This year my will was greater. Through the physical labor of pulling and digging weeds and grasses, pushing back overgrown and wild perennials, like an artist, I brushed white space, a rich nothingness into the gardens and rediscovered so much. . I also find it a lot of hard work sometimes to simply remember to take a deep breath in the middle of the rush to finish the list or to interrupt my thoughts long enough to listen to a friend. But it’s through my conscious labor that I place my self next to nothingness, at rest and fully present.