Do you disturb the peace, or perpetuate it?

  “If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”–Thich Nhat Hanh

The tail twitches and crouching ensues. Hips raised, ears flattened, the tail twitches more rapidly.

“LJ, stop!”

He remains immobile and continues his focus.

“LJAAAY,” said with slow emphasis on the A-sound.

A look is tossed over his lowered shoulders, signaling he doesn’t feel like listening.

Hand reaches for the spray bottle, and John, my husband, walks towards LJ, trigger aimed.  That is all it took. LJ, our solidly black cat, takes off in an attempt to avoid being squirted, but he’s not to be conquered.  Not yet. 

He circles back around the dining room table and reenters the same room through another entry point as if we can not see him.  Meanwhile, the desire of his pouncing antics, Tippi (Tail), our 14 year old gray cat, with the exceptions of tuxedo white on her chest and tufts of white on the tips of her paws and tail, sits peacefully undisturbed.  The only sign that she is aware of his shenagings is the very slow whishing of her tail along the top of the carpet.

LJ prepares to pounce once more; however, John rapidly squirts water in LJ’s direction.  Although John isn’t trying to precisely hit LJ, the sound and sight of the water sends LJ scuttingly out of the room.

Tippi looks towards where the water missed its target, turns her head back to its original position as her body sighs towards the floor in a perfect cat loaf.  Her tail encircles her body once more.

Throughout LJ’s attack, Tippi remained peaceful, never hissing or spewing.  While her tail signaled her awareness, she did not otherwise bring attention to LJ’s negativity.  Instead, she chose to remain at peace with it.  Vigilant, but non-reactive.  

John and I have watched this play out repeatedly, yet no matter how many times LJ attempts to attack Tippi Tail, she rarely responds out of anger. To be sure, Tippi will occasionally respond if he corners her. Mostly, though, she remains peaceful and at ease.  

LJ is a bit younger than Tippi and has not moved from the self-absorbed stage of life.  He wants to be the center of attention on his terms.  If the humans in his home, family members or visitors, aren’t paying attention to him, he finds ways to draw attention to himself.

For example, if Tippi decides to sit with one of us, due to her arthritis, we find ways to offer her assistance to climb up beside us, such as slightly lowering the reclining portion of a chair or couch.  As she tries to lift herself up to position, LJ will haughtily cross the room and attempt to “beat” her to the desired person.  If we move a step stool near the bay window, in order to assist Tippi’s assent to the cat beds in the window, LJ will try to block her attempts in order to claim the bay window area for himself.

Nonetheless, Tippi Tail finds ways to persist with grace and equanimity.  Her peace remains (mostly) unflappable.  Neither does she appear to hate LJ, nor does she appear to be jealous of his presence.  Instead, she seems to understand with a sense of compassion and patience that he can’t help what is inside him–his tendencies to compete, invade, dominate and exploit perceived weakness.  

Due to her serene perseverance, there reigns an unspoken peace between the two cats . . . most moments.  The more peaceful and tolerant Tippi becomes, the more LJ is learning to become that way.  It has taken years, but there are times I will wake up in the morning to find both cats sleeping at the foot of the bed–not necessarily near each other–but in the same approximate area. Furthermore, it is not unusual during cold days to find both of them soaking up the morning sun in the same room and within the same area, albeit, not touching each other.  

Sometimes, upon waking, I am surprised to discover, after I turn on the bedroom lamp, that both LJ and Tippi Tail had been peacefully sleeping at the foot of the bed.

Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote that, “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over.” When LJ sees Tippi with one of us, he suffers jealousy because he perceives that she is getting all the attention and love.  If he sees that Tippi wants to be in one of the cat beds in the bay window, he suffers fear because he is afraid there isn’t enough secure space for him in the sunlight to cozy for a nap.  

While they both lived their early lives as stray cats, it is possible that something happened in LJ’s past that causes him to remain stunted and insecure.  Then, again, due to the fact, Tippi is older, and lived with us longer; perhaps, she feels solidly secure with her position in our family.  It could also be that she remembers a time when she was the younger cat in the house, competitively trying to exploit the weakness of one of our former cats, in order to gain our attention.  Possibly, she has simply outgrown those impulsive years. 

Whatever the reason(s), Tippi seems to understand that within LJ are potential seeds of love, compassion, playfulness and peace.  However, she also appears to sense that LJ is dominated by seeds of willfulness, anger, fear, and insecurity.  Due to age, circumstances, and/or experience, she is mindful of these seeds both within herself and within LJ.  Therefore, it often appears that she uses this insight to mindfully choose her actions–modeling peaceful behaviors, and only fighting back in order to keep from getting hurt when he corners her.  

Of course, I have personified my cats in order to make a point. To live in peace and harmony with others, we must recognize that all humans have similar needs/desires:  food, water and shelter, safety, esteem/value, love/belonging and so forth.  There is often fear and/or a feeling of lack when humans sense one of these is missing.  Additionally, everyone has the potential to develop and foster seeds of insight, self-awareness, and self-control, but not everyone focuses on developing these, much less developing them at similar rates.  

As the story of Tippi and LJ illustrates, it is important to be aware of our own insecurities, fears, and impulses in order to exercise self-control.  Recognizing our own proclivities with compassion and understanding, allows us to offer that same consideration and empathy for others.  

While this is never easy, and it takes practice, by learning to be less-reactive and modeling more appropriate ways of speaking, engaging, and responding to others, the more we can reduce conflict.  Of course, this is not to say we passively agree or accept all behavior and actions; rather, it is important to recognize that not every word, action, and deed with which we disagree needs a response.  Furthermore, if a response is required, how much more productive and beneficial they can be when given with considered insight/thought, self-control, and discipline   

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all learn to do what Tippi does with LJ– pursue patience, tolerance, and think before acting.  

The more Tippi practices patience and tolerance with him, the more LJ is becoming more at peace with her.

The Power of Whitespace

Whitespace should not be considered merely “blank” space — it is the element of design that enables the objects on the page to exist.–The Segue Creative Team 

As a middle school Reading/Language Arts teacher for grades 6-8, I spend a good portion of my time teaching various writing techniques.  Currently, in my 7th grade classes, we are focused on writing various styles of poetry with the emphasis on exploring various elements of figurative language techniques and literary devices.  Of particular importance to writing poetry, I believe, is to draw the reader into an image/story/feeling in the way a good song has the power to  draw in the listener and attach a particular feeling/image to it. 

Part of the skill in writing a relatable poem is not only using specific words, figurative devices, and imagery, but also incorporating the power of white space.  In the same way my grandmother taught me that our eyes eat food before we taste it, a poem should likewise draw readers’ eyes into the arrangement of the piece first.  In order to do that, writers must learn to use the white space.

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Whitespace 

Creates

Balance and  Style

Although it is often called “negative” space, there is nothing negative about appropriate use of white space.  In fact, when duly used, white space increases readability–up to 25% according to some sources.  White space provides breathing room for the reader, a purposeful pause, or point of emphasis. It can create a sense of balance, harmony, and style.  The eye has time to “catch its breath” and focus on the meaning of each line, word, phrase.  A sense of play, intense emotion, or serious tone can also be emphasized and enhanced through the appropriate use of white space–adding power and emphasis to select words.  By giving students permission to incorporate white space, they are more focused on words that are specific and succinct.  This is an important and transferable skill when switching to more formal writing styles that require a clear, concise, and compelling writing style. 

Whitespace is THE fundamental building block of good design . . .  provides visual breathing room for the eye.–The Segue Creative Team

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On a recent long Saturday morning run, it occurred to me that the notion of white space, as a mental construct, is underused and undervalued in our daily lives.  It is one of the things I most appreciate about my longer weekend runs is the fact that it gives me permission–and time–to let my mind wander.  Many, if not most, of my weekday runs are completed on a treadmill before I do a few strengthening exercises.  During these workouts, I typically wear headphones to listen to music, podcasts, or audible books–depending upon the workout and my mood/interest.  However, when I run outside, I rarely wear headphones; and thereby, I experience the freedom of mental whitespace.

Much of our daily life is consumed with some form of media content consumption.  From the time we get up and, quite often, until we go to bed, many of us are continually interacting and engaging with screens.  Emails, social media, work, news, even cooking, project-building, and other how-to content require some form of on-screen encounter. From content that is audible, to content that is visual, to an interplay of both, much of human interaction is now completed on-line.  As a result, our mind has become trained to repeatedly and frequently seek points of what I call distracted-focus.  Furthermore, it has never been easier to do this at any time, day or night.

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As society’s utilization of technology changes, shifts, and evolves, our minds have been forced to adapt.  Our phones wake us up, and while I can never do this for fear of falling back to sleep, I am told that many people remain in bed for several minutes, and upwards to an hour, upon waking, scrolling through media content that happened during those hours devoted to sleep. While we drive our kids to school, they are busy with screens, and we are engaged in handsfree calling or texting.  Once at work, many of us, myself included, utilize multiple devices at once as our eyes and minds shift back and forth from screen to screen, and, depending upon your career, from person to person.  At day’s end, despite eye fatigue and even brain drain, our minds still desire to scroll through social media and news outlets as the brain, like a tired toddler, still craves even more stimulation to keep going.  In a sense, our minds have become the proverbial “Energizer bunny,” continually banging on the drums of our consciousness for more, more, more.

Whitespace not only creates harmony, balance, and helps to brand a design. . . .–The Segue Creative Team

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Personally, I need breathing space, and I honestly believe that most of us do.  Time away from screens, schedules, and scintillating images/demands.  Unplugging from the visual and auditory distractions of our devices, provides our brain with whitespace–the space to pause and breathe.  I liken it to opening the door and letting a child, or even a pet, go outside to run off steam at the end of the work/school day. When you unplug, it frees the mind to mentally roam or simply be still.  By unplugging, you begin to notice the sounds of nature or even household appliances.  Unplug, and you might see things through new eyes–eyes that are fully focused, rather than distracted.  Unplug, and your senses have permission to roam–noticing the way air caresses your face, the aromas of your surroundings, the full flavor of your coffee, or other favorite beverage, as it dances over your taste buds.  Unplug, and you can breathe deeply and luxuriously as if you have all of the time in the world. Even your ability to think creatively and/or problem-solve increases more when you unplug.

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In the same way white space creates harmony and balance to the design of a web page, book, or even a 7th grade poem, creating “white space” moments in life, allows us to also feel more harmonious, balanced, and perhaps even, peaceful.  As a deep breath or sigh is gratifying to the lungs, and bring calmness to a tough moment, time unplugged offers the mind moments to rest, refresh, and recharge, providing you with more clarity and the ability to focus on what’s really important as well as give you permission to see the extraneous for the distractions they actually are. 

 It doesn’t matter if you take a break from screens inside the comfort of your own home, or outside in fresh air, unplugging and not-doing, is never a waste of time, or well, waste of space.  I especially enjoy unplugging when I am outside for a run, walk, or hike, but I also have found white space moments in the quietude of a car with all distractions turned off, including radio, or in the quiet moments of my home when others are still sleeping or momentarily out.  The ability to unplug may not occur every day, but white space of the mind, be it vacations, exercise, hobbies, or other down-time moments, judiciously scattered throughout the week and/or even month, offers innumerable benefits and is certainly worth prioritizing.  

In the same way white space creates harmony and balance to the design of a book or web site, creating "white space" moments in life, allows us to feel more harmonious, balanced, and perhaps even more peaceful.
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