Negative Space

The little wooden stool that my friend gave me about 25 years ago has played various roles in my home. It’s been a plant stand, a footrest, and a decor adornment. It’s about 7 inches high and 8 inches in dimeter, very primitive with three legs. I’ve always noticed the circles within the top surface, never thinking much about it. One time it gathered some gruesome looking mold coming from the thin spaces of those circles. I washed it and bleached it and set it out in the sun. The mold has never appeared again.

Last night I suddenly realized that those rings are tree rings, that the three legs are carved from one piece. With astonishment for not having recognized this before, I realized this item that has been in my home for a quarter of a century was fashioned from one piece of a tree trunk. I turned it upside down and just gazed at the legs confirming that someone had carved away part of the wood, creating the negative space to make these three legs. Like a stone sculptor, they saw the stool in the piece of tree trunk and removed everything that was not that stool.

I’m not sure where it’s from; perhaps Africa, perhaps Indonesia. I don’t know what kind of tree it comes from, but the wood is strong. I began to feel the maker of this little piece of furniture. I felt a person sitting in the warm sun, or perhaps under a banyan tree or canopy made of palm leaves, using primitive tools to fashion this stool to take to market, or to give to his mother. I felt this person in the stool. I felt the tree in the stool. My friend said it was used as a pillow, something to rest your head on. The surface is indeed concave, but I’m not so sure about it as a pillow; it wouldn’t be very comfortable. But then we here in the contemporary west have refined our creature comforts to a degree that perhaps has made us weak and addicted to the narrow easy.

I’m beginning to see things differently, more deeply. I’m beginning to see the relationship between things, not just the things themselves. Nothing is really a separate entity having nothing to do with anything else around it or behind it or ahead of it in time.


This morning, after watering my newly planted seeds and bulbs, I sat on my patio to take in some morning sun. I was just still, listening to the birds, witnessing the clouds at the horizon. A movement occurred along the base of the short adobe wall in front of me. I’m used to lizards scurrying around, but this shape was rounder than a lizard. I realized it must be a mouse, though I haven’t seen many mice around here. Then, sitting very still, I saw the little brown creature venture out of the space it had dashed into and head up my left side along a railroad tie that holds up the upper level of patio. The railroad tie and the stones and paving tiles are all set in sand. Running along that line it suddenly realized I was there and turned and darted back to its hole. I could just make out that it was peering out at me. I felt adoration for this little creature and began sending it love. Then slowly it hazarded out again and cautiously headed to its destination. I’d noticed a bit of the dirt under the railroad tie had been displaced. Now I watched as this little being worked to build its nest underground, kicking out dirt, diving back in, bringing more dirt out. It was not bothered by my presence at all, now that it had determined I was not a threat. I watched until it had created enough negative space to be able to disappear into its cave.

What can I say about these two experiences, one last night one this morning. They have both given me a reflection of who and what I am, and of how I am changing—learning to see what has gone unnoticed—learning to be still enough so as not to disturb the most jittery of creatures. I don’t say this with pride, that is an emotional frequency that surely would have disturbed the mouse. I feel that the wisdom of nature is that it reads the energy waves. It’s how animals know to run to the center of their island when a tsunami is coming. It’s why two people can walk through a forest or jungle, discussing great philosophies, and not notice any animals. The animals read the energy (in this scenario all mental) and know how to hide themselves by changing their frequency to a quiet channel where mental energy would not resonate. In Secrets of the Talking Jaguar by Martin Prechtel,* during his initiation by the shaman, spent several days in the jungle alone. He discovered that the noisiest thing there was his own mind. We now know that our minds don’t just remain inside our skulls. They can be perceived by everything around us including humans when they cultivate the skill.

I’m now beginning to awaken at a deeper level to the noise in my head. I noticed recently that there is this thinking being, a part of me, who is very useful. She knows things and can share those things, can put together this thing with that thing and see something whole and useful. But she also is very concerned that if she doesn’t take each quiet moment to think, life could go akilter. She must uphold this thinking, It’s very important. When I happened to notice her doing her due diligence, I realized that she tends to usurp the negative space and impose thought where there could be silence.

Negative space made the little stool. Negative space made a shelter for the little brown mouse. What could negative space do for my mind? Without space between the notes there is no music. My intention in life at this point is to perceive the music of the spheres, the tone of the Divine. Without that, what good can come from form and function? Just an empty world full of noisy and disruptive stuff.

*Secrets of the Talking Jaguar


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