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January 25, 2016

Coloring Outside the Lines.

Flickr/Steve Corey

I have a confession.

This is how I started writing papers in law school. It happened by accident. I sat for hours in front of a blank computer screen. I wrote a few sentences. Erased—no, that’s not exactly what I want to say. I wrote a few more sentences. Erased again. I had everything to say. I knew it, but the words were coming out all wrong.

I became immobilized. Exhaustion overcame me around two in the morning, and I just started typing. The words flowed as my fingers nimbly typed. I didn’t care—I was too tired to care if the words came out right. I just had to write this paper. And left with no other option than to give up—the words started to flow.

That was the first time I remember letting go.

Ironically, I was faced with a deadline—but this did not bother me, because I did not think about the future and stopped worrying about getting it right. I directed all my attention to writing. I did not attempt edit my words. I let them flow, and as the words filled up the page, I no longer heard that voice that told me it was all wrong—because for the first time, releasing all that was inside of me felt right.

This striving for perfect pervades every area of life—from the way we talk to ourselves, to the beauty products we use and regimens we follow. Why not embrace our scars and our wrinkles as signs of life well lived?  Change is what perpetuates life—without it everything would stop.

I have been thinking about what enables us to relax. For one thing, I know putting away smart-phones and laptops is not always the answer. I still worry about missing a call or an email. I think it is about booking “gap time”—an uninterrupted 60-minute block with nothing to do other than be you.

And I don’t mean an hour devoted to a waxing, detoxifying, hair coloring or other treatment appointment. Booking these kinds of appointments places another expectation on us—another worry that if we miss the appointment we will be flawed in some way.

What is so wrong with being happy now? Do we fear being judged as greedy for enjoying the moment? Lazy for not trying harder? When will we be ready to surrender to the now?

On my own quest for perfection, I was not experiencing the now. Out with friends, I found I was preparing what to say, instead of listening. At work, as I prepared to write, I held my breath and scrunched my shoulders so high they practically touched my ears. I was so consumed about getting everything right, that I felt completely wrong inside.

We run to yoga class, meditation hours or massage appointments because we cannot relax. We wait for these times to let go. We pay money for relaxation—something that is as free as the air we breathe, yet we have forgotten how to enjoy the gaps.

In these spaces of now—the gaps—there are the opportunities to breathe.

These moments are all too frequently lost to longing for the past and worrying about the future. My theory is that we cannot accept these gaps, because we have a perpetual need for order, structure, certainty and clarity. But is this order, the very thing that annoys us most?

People feel awkward, uncomfortable and maybe even sick knowing they have this space. What will they do? How can I sit in an hour of solitude, without my smart phone or laptop?

That is when we color outside the lines.

I don’t recommend buying one of those coloring books that have been so popular lately. I mean take good old-fashioned crayons. Grab a few sheets of blank paper—yes, plain old white paper—and start to scribble, write or doodle. Do what ever it is that makes you feel good. Release everything that you hold back during the day, fearing it will come out at the wrong time or that it is not good enough.

What you create does not have to have order—it does not have to make sense. It does not even have to look pretty. I am not asking you to enter it in a contest, let alone keep it. I am just asking you to take time to let it all out on a blank page—and if you so choose, rip it to shreds once you have let everything go.

And that is how I learned to appreciate the gaps.

That moment at two in the morning—when I had no choice but to complete a law school paper—might not have been a gap, but it is the first time I remember fully focusing and being fully present. That is why it is called a gap. Those moments when we have nothing planned, nowhere to go and no task that must be done now.

I take these moments as opportunities to color outside the lines.

No one is watching, and no one cares in those moments—just let go.  We can worry about the order when that time comes, but for now, all that matters is just letting go.

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Author: Jane CoCo Cowles

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Flickr/Steve Corey

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Jane CoCo Cowles