A blank mind. A blank page. Both suggest one has nothing to say. While appearing to be intrinsically the same, I’m convinced that they are positively different.
A BLANK MIND.
I’m especially dumb (as in the dictionary definition: unable to speak) when relying solely on my mouth to communicate. A monumental disconnect forms a gaping canyon along the neural route between the plethora of thoughts in my brain and my bumbling mouth. As articulate words attempt to cross the synaptic bridge of neurons spanning the chasm, they topple into oblivion, leaving me speechless—drawing a total blank. A blank mind. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t speak. Oh-ho-ho! No, indeed! I speak because it’s expected, and to fill the void, but a lot of nonsense often ensues. I must make a conscious and focused effort to say something of value. On one such rare occasion, a rather profound sentence–which has become my byword–emerged victorious: “I can say nothing in a million words.” And there you have it. A blank mind isn’t always unwelcome. Frequent are the times I think without realizing I am thinking. It requires difficult and deliberate effort to focus my thoughts, but in general, thinking is an involuntary function. I’m grateful I don’t have to think to make my heart beat, or to breathe, that my brain is at work 24/7, whether I’m aware of it or not. The fact is I can’t seem to shut my thoughts off, even when I most want to. Two-thirty in the morning is the worst time for cognitive awareness—what I call the “twilight hours” of the brain. I am beyond counting the number of nights I have lain awake thinking. Sometimes, twilight thoughts merely annoy, distract, and burden with reminders of what I did or didn’t do that day, or what I need to remember to do the next. Other times, they plague me with an itchy pox of unanswered questions, or magnified views of my faults and failings in a relentless and irritating way. Thoughts often torment once I move from the vertical to the horizontal position, morphing innocuous, productive ideas into destructive, unsettling—sometimes frightening—nightmares. We all experience nightmares during sleep from time to time, but “awake-mares” can be even worse. There is a greater sense of credibility to these tormenting thoughts, as I lie wide awake when I should be fast asleep. When I’m startled awake by a nightmare, I can shake it off, saying it was only a bad dream, but when I’m awake in the dark of night and my thoughts shift from annoyance to torment, it’s difficult to separate what is true from what isn’t. I’m not sure why this happens, except, perhaps, that I am so tired, my mind can’t think rationally anymore.
Twilight thinking occurs during a state of limbo between waking and sleeping, fluctuating between reality and fiction. It is at these times, I long to flip a switch in my brain and shut off thought altogether! A blank mind would be a welcome relief. I have found prayer the only means of deliverance from this state—crawling out of bed during the wee hours to kneel by my bedside and ask for help turning off the incessant drone of faithless thoughts. Fear is nearly always tangled-up in twisted twilight thoughts, which is why faith in God is the necessary antidote. “Faith and fear cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time,” said Elder Neil L. Andersen. I’ve found this to be true. Once faith conquers fear, my mind is eased and I am able to drift into a sleep of blank-minded sweetness (only to discover I finally fell asleep a half-hour before my alarm was set to go off).
A blank mind may occur at other times, too—times less welcome than in the middle of the night—namely, any other hour of the day. It is helpful to have intelligent, worthwhile thoughts when one is awake. These can lead to intelligent, worthwhile conversation and discourse. Having the thoughts is one thing, expressing them verbally is another. When it comes to speaking, I am a slow processor. It does not necessarily follow to believe that a person who is skilled in, and enjoys writing, is also adept as a spontaneous speaker. In most cases, impromptu speech comes clumsily to me. If I am expected to answer a question, make intelligent remarks, or add to a conversation with any degree of clarity, I often have to contend with a blankness equal, or exceeding, that of a king-sized, white bed sheet. My hands, almost by necessity, must be involved if I have anything at all to say. They fly about in direct proportion to the intensity and strength of my motivation, but they do not (I repeat: DO NOT) in any way, assist my mouth in fluency of speech. It is only when my hands themselves are directly related to the creation of the words that they wax eloquent. I suppose if my fingers shriveled up and fell off, I would essentially, be left speechless. This leads me to the other “blank,” that of the blank page.
A BLANK PAGE.
Many people consider a blank page daunting—the blankness prompting questions such as, “Where do I start?” or “What do I say?” Writer’s block, artist’s block, and other forms of blankness may cause anxiety, and delay progress. For many, a blank page is as unwelcome as a blank mind. A blank page may even trigger a blank mind, or vice versa. To me, a blank page stands in direct contrast to a blank mind. A blank page flashes with opportunity, freedom, articulation, and countless other possibilities. A blank page shouts, “Just start, and see where it takes you!” A physically blank page usually requires some type of physical contact by a hand-held medium—the use of paints, or a ballpoint pen. (A virtual blank page, such as a computer screen, may allow for voice activated commands, but that places me right back at square one with blank-mindedness.) When my hands become involved with the blank page—touching a keyboard, or holding a pencil—my neural network kicks into gear, bypassing my dysfunctional mouth, getting right to work. Suddenly, I am able to make coherent statements, and clear analogies. My hands, instinctively, know how to transmit and translate a madcap assortment of thoughts into a form that makes sense, sorting the superfluous from the necessary, the ridiculous from the practical, and the idiotic from the profound. Sometimes, my hands begin typing and I’m surprised to see what they will say! I’m not kidding. As each sentence unfolds, I discover things I didn’t know I knew, or find new insights I had not consciously thought about before. Somehow, the connection flowing between mind and hands engages my spirit, causing a discernible ink of language to appear on what was, moments before, the blank, white bed sheet of my mind. I learn when I write. Words I didn’t know that I knew appear on the page. After checking with the dictionary, I am surprised and delighted to find I had used them correctly and in context. Sometimes, I discover what I really think about things, I find reaffirmations of my beliefs, and resurrected knowledge appearing before my eyes. I find joy in the written word. Language is a gift and is beautiful—I’m speaking of virtuous, uplifting, worthy language. Sure, a commonplace, counterfeit, vulgar variety of language is always out there, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about elevated intelligence flowing into one’s spirit, enlightening and filling with joy. Language isn’t the only way to fill a blank page. My heart takes wing when drawing, sketching and creating beautiful images with pencil and paint. Swirling hues and tints in a kaleidoscopic rainbow of color add to the joy, and heighten expression. Sometimes, black and white and subtle shades of gray are required to express truth. Equally worthy to spreading joy and hope, is the expression of truth, virtue, and beauty. These form the epitome of worthy expression. Filling a blank page with things that drag down and depress may express truth, but do little to fill someone’s cup, and elevate their soul. The same is true of a blank sheet of music manuscript paper, a silent musical instrument, an empty stage, or other worthy possibilities of expression. Blankness is paradoxical. On the one hand, a blank page, or a blank mind, signifies muteness, while on the other hand, the same signifies an opportunity for expression. Blankness signifies an impediment, as well as a doorway to possibility. Blankness also signifies a source of anxiety, and a path to peace. This morning, I sat down to a blank page with my mind blank as to what would fill it. I let my fingers touch the keys, and watched what unfolded. It’s always exciting to see what the blank page will teach me.
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft, and from thy slender store Two loaves alone to thee are left, Sell one, and with the dole Buy Hyacinths to feed thy Soul.
– Muslihuddin Sadi, 13th Century Persian Poet
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.