Updated: Jul 8
Is your life now as you thought it would be when you was a child? Can you remember your answer when aged 4 or 5 to “What are you going to be when you are older?”
From the moment that we are born we start interpreting the world. Some research suggest that we do this from within the womb. We are born innocently into this world, and instantly we absorb what is going on around us. The spontaneity and wonder of small children brings a level of true connection to an experience that we cannot possibly replicate as adults – because sadly, we know too much!
As babies we are born with emotional brains and we develop our logic, intelligence & wisdom as time goes on.
The life canvas exercise
In true British fashion lets take all the fun out of something with the rules & guidelines!
1. You have a canvas to represent your life. We shall call this your “life canvas” & you can use whatever materials that you can possibly find around you to bring your masterpiece to life.
2. 1 canvas only per life
3. You can take up to 7-10 years to complete it, but once its done that’s it!
4. Nothing can be removed once added. When you have put something on that canvas, it is going to be extremely difficult to go over it again. You can cover over it with other stuff, but it will always be there.
5. It must represent your reality - Illustrate what life means to you as you are making it & based on this- how it will be for you in the future.
6. Within your master piece, you must include features that represent:
- Who you are as a person including your worth - Other people in the world and their worth - whether the world is a good or bad place
- The future and what it will look like - your plan on how you will survive and your coping strategies
7. Anything that doesn’t fit on the canvas isn’t real and wasn’t meant to be.
8. Any content placed upon that canvas will be followed by you for the rest of your life.
Wow what an intense and overly sincere art based therapeutic session that is! The only thing you got to do is follow the rules, stay on the canvas & everything will turn out as expected.
With all these conditions in mind what is the earliest age you would like to take on this challenge? As a guide, neuroscientific research suggests that the brain isn’t fully cognitively developed until around the age of 25…
Unfortunately you don’t get to decide whether you take part in the challenge or not. Nor do you get to decide when to start stenciling out. The bad news is that if you are reading this, then chances are that you have already completed your canvas and are following it as per rule 8 – go you, being all good and sticking to the rules!
At what age did you start your masterpiece? Where you made all these big decisions about yourself, the world and how life is going to be for you? Worryingly – it was as soon as you possibly could! Maybe even from day 1 on this earth. Kudos to you for not hanging around and procrastinating on this one! If you are anything like me, I am sure you can think of bits around the home that need starting but have so far managed to see off at least 3 bank holidays and a lock down!
From the moment we start noticing things going on around us, we start interpreting and decorating our life canvas. As babies through to junior school age, we are absorbing our version of the world as our emotionally led brains try to make sense of ourselves, what life is about now and what its going to be about. (Remember we are born emotionally & we develop intelligence with age)
Is that interesting to you? It was to me - Children really aren’t given enough credit for the control they have over their future selves.
Every experience and message a child receives, they are picking up a colour to represent how they feel about that and applying it to their life canvas to map out their future. I am not a parent, but I know it’s a fatal mistake to leave a toddler alone on a floor with a paint set in a room with white walls. Theoretically this is what a child faces through neglect & absence when they are left to interpret what that means about them and life, so they apply it to their canvas as they see fit. They can grow up thinking that they are worthless with messages that they tell themselves such as don’t be close, don’t belong, don’t be important, & the worst of all – don’t exist.
Similarly, an over controlling parent may make sure the child creates what they deem to be a perfect canvas for themselves. They will smother and impress their strong morals on the child. In doing so they effectively guide the child’s hand as they paint onto the only canvas that they are allowed, ensuring that the child doesn’t make a mistake otherwise there will be consequences. The child could then grow up through their teens and adulthood referring to a canvas that was barely created with their own influence. This person may grow up with certain drivers that they live to such as be perfect, please others, try hard.
“The greatest burden a child must bear, is the un-lived life of its parents” – Carl Jung.
Where does this leave us? As grown-ups our path has already been set out for us and we have been following it religiously & unconsciously for some time already – the paint on the canvas has well and truly dried. The masterpiece that you finished aged 7-10 years old is up on the wall facing you to look at whenever you wake up. It’s the first thing your brain engages with every day to make sure you stay nicely on track.
We follow behaviour, thought and life patterns that our younger selves decided would be right for us (based on emotional interpretations of the world way back when). If things fall outside of what we planned or expected, it brings an air of panic, frustration and potentially failure. We may think such things as - “This wasn’t meant to happen!” “how could this be?”, “this cant be real!” These challenges against our reality can become difficult as they don’t appear on the canvas and how dare our 7-year-old selves didn’t paint this bit on!
What can we do about it?
The reason that its important to address this canvas or life script now is because it is made up of decisions we made about the world as children. As functioning adults, we are better placed to make better more informed decisions about ourselves and the world.
The good news is that through reading up to this point you are now aware of this being a part of your life.
Awareness brings opportunity to learn more and to change.
Rule 2 from the exercise tells us that we get one canvas per life, so you cant make another canvas. Rule 4 emphasises that once something is on there its not coming off. Rule 8- Any content will be followed for the rest of your life – this rule was optional and by default you opted-in. You are now older, your brain has developed with more logic, sense, balance, intelligence and wisdom since you produced your canvas so here is your time to review.
With the canvas in front of you, you know that you cant make a new one & what is on there has happened - it will always be there and a part of you. For as long as you keep staring at this audacious masterpiece, it will consume and guide you through life. You are aware of its impact so far although perhaps you never knew it even existed.
You have a choice: To continue to look at the canvas and let it steer you. – maybe your life path has served you well up to this point.
Now you know of its existence, stop staring at it, cover it over and focus on something else.
This concept is something that I work with clients on quite regularly in therapy sessions. It brings about great realisations and awareness for those who commit to developing themselves through it. As a counsellor I am a conduit to change and guide my clients through their own self discovery. To explore your own life script in greater depth then you can do so with a TA (transactional analysis) trained counsellor such as myself. Arrange a free consultation.
Learning to be grateful & compassionate to yourself for your courage of surviving whatever you have been through is an important, rewarding and challenging step to take whilst being able to appreciate what you have learned from it.
The life canvas or script has been there to protect you the best it could, however it was a model created by your child self and perhaps now is a time for you to take the reins & let that child know "Thanks for your work, I will consider your opinion, and for now I will take it from here"