A Blank Question Paper

1 Mar 2020
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I read this short story recently and thought it was worth sharing...

One day a professor entered the classroom and asked his students to prepare for a surprise test. They waited anxiously at their desks for the test to begin. The professor handed out the question paper with the text facing down as usual. Once he handed them all out, he asked his students to turn the page and begin. To everyone's surprise, there were no questions, just a black dot in the center of the page.

The professor seeing the expression on everyone's face, told them the following, "I want you to write what you see there." The confused students got started on the inexplicable task. At the end of the class, the professor took all the answer papers and started reading each one of them aloud in front of all the students. All of them with no exceptions described the black dot, trying to explain its position in the middle of the sheet etc.

After all had been read, the classroom was silent. The professor began to explain, "I am not going to grade on you this, I just wanted to give you something to think about. No one wrote about the white part of the paper. Everyone focused on the black dot and the same happens in our lives. We have a white paper to observe and enjoy, but we always focus on the dark spots. We always have reasons to celebrate, nature renewing itself every day, our friends around us, the job that provides our livelihood, the miracles we see every day."

"However, we insist on focusing only on the dark spots, the health issues that bother us, the lack of money, the complicated relationship with a family member, the disappointment with a friends etc. The dark spots are very small compared to everything we have in our lives, but they are the ones that pollute our minds. Take your eyes away from the black spots in your life. Enjoy each one of your blessings, each moment that life gives you. Be happy and live a life positively!"

Moral: As the professor explained, life is a bag of good and bad things, we all have positives and negatives along the way. But we must always concentrate greater on the positives for a healthy and happy life. Life goes on no matter what so do not waste your time thinking about the negatives.

Fiona

A Moodscope member.

A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Comments

Molly

March 1, 2020, 3:06 a.m.

Hi Fiona This is very true if one's mental health allows it. I’m certainly been practising it whilst I go through a ‘good’ patch. Unfortunately my husband has gone the other way, so I’m trying to keep his spirits up. Although I get this theory with the blank piece of paper and the black spot, I doubt many would see anything else but the black spot. Maybe if there were some flowers and butterflies around the edges, I wonder what would happen then? I might try this out tomorrow! Or what if we were given just a blank piece of paper? That could be interesting. Thank you for sharing. We really do need to be grateful for what we have. Molly xx

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Valerie

March 1, 2020, 2:04 p.m.

Molly,trying to keep someone's spirits up can be very exhausting.My old GP told me that often she found that when a depressed patient was recovering,their spouse would then turn up at the surgery,suffering mental problems for the first time.It was, she said, because they had been having to hide all their own worries for so long.***

Molly

March 1, 2020, 4:20 p.m.

I can well believe it Val. I think husband is bored, fed up, frustrated, in pain.... All our days roll into one. At least I can interact on here but he doesn’t use the internet. He has his sky sports thankfully but I’m trying desperately to think of something else to entertain him and make his days a bit more interesting! ***

Sally

March 1, 2020, 5:29 a.m.

Hi Fiona. I love the story! Thank you for sharing! I imagined the black spot as a point from which to radiate .i would’ve written something, anything, using the black spot rather as a knot for balloons of comment. A sort of Tony Buzan - style mindmap or moodmap. Depending on what the professor’s subject was..... That’s what came into my mind on reading, anyway. Very interesting perspective .Thank you.

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Molly

March 1, 2020, 6:08 a.m.

Yes I thought this too Sally, I think I would have drawn lines/arrows from the spot, I’m just not sure what would have been written at the end of them xx

Sally

March 1, 2020, 6:28 a.m.

Interesting you thought that too , Molly. Smiley face of appreciation xx

Molly

March 1, 2020, 7:07 a.m.

:-) xx

vincent

March 1, 2020, 6:21 a.m.

Hi, Fiona! It takes a saint to only focus on the positive side of life. Easy to say, but hard to do. Let alone me and ones who suffer from depression, bipolar, and other emotional issues. You listed the complicated relationships with family members as a dark spot in life, which I cannot agree with anymore. In terms of kinship, they are closest to us, this makes the bond between us is strong enough. They give us the most favors but hurt us the most at the same time. I am very angry and disappointed as a result of what they did and said yesterday. I really want to leave them as soon as possible?But, you know, our whole country is in the middle of an epidemic, so I have nowhere to go but stay at home and have to bear them.

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Molly

March 1, 2020, 6:59 a.m.

It’s good you have this attitude Vincent, seeing as you are living with them. Families are difficult for sure. I left home as soon as I could. Cannot say relationships have ever improved since, probably worsened. But once you have the opportunity to escape, you can make your own choices.

Lucas

March 1, 2020, 6:28 a.m.

Coincidentally, I'm doing a good job with this right now, I'd say. The short version of what's going on is this: I've wound up temporarily (as far as I understand) homeless-ish. I say "ish" because during what I think will last only about a month, I should have somewhere to stay every night--I'm laying on a friend's couch as I write this. Rather than feeling discarded (well, it's there a little bit) and dismal, frustrated and stressed and inconvenienced, I'm taking notice of the people who really care and are stepping up to help when they don't have to, and could legitimately claim they can't for one reason or another, and I feel good about that. I'm seeing an opportunity to gain a perspective I would not have had otherwise, and knowing that I'm going to have it much easier than someone who's truly homeless and alone would. It's not ideal, I'm not happy about it, but there are some good things to pull from this. I know I'll get through it.

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Molly

March 1, 2020, 7:12 a.m.

Good for you Lucas, I’m rooting for you. I hope you get yourself sorted very soon. Never forget those people that are helping, I don’t think you will....

Valerie

March 1, 2020, 2:12 p.m.

Well done you Lucas, for taking a different approach to what could be a bad time.Hope you are soon warm and cosy in your own place again.People would not be offering to help if you were not such a nice person,and who knows,one day you could be the one lending your sofa to one of them-life has many twists and turns.xx

Another Mary

March 1, 2020, 8:02 a.m.

I learnt something today Molly. I understand now why when people say it's important to write three positive things down each day. It helps to balance the black spot. It's not saying it doesn't exist, but that it's only half the story - or at least that's how I read your post. Never thought of it in those terms before. Thank you, Happy Sunday. Maryxx

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Molly

March 1, 2020, 4:39 p.m.

Hi Mary, I think this might have been for Fiona, but yes three positive things. Having a roof over ones head has to be one of them especially reading Lucas’s post and Leah’s tragedy. Here’s hoping that black spot stays as small as possible for you xx

Sarah yellow rose

March 1, 2020, 8:50 a.m.

Hi Fiona, thank you for your interesting blog today. I think being positive takes practice. I read recently that it was because of our anxious ancestors that we survived because they didn’t get eaten by the wild animals or fall off a cliff. The problem now is we can have anxiety about things we have no control over. Thank you for reminding us to see the positive things in life.

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Oli

March 1, 2020, 12:37 p.m.

Sarah, I think that's probably true. A bias to spot threats is useful. But like absolutely everything in our experience, the way the mind constructs reality is imperfect. It's always going to err on the side of caution. For some of us it ramps the threat level up way too high!

Jul

March 1, 2020, 8:53 a.m.

Hi Fiona. I liked your blog,the test paper and particularly the trick answer. Very revealing and I like the analogies you describe. The black dot was small compared with the white paper surrounding it. Yes I focus on the black dot. Now I'll try If possible to see positives surrounding my negative feelings. Jul xx

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Leah

March 2, 2020, 12:12 a.m.

Jul I think we can both focus on both , or at least be aware of the black dot and its power.I notice in your words you are aware of positives in others and you are a grateful person.xx

Leah

March 1, 2020, 9:28 a.m.

Fiona thanks for sharing the story that has made us think. I wonder does it have to be one or the other. can we have both? Is it possible to be aware of all the positives and be grateful while at the same time acknowledging ones struggles. At the moment I am dealing with a black spot while at the same appreciative of all the support I get and aware of all the positives in my life. Is it just me, or do others feel you can have both?

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Molly

March 1, 2020, 4:51 p.m.

Hi Leah, yes I’m with you, we can have both. I think it’s much more realistic as others have said. We can’t ignore the negatives, absolutely impossible, but to remind ourselves of the positives helps keep us afloat. I think it’s so commendable that you can still do this with everything you are going through. Much love ***

Leah

March 2, 2020, 12:10 a.m.

Thank you for your comment to me and others, your words of support help the discussion.

Molly

March 2, 2020, 7:41 a.m.

You are welcome Leah xx

Andrea

March 1, 2020, 9:30 a.m.

Hi Fiona. I did like this, i think i'll use it as a visual metaphor when i'm feeling a little low, but in some ways it applies to the power of the negative space, I recently started saying that i'm happy to have a glass, rather then half full or full one.. Life has forced me to really connect with the small things in life which i should be grateful for, so concentrating on the bigger picture rather than that small black dot is a good way of thinking for me. I appreciate we will all have our own interpretation and that is the point of it :-) So my interpretation will be a bit random !!! Thank you x

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Leila

March 1, 2020, 10:01 a.m.

I like this thank you. It reminds me a little bit though of an assignment set by my English teacher once which was to describe how to draw a chair. We all dutifully described how to draw a chair pretty scared of her really... she then went on to say why do you draw the chair? You could have just illustrated the space where the chair wasn’t... we were 14 I think and it seemed strange and confusing. But I understand. Ish. Thank you

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Molly

March 1, 2020, 4:56 p.m.

You have lost me on that one Leila !! She asked you to describe how to draw the chair, so what were you supposed to say, that the chair is not there? Lol, I’m smiling now. Hope you are having an ok (ish) day ***

The Gardener

March 1, 2020, 10:11 a.m.

Fiona. exceptionally good. My 'paper' would be all black (symptomatic of 4 months without light). There would be scarlet dots - matters which must be dealt with - then flashing white arrows of 'light': staying in bed late, a good book, the fantasy designs in progress - and 'new' for me, never watched a 'Western' in my life, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid tonight (dubbed /french of course). Love to all from wet France xx

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Valerie

March 1, 2020, 2:08 p.m.

You will love that film TG,two gorgeous men apart from anything else.Sending love from the flooded quagmire-what the **** is going on with the rain? ***

Adrien

March 1, 2020, 10:43 a.m.

Fiona, I found it a perfect message for me today. Thank you. I know for sure that I would have described the dot, and yes... I dwell on dark - rather than look out the window this morning's sunshine - which I did after reading your blog. :-) Thanks again. ***

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Oli

March 1, 2020, 12:29 p.m.

Fiona, thank you for sharing this nice example. In the story everyone focused on the black dot and in real life I guess most people would actually do that. We assign meaning to objects in our visual field in a way which feels effortless but is quite complicated. In order to see the black dot we have to “decide” which edges and curves form units or wholes, and the way we do pattern recognition is so rehearsed that we rarely notice that we do it. For example most people notice facial patterns so easily they don’t realise how complex those processing “decisions” are. I suspect, as Sarah YR said, that we have evolved to notice unpleasant stuff more than nice stuff. Unpleasant stuff can indicate threats, and it’s useful for our survival to notice threats. Like the black dot pattern recognition the way we decide what’s important and deserving of our attention goes unnoticed. It goes under the level of conscious awareness. We can train ourselves to notice “negative space” e.g. like the arrow within the FedEx logo, or the white around the black dot in the story. I guess to some extent we could train ourselves to notice the space around the thoughts which focus our attention. Also, maybe we can train ourselves to re-evaluate the threat level of the content of negative thoughts. It’s been a while since I’ve done that because for me it was like a core idea of CBT/ REBT which I hadn’t found that useful in the past. But, I have to say, I’ve recently been using it to fairly good effect. Great blog Fiona, thank you! :-)

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Molly

March 1, 2020, 5:15 p.m.

Hi Oli, almost sub consciously you have helped me deal with the ruminating from your messages to me and then reading this. I was going to ask you the difference between ruminating and obsessive thoughts but I see (after googling!) that it’s much of the same thing. Somehow by realising I have become a bit obsessed with the situation, it’s helped lighten the load. Does this make any sense? Molly xx

Oli

March 1, 2020, 6:42 p.m.

Makes total sense Molly. Rumination/ obsessive thinking is, I'm certain, *very* unhealthy for us. I started taking it seriously last month as I realised how unhappy I was feeling and remembering, "Gawd, I used to do this rumination all the time!" I'm so glad you're getting relief from the obsession. Writing all that the other day really helped me too. And now it's a case of catching ruminations and not letting them dig in. xx

Molly

March 1, 2020, 7:06 p.m.

Absolutely Oli, I might write down a few notes on this to remind me. Thanks so much and I’m so pleased it has helped you too xx

Debs

March 1, 2020, 12:34 p.m.

Thanks Fiona, such a very thought provoking blog. It made me think of all the time I spent 'avoiding the black spot' in my own life and trying desperately to focus entirely on the white space. Endlessly forcing gratitude and 'focussing on the positive'... the trouble is I did it so intensely and with such vigour that my face hurt from smiling and my jaw ached from clenching! What a relief (a painful one) to enter therapy and stare the black spot in the face. Ahh, finally it was ok to feel all those so-called 'negative' emotions. After a very long time of grieving and exploring the edges I ended up diving in - eyes closed and jaw, yes, clenched - and felt the feelings inside. This may be a different black spot from the one in the story but I suspect not... and I suspect the story may point to the problem I see with many of todays spiritual teachings (which I was a devout follower of for many years until I realised I wasn't getting well by following that path) - that some of us do not heal by avoiding the darkness, but by going in. I think Leah says it well above - sometimes we can do both. Diving into the black to heal, and coming up for air to count our blessings. And sometimes we can't. Sometimes I was too low and 'focussing on the positive' was counter-productive. It brought more shame because I couldn't do it and it only exacerbated the feeling that there was something wrong with me. I'd like to see it made more acceptable to go into the black.... and for human beings to support each other through those times. (And by that I don't mean endless complaining about problems, I mean shifting to feel the feelings behind the words and heal them at their source.) Then maybe we'd have a world that accepts all the of shades of grey instead of the stark contrast we have today. xxxxx

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Oli

March 1, 2020, 12:45 p.m.

Debs, that's really interesting. Thank you. xx

Leah

March 2, 2020, 11:40 a.m.

Debs you explained it much better than I could as I am too close to face the black blob to be able to analyse it as clearly as you did. xx

Valerie

March 1, 2020, 1:57 p.m.

Hello Fiona, I once read a description of depression,like looking through a window at a beautiful rose garden,but all you can see are the smears and scratches on the glass.I do agree with Debs,ultimately you will have to accept the black spot.There is a lot in the world that is beautiful,much to be grateful for.You don't have to lose sight of that, whilst still being aware in your peripheral vision of the black spot sitting there.

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Leila

March 1, 2020, 2:30 p.m.

This is so accurate. I often liken my depression to the weather. Can’t see when it’s grey, can’t see when it’s sunny. Especially get annoyed when friends say look at that beautiful blue sky x

Lex

March 1, 2020, 7:50 p.m.

Awesome, paradigm shifting parable.. I am enriched by your story and thank you!

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Mj

March 2, 2020, 5:39 p.m.

Thank you Fiona!!!!!

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Geoff

March 2, 2020, 10:18 p.m.

A day late in responding, but just wanted to thank you Fiona for posting the story. Really inspiring to me. X

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Caroline Ashcroft Moodscope

March 2, 2020, 11:41 p.m.

Thank you all for your comments. The poem really made me consider what I think about and I've definitely started looking for more of the positives since reading it. Fiona x

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