In photography negative space is the term given to areas of an image that are fairly free of content, for example, the sky around an airplane, or a large blank wall serving as a backdrop to someone walking by.
Negative space is the equivalent of a visual deep breath, a pause, a centering. It encourages us to rest with the main element of the image without having other elements competing for our attention. It’s the opposite of busy and is an invitation to visual contemplation.
When we enter into contemplative prayer, the space around us becomes negative space. It’s there, but it doesn’t distract us from the focus of our attention. The use of mantras or icons helps to keep our attention focused on the object of our attention.
The letter to the Hebrews speaks of the importance of focusing our attention on what’s important and letting go of anything that distracts us from achieving our goal.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)