The Gift of Space
I’ve been living part time in Costa Rica to support my partner and I’s passion for planting food forests. I do a lot of walking meetings in the woods here. Before or after a call I take a moment to observe the forest, a dependably great teacher. I look at the moss, or a towering Guanacaste tree. I watch the river move, even if it’s just for a few breaths. In one such moment about a month ago I started thinking about a past passion – the notion of space. I don’t know how I’d forgotten but space is kind of the best. It’s like apple cider vinegar for us hippies – it’s good for everything.
In university, I took all of the Anatomy and Physiology courses I could as a Liberal Arts major. I remember revisiting cellular biology and being struck by the volume of space vs the volume of stuff. Space, it seems, is a physiological necessity. Much disease or discomfort in the body comes from a lack of space – cells multiply in an unhealthy way, muscle tissues crowd, oxygen to an area is constricted due to the constraints of stress. And when we examine our core, although our subatomic matter is charged with vibration, we are at our very essence – expansively spacious.
We need space, and yet it only takes a quick google search on ‘productivity apps’ to see the dominance of our shared obsession with packing more into less time/space. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of “Todoist” and have been a list maker since high school.
I love productivity. But in pondering how space intersects with productivity I realize that I can’t DO my way out of everything. It sounds obvious, but sometimes it’s hard to realize that an issue, an argument, a problem, a project, doesn’t need more work it needs more space.
Have you ever planted a garden and accidentally planted the carrot seeds too close together? I remember doing this as a kid and being so bummed to pick out these twisted, stunted orange things that I’d been watering and waiting for with such high hopes. The carrots can’t fully grow when they’re crowding each other. We can overcrowd each other too. In any relationship we need room to grow.
I’m even seeing this to be true with my kids. With so many years as a camp counselor, it’s a revelatory experience to realize I don’t have 12 kids, but 2, and we’re all happier when I stop directing and simply read a book during family hangs. They get their space, I get mine, and sharing space is actually an incredibly bonding experience.
The same I find to be true in relationships. Sometimes I think I want to talk more to try to address an emotional response, or get to the bottom of a trigger that angered me (What? Yogis get angry?!). Instead I’ve been trying to feel the reaction and surround it with space. Usually my reaction, after I give the space to really feel it, simply disappears, like tension in a posture given breath. And if it doesn’t the conversation is grounded in truth instead of reactivity. I don’t know if this is a hormonal thing but sometimes I can even feel insulted by my partner’s silence. He and I are both card carrying introverts but somehow I read into his silence. Instead of being insulted by nothing I just take a breath and dive into silence with him. Sharing this silence is incredibly intimate. Reading a book held in one hand, and holding hands with the other.
Connected teaching flows from practice and the space we cultivate within our practice to truly connect, experience, and feel. A spacious practice tunes our ability to give students space too. Have you ever experienced this from one of your teachers? I’d love to hear what that was like for you?
Sometimes the best class is less about what a teacher says, and more about the space that teacher holds. As teachers, this is at once challenging and ever-more-important as we barrel forward in a culture that increasingly glorifies openly and without apology making oneself a “brand.” When we stop feeling like we need to be superstars with the most profound quote in hand, or the best picture on instagram, we can instead take the teaching of the quote inside. We live the quote, we live the posture in our hearts and offer it in the presence we bring to a class. This humility, in turn, allows us, and everyone in the room to find their own stardom, their own shine, their own power.
I remember the feeling of wanting to solve people’s problem/questions the minute they came to me with them before or after class. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that what a student often wants is a yes, a nod, and the space to be heard.
If your summer is busy I hope you gift yourself with a clear moment to breath in the work you are doing – in contemplating this practice, by sharing in community. It is profound and meaningful work. May this collective work always serve the creation of space – the mysterious wild spaces of the natural world.
…So there’s a little window into our teaching community. And – every member of this community – that means you reading this post – is a teacher. How do you feel space in your life, in your practice?
See you soon in a sweaty room!
Photo courtesy of Philip Watts