Last night my daughter stared at the front top space of her mouth. She was mourning the loss of her tooth. As I watched her, she asked, “Is the space going to be there forever ?” I knew that her wide eyes depended on my answer. Without hesitation, I said, “Of course, in time, a new tooth will grow in that space.”
Her question prompted me to contemplate the idea of space and our need to constantly try and fill it with something. I’ve noticed in the last few weeks my mind gravitates toward a restlessness I’m not able to explain or quantify. If there is one thing that troubles me, it is my sheer inability to stay still. I suspect because of this, I am constantly moving. It shows. Even though my husband and friends have begged me to try yoga, I am married to my morning runs. The truth is, I am unable to occupy a space with breath and silence. It’s the same reason, most mornings are filled with activities, running, reading, writing, and random errands. There are very few moments where I am completely still. When I can’t sleep sometimes, even if it is 3:00 a.m., I reach for my phone, slip under the comforter, and surf the web.
Sitting still and not seeking to fill the space with thoughts or words or actions is not part of my personal philosophy. Empty space intimidates me. But I know that I will never attain a true calmness or peace, if there is a constant need to do instead of to be. It’s the reason, I suspect, why many of us are constantly busy. Are we accomplishing anything really? Or is it just so that we can fill the space?
Socrates in his wisdom warned us to “beware of the barrenness of a busy life.”
Just because we are doing, doesn’t necessarily mean it lends to being. Some spaces must stay empty. The moments contained in that emptiness provide the truest of epiphanies.
Are you intimidated by empty space? Does being busy prompt feelings of accomplishment?
Yes! I am intimidated by empty spaces, especially when driving. On the other hand, being busy doesn’t make me feel accomplished. Hmm….
I am curious Amber, what about driving makes you intimidated by empty space? Is it the actual road or lack of passengers? I actually love empty space when I drive. When I am alone, I like to roll down the windows, turn up the radio, and sing my fav song.
Love this post. Yes, stillness is intimidating, but it’s when we allow ourselves to crawl into experience and allow ourselves to be still, be it difficult or comfortable, we really begin to understand ourselves in more intimate ways.
I like your analogy of “crawling into the experience.” I think most of us walk through our experiences not really understanding why or what we should extract from it. I know (from your website) you actively practice yoga. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from your practice and what is the single thing you would tell people who are reluctant to try yoga?
Thanks for stopping by.
I actually had to think about how to answer your question as there is so much I have learned from my yoga practice and so many reasons why I am thankful for it. I would have to say that one of the most important things that my practice has given me is the ability to pause, to slow down and to not give in to the urge to look for a quick fix when I am faced with circumstances that don’t sit comfortably. I have learned to allow myself to immerse into experience more wholly without always having to react; to echo your blog, to allow myself those moments of stillness. And this is much easier to do when things go our way and much harder when experience challenges us with grief, with anger, uncertainty… But often it is those experiences that can be our teachers if we don’t run from them or try to immediately alleviate them.
To people who are reluctant to try yoga, I would actually say don’t force it. But perhaps ask yourself why you are reluctant. One of my teaching mentors would always tell me that if you really don’t want to do something, it is usually something you ought to do. And more often than not, you will learn something new about yourself by doing it.
Thanks for your advice. I am looking into taking a meditation class and/or yoga class. Thanks for the inspiration. Stillness, I hope, is in my future.
I need to fill the space with some kind of noise or else I overthink. This is particularly true at night, where I’ve taken to falling asleep with the TV on.
I understand your analogy of sleeping with the TV on. I did that all throughout college and grad school. It was a must. Then in the deepest of sleep, I would reach for the remote and turn off the TV. Sometimes overthinking can be dangerous too.
Lovely metaphor, Rudri. The space between the teeth. I worry about the empty space of empty nest…
Yes – doing versus being. We need both.
I agree. We do need to strike a balance between both. It is the how I am trying to figure out.
I think that with time you might enjoy the space and stillness to things. I used to feel like you do and in the last few years I welcome some space and stillness to this hectic life.
Any advice on how to get there? Or did it happen gradually with each experience? Sometimes it seems so daunting to crawl out of this hectic life.
Thanks for stopping by.
It did take time and gradually it happened. I could say life happened. Every expierance had a lesson. I am still learning. 🙂
It’s the empty space that makes a bowl useful (Tao te Ching). Namaste
Rudri, I tried yoga once. Didn’t work for me. It went something like this:
– Does my butt look big in these yoga pants?
– Okay, I’m pretty sure my body isn’t supposed to bend like that.
– Grocery list: bananas, yogurt, hamburger buns, ketchup
– I really need to call that guy to fix that leaky pipe in the downstairs bathroom
……you get the idea 🙂
That echos what my mind sounds like in those quiet moments. I end up just being more distracted.
Being still has always been difficult for me because I always think about the things I need to be doing. I am getting better at it and finding that it brings peace.
The process to stillness is daunting. I’ve found that as I age I long for more quiet.
I think I am just like you, very eager to fill empty spaces with any kind of activity. And Kitch’s description of her time in a yoga class was exactly how I was during most of my time practicing yoga. But after awhile – and maybe even once a class – I did learn to be still in the moment. And for me a moment is a victory.
(Then again, I did find those moments of stillness while running too…if that’s possible.)
I find moments of stillness in running too. Listening to my breath, taking in the natural elements and the quick shuffle step of my feet moving gives me a noisy, but quiet peace (if that makes sense).
I can understand your stance. When my children were younger I was the ultimate supermom, filling every moment with my family, volunteerism and work, never dreaming that I could stop. Unfortunately it took a health problem to slow me down and make me take stock and realize that doing nothing is a gift that we need to give ourselves more often than we do. Of course, the moment I started back uphill, my whirlwind mindset took charge and I still push myself to my limited limits. It is up to us to make ourselves ‘stop and smell the roses’ but easier said than done. I wish you silence and five minutes of staring into nowhere with absolutely nothing on your mind.
Thanks for your wishes of silence. Everyday I am concious of trying to find it, even if it is one minute or thirty minutes. I am hoping my awareness of needing quiet will help create a pathway for a more meditative mind. Appreciate your comment Cindi!
Did you see “Eat, Pray, Love”? They talk about how Americans don’t know how to just be still…for stillness only. It really hit home for me. I have a hard time being in empty space.
That concept resonated with me too. I am trying to reach a comfort level with silence – even if it is in very small ways.
I, too, fight the stillness. Your post reminded me of Stacia (myfluffybunnies.wordpress.com) quoting Thoreau, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
I truly believe that if I sat in the stillness, something I’m not ready to know would be revealed. I suppose I’m working toward knowing that truth, whatever it is. I’m not there yet, though.
That is a great question. I wonder if “busy” has become a non-word. Everyone is busy about something, but what are we really accomplishing? Thanks for sharing that particular quote. And Kelly, I am not there yet either.
This reminds me of the Happiness Project, and how Gretchen Rubin suggests keeping an empty space in the house. A shelf, a drawer, a small cupboard. Some place that is empty, free and clear of clutter, open and blank. I love the idea (though I have yet to follow through on it). It is a testament to the stillness you speak of, the air we must learn to breathe in (and out) without looking for something to distract us.
As always, so lovely, Rudri.
Thanks Sarah. I do remember reading that in Rubin’s book. An empty space, at least for me, reminds me to live in the present. That with every new day we have a chance to start with an “empty slate” (pardon the cliche).