Our email inboxes have a tendency to overflow. Certain errands are on on our to-do lists for months on end. And we have a whole host of people we’ve been meaning to get back to or catch up with. Having a full life can be wonderful, but it’s only really enjoyable if there’s enough space around the fullness. Otherwise, it’s like having to show up at that dinner, when all you really want to do is go home and sleep.
We forget that space is the foundation of a happy life. Since it isn’t something tangible, we tend to ignore the background of our lives and instead get overly focused on pursuing objects in the foreground– we want to meet that special somebody, find a career we’re passionate about or make more money. We don’t realize that new “things” can’t appear in our lives if there isn’t any space for them.
We could blame the lack of space in our lives on technology. The bombardment of messages coming from our iPhones and BlackBerries ensure we’re living in an age of information overload where the pace of life is unprecedented. But that isn’t the whole story because when things do get quiet and our work or social calendars start looking empty, we often get anxious. We find ourselves sending out a a flurry of emails and texts to ensure things get busy again. Or we fill up the empty space with stressful thoughts about how our calendar should look different to how it does.
We may like the idea of doing nothing but the reality of it often scares us because slowing down can mean looking at truths or experiencing feelings we’ve conveniently pushed aside. And yet only by being willing to stop running away from ourselves can we discover who we really are.
Finding the space in our lives doesn’t have to mean escaping to a mountain-top; it’s possible to discover it in the midst of our everyday lives:
1) When you get invited to something, see if you can tune into what your body is saying. Do you feel an inner “yes”? If you notice a heaviness or a contraction, then, where possible, find a way of declining. If you don’t learn to say “no” to things that don’t resonate, you won’t be available to say “yes” to the opportunities or people that do resonate when they finally come along.
2) In an ideal world we’d never have to cancel plans, but every so often it may be important to give yourself permission to do just that. Self-care is crucial. So rather than feeling guilty, use the time you’ve given yourself to recharge. If somebody gets upset or disappointed, practice sitting with that and letting it be okay. Living an authentic life makes it impossible to please everybody all the time.
3) When you’re feeling overwhelmed but have committed yourself to something – whether that’s showing up at an event or showing up to being a parent – notice the story you’re telling yourself in your head. See if you can question automatic thoughts like “it’s all too much” or “I can’t cope”. If you don’t believe the mind’s drama, you’ll realize this moment is actually quite manageable. Even your tiredness isn’t the awful monster you’ve made it into – it’s just sensation in the body.
Photo: Río de la Plata, Uruguay