Later this month I'll be celebrating my 35th birthday with a 10 day trip to Portland and Seattle. I'll go whale watching with friends, drink my weight in Stumptown coffee, and explore the bay with my Read
If you've ever done "Navasana" (boat pose) in a yoga class, it's possible the teacher told you to focus on the space between your toes. The idea is to train your mind to observe the space between all things.
The pause between the inhale and the exhale. The space between your thoughts, once you train your mind to be present. The space between an event and your response to it. The space between you and another person, and the ability to choose what goes into that space. We don't always learn to think about things in this way, but it can be a real life-changer.
A couple of years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who happens to be a Jungian therapist, and he said, "Well, y'know, no one can make you feel anything, unless you let them."
And I started laughing. Because of course that's true, but it really turns the "blame game" on its head, doesn't it?
As the saying goes, A person can only drive you crazy if you give them the keys.
I want to be really clear. There are things in this life that can break your heart wide open. Events that would bring the strongest person to her knees.
And at times like those, you don't have to think about the space between things, or where you're leaving your keys, or anything else. You just focus on breathing in and breathing out, and you piece together how to survive.
I'm not talking about times like those. I'm talking about the day-to-day issues that can ruin your afternoon if you let them, or not so much.
If someone says something thoughtless or hurtful, you don't have to allow it to absorb hours of your time. Maybe they're having a tough day. Maybe they cried themselves to sleep in their pillow last night. Maybe their kid was vomiting until all hours of the morning and they didn't get any sleep. Maybe someone they love is dying and they feel helpless in the face of that.
We really don't know what's happening with someone else unless they tell us. We don't have to take it all on, and we don't have to take it all personally.
When you create a little space between an event and how you respond to it, you put yourself in the power seat. I'm not talking about power over anyone else, I'm talking about maintaining your center. Being stuck in traffic when you're trying to get somewhere is never fun, but you don't have to allow it to raise your blood pressure.
You don't have to tell yourself a story about how you always get screwed, or the universe is conspiring against you, or you never get any breaks. You don't have to carry that anger into the rest of your day. You don't even have to get angry.
If you're having a tough time with your partner or your child or your parent, you could start to think about the space between you and them. You could decide you won't pollute that space with your rage or resentment or frustration. You could fill that space with your love, concern, patience and understanding.
But you can only make those choices if you learn how to create that space, right?
A reaction comes out of our past. Something within us gets triggered, probably something very old, raw and unhealed, and we react as if we're being attacked. Because something in the current interaction is echoing something that hurt us long ago. So we drag our past into our present and then it's really hard to figure out what's happening.
Are you really this upset with the person who cut you off on the freeway, or is this experience tapping some old pain around feeling disrespected? Ignored? Unseen or unheard? Is it the other driver, a complete stranger, who's made you feel invisible, or is it something else, someone else?
When we sit and meditate, we have this enormous and beautiful opportunity to know ourselves. Feelings come up and we witness them. We don't try to fix them or change them, we just watch them arise and peak, and subside. No feeling is forever. And feelings are not facts.
You don't have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. We just sit and take a compassionate look at the world within us. At the quality of the relationship we're having with ourselves, with others, with our own environment. We realize we are not our thoughts, which is huge, because so much of our suffering stems from the way we're thinking about things.
And we can take that practice into our lives. When someone says something that hurts, we can pause and breathe and notice where we're feeling that pain. We can observe our jaw clenching, or our shoulders tightening. And after awhile, we can even communicate while we're doing that. "That really hurt. I don't know if I'm misunderstanding you, but this is how I'm feeling right now."
Here's the other thing. When we're thinking, we aren't feeling; we're separating ourselves from the experience we could be having. And those experiences include the feelings of love, joy, peace and contentment.
Who doesn't want to make space for that stuff? If you want to, you can get started and sit with me for a few minutes right now. Sending you love.
Photo Credit: Michael Segal
To learn more about how to have a great relationship, check out our video course How To Have The Greatest Relationship Of Your Life.