By Melissa Moore, PhD
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Perhaps we’ve heard or used the phrase ‘taking space,’ yet do we know how to take space for ourselves in a beneficial way? It's often invoked amid relational tension when we’re at a crossroads and need to back off and take some time and distance from one another. Sometimes one partner in a relationship will say, ”I need to take some space,” which can be perceived by the other partner as a threat. What do we mean by taking space, and how can we do so with genuine kindness toward ourselves and others?
We need to take space in relationships sometimes, especially when caught together in destructive patterns of speech. How can we simply pause and touch into space to re-group without shutting down completely?
Sometimes, when in need of space in my relationship, I shut down the space and stop relating altogether. When I do so, I don’t feel spacious at all, I feel claustrophobic and controlling. That's not taking space – it’s an act of suppressing space and refusing to feel anything. Part of learning to evoke space is the capacity to notice the contrast between feeling spacious and feeling ignorant and suppressed. The latter is a habit of employing space to ignore and become dull. Space has multiple qualities, and how we relate to these qualities is a question of awareness.
Space is one of the five elements of the Five Buddha Family Wisdom Mandala. The elements are water, earth, fire, and air. Space abides in the mandala's center, where all elements are born and dissolved. Karuna Training teaches us to embody space and all the elements. We learn to evoke space and discern when it's needed.
Making a deep relationship with space is one of the benefits of meditation practice. When we sit with ourselves in silence, in the beginning, we find we are filling the space with many of thoughts. We do so because open space can threaten our ideas of who we are; we sense groundlessness, and automatically, we will avoid the space and fill the openness. Often we’re inclined to admonish ourselves for thinking so much - but thinking is a way to fill up the space and confirm our existence. Meditation is learning to befriend ourselves while we feel uncomfortable not filling the space. So even when our minds feel out of control, and it’s challenging to be with ourselves, we stay open to what arises.
Eventually, the chatter subsides when we sit in meditation long enough, and then the boredom sets in. There is such a thing as hot boredom and cold boredom. Hot boredom is irritating, fidgety, and another way to fill the space. Cool boredom, however, is a physical and mental acceptance of boredom, a sense of contentment amid the boredom. Chögyam Trungpa said, “In Western society, when any little irritation comes up, there is always something to cure it. From little things like pads for your spectacles to the biggest of the biggest, as long as anybody can afford it, the Western approach is to cure any kind of boredom or irritation at all… They even sell little pads to stick on your spectacles to keep them from sliding down so they stay on your nose properly… And a practitioner is someone who can maintain themselves, who can relate with boredom.”
In Karuna Training, we center ourselves around meditation practice and expanding our intensity capacity to sit with boredom, irritation, and discomfort; to grow and develop further capabilities of being with ourselves as we are, not what we wish we could be. We learn to evoke ‘Maitri,’ a Tibetan word meaning loving-kindness toward ourselves and others as they and we are. True maitri occurs when we love ourselves regardless of how we feel or what our mind is doing.
In meditation practice, we learn to soften the most uncomfortable parts of ourselves as they are, and when we do so, we are planting the seeds of maitri and mixing our minds with space, an open space we can feel internally. To discover genuine space takes time and training to relax and rest in the silence of space. We aspire to integrate space as a known state we can evoke when feeling claustrophobic.
Once we’ve established a regular meditation practice, we take space with kindness daily to be with ourselves as we are, not with the agenda of fixing or making ourselves better. Regular meditation shows us what space is and what it feels like to have it. Meditation practice for 30 minutes a day is like taking a preventative pill that will allow us to approach our lives with more space and kindness.
Learning what space is and how spaciousness feels internally is one of the many things we study in Karuna Training. Then we advance on to develop that capacity of holding space for others – while honoring our own need for space is what is practiced in compassionate exchange—this is one of the key methods of Karuna Training.
Can we hold space for others, meaning can we be present for another when they are in pain? Or do we need to offer advice to fix them and find a solution to their problems? Holding space is a practice of non-judgemental deep listening that communicates consideration and love.
We learn that space is necessary for the mind to be discerning, perceptive, pliable, and kind. We can make space an ally and evoke it in our bodies, speech, and mind. Learning how to evoke space can only occur through a relationship with loving kindness.
We invite you to spend an hour learning Karuna's views, methods of evoking space kindness, and other fundamental methods of Contemplative Psychology. Please join me for an hour-long Karuna Live on Saturday, June 17, at 10 AM MT to explore your relationship with space and kindness.