In recent travels I caught a few trains and noticed all the transit staff were smiling, they welcomed you in and out of the border crossings between the suburbs and the city. They seemed to be content, even joyful. The contrast to my usual experience where I find their peers in my usual transport system auditioning for the Gestapo. They weren’t orphans there was generally an ease and light touch in all my encounters with people who were serving as guardians of passage, brokering moments to part with money, or to guide you to the right place. It is a bigger city than mine and still spaciousness appeared alongside the hustle and hustlers, bustle and bustlers. I am curious about a culture that reflects spaciousness amongst the high-rise and high density living.
Spaciousness on the inside and its opposite, feeling so cramped you can hardly breathe. The long exhale and the deep breath inhale, to give your lungs a chance to expand, then to empty and expand again. Each breath an invitation to spaciousness. This is the kind of de-cluttering that understands stuff has to leave, before space can arrive. I have emptied myself of so many things this past year and reduced my footprint and yet there is still more to go. By living with less I am not less and this is one of the lessons I have had to learn. I came reluctantly and wounded to find space by living with less. I came broken and bruised to make a space that could be wide open. But it on the inside, like the Tardis, where it is bigger on the inside, the outside does not define what really goes on inside for any of us. The space we make for inner selves, the space we make for not knowing – these are the clean benches, an empty rail in the wardrobe of our mind. I am prone to an addiction of filling up those spaces in my mind with memories, haunting unhelpful, repetitive thoughts and then in breathing out, fill them again with news, ideas, hopes and longings. That in-between moment of breathe in and out, when caught, is the silent steady still spaciousness of nothingness. It is the smile of the transit officer at Brisbane Central Station, the custodian at the gate between one world and another, quietly checking my ticket enabling safe passage from a carriage to a world full of possibilities. My only task is to turn up, to breathe and let the space before empty and the space after fill, again and again, and to remember that each time a little more is expelled and a little more space is inhaled.
Getting familiar with how to make the space in the first place, and then learning to inhabit it with all the feelings that come with being in space seems to be an invitation to being both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. The paradox of belonging and not belonging builds an acceptance of uncertainty. This is the kind of uncertainty the impermanence of everything brings alongside the familiarity of the everyday rhythms. The truth is each moment comes and each moment goes and however hard we try to hold onto them it makes no difference whatsoever, the moment, like the breath, will come and then go. We are always stepping into the unknown, with each and every breath. This is a hard lesson to learn. Where we feel filled up and bursting at the seams is perhaps an invitation to look into that fullness and see what might need to be cleared, what space might need to be made.
I have spent so many hours this past year in particular having little space where it looks like I might have enough. Hours and hours have been filled with grief and confusion, deep, deep sadness of betrayals and hurts from beyond the grave, from lives disappearing and hurting close at hand, from the aches and pains of physical truths of ageing and disease. There have been moments of such fullness that emptiness arrives like a stone in the stomach. And emptiness unsuccessfully masquerades as spaciousness. It is not spaciousness.
An act of self-compassion is to recognise that emptiness is not spaciousness. Spaciousness arrives when you make the space, when you get rid of things that no longer serve you and where you revel and roll around in the empty and are not consumed by its false offering of fullness. The space makes a path made by breathing out and making space. Perhaps holding on is the same as holding your breath?