Our life is made of two pieces that go together, hand in glove: 1) All of the things we can and do experience, whether they be physical, mental, emotional, visible or invisible; and 2) The Space that sustains and contains those objects of experience. Just like you need the space in a pint glass to drink a nice, hoppy beer, all the elements that make up our selves, lives and experiences needs space to take place in. They, and we, need, I’ll say it again, neeeeeed, room to breathe, both existentially and practically.
On the existential (fancy word for existence) level, as said above, this Space is here, is present. It’s a natural and permanent part of our existence. Part is a bad word. It’s not one part among many, but it’s the indescribable, can’t-be-objectified Expanse that gifts (yes, I said gifts) us our experienced reality, and all the parts therein. On the pragmatic level, the funny thing is, if we don’t give Space the space to work and be in our lives, we live our lives on a set, constrained, determined, non-free path and cycle, because there is no wiggle room to do otherwise. Of course, there is a spectrum from total freedom to total lack thereof, but which side do you want to lean on?
Some call this Open Field and Bubble that life is lived in and played on, God. Others call it Zen, Christ, Buddha Nature, True Self, The Tao, Mind, Consciousness, etc. The names may change, but the experience is the same. Christians are usually the ones who get either upset or timid about such an idea, as if God can’t connect with people unless they say the right prayer or declare the correct creed, just like they did; but Love will go anywhere, and follow its own rules to bring the sheep, who’ve always belonged, Home.
Some believe this Spaciousness is personal and others do not, but all believe that when you live in sync with this Openness, you yourself become more personable, and you yourself become more of a person, and that’s important common ground. The goal is the same: Happy, other-centered people.
You’ll know when people are hooked on this Spaciousness by how they behave and act. Does good fruit grow from a bad tree? If the fruit is good, the tree is good, and so is the seed that the tree once was, even if the seed packet didn’t say “God” or “Buddha” or “Jesus,” the Substance is the same. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
The Empty Canvas that our lives are painted on is not some weird, far out, twilight zone, totally divorced from our everyday, casual lifestyles. We must be careful to avoid this line of thinking, because people will miss the point at best, or take it too seriously, and wind up a bit mental at worst. Zen masters say time and time again, “Your ordinary mind is your Zen mind,” and, “Don’t expect to find the Buddha outside of yourself!” Saint Paul says that humanity has had a hidden secret about itself for “ages and generations,” “Christ is inside of you!” The point is that God is not an absentee from, or something other than, your ordinary, mundane, common self and life.
The problem isn’t our normality, it’s that we’ve added confusion, delusion and ignorance to our Spacious-humanity, causing fear, worry, anxiety, exclusion, pride, and more, and we’ve called that normal. The Universe gave us a beautiful piece of art, and we’ve shat all over it! We did this by losing balance between the Space that sustains and contains us, and the stuff that is sustained and contained. We’ve given too much place to stuff, and not enough to the Room that holds the stuff. It’s like we’re having a claustrophobic, panic attack because we’ve filled our Openness with things, things and more things, like an uncomfortable episode of Hoarders.
Instead of routinely stopping to “enjoy the silence,” (cue Depeche Mode) we talk a lot and think too much. (A lot of people mindlessly talk because they’re so uncomfortable with silence, or feel like they’re breaking some social rule. Why?? And how disingenuous. No wonder real connections among people are uncommon. Real relationships require closeness and space, talking and silence, doing fun outings and just being together, with nothing going on.)
Instead of giving ourselves equal time to rest and relax, we only do, work, stress and fret, both physically and mentally; and instead of emanating and embracing acceptance as the air in our society, we pick and choose, forbid and exclude. It’s unhealthy. It creates bad habits, unwanted emotions and just makes us less happy people, and a less happy community.
On the other end of the seesaw is the too-spiritual crowd that want to blank out all day. They force out all thoughts and imagination. They see the world as a distraction from their “spiritual poverty,” “darkness” and “emptiness.” They are right in pursuing Emptiness (Openness), but instead of chugging brewskies from the glass, they trade the beer for the empty mug, and end up with a false intoxication from a skewed spirituality. Their exclusive focus on the Void, that does indeed carry our lives like a Mother in pregnancy, is actually to close up this Openness and make it non-open, because this Openness is welcome and encouraging to all, even non-openness, things like video games, walks in the park, pub crawling, writing, sex, philanthropy, social work, construction, people, animals, trees, and so on. That’s what Open means… open… spacious, roomy, boundless, broad, uncrowded, voluminous, wide, expansive.
We need not pick one side over the other. Balance is necessary, what Buddha calls the middle way. Do you drive on the side walk, or on the wrong side of the road, or do you drive where you should, in the middle? Let’s not reject spiritual things or normal things because someone took either too far. It’s safe to say though, that as a society, we need to come back to our Open side. Let’s start to erase some of the ugliness we’ve added onto the portrait of ourselves. This is possible, and the results are amazing.
As we develop the Open side of ourselves, or better put, as we let go of the habits, mindsets, behaviors and outlooks that distract us from and cover up this Open Reality, that is already here and within, our lives become fuller, because there is more space to fill. Fear is replaced by boldness and confidence to do new things, and the right thing. Worry is exchanged for assurance that everything is gonna be okay, all the time. Selfishness is taken over by an effortless enjoyment of working with others, so that everyone gets their fair share, including yourself.
Sadly though, many of us live our lives on repeat. The same negative tendencies cause us to replay the record we are tired of, over and over again. We haven’t grown or matured in years. We’re “in love” with person number five, but this one’s gonna end soon because eventually, our partner is going to accidentally trigger us to act like an idiot, like we’ve done four times before. We say we want to be promoted at our job, and sometimes we work hard, but we’re just so used to taking it easy with friends at work, and then we’re going to moan and complain that there isn’t opportunity available. We say we “live for God” but the years are going by and our lives look like they’ve made pretty much zero difference in the world.
(Take a moment and reflect on where you are, and where you wanted to be.)
This person you’ve become can change, but that person isn’t going to cause the change. It’s only when you find your true identity as one with this Space, and practice doing Open-activities, like silence and meditation, corporate worship and charity work, that you realize there is “another” space, a space between you and yourself. This freedom from that person you want to change, empowers you to make the change on that person. You realize what to do, because you are no longer biased and self-referential. You aren’t looking out of that person’s eyes, but out of God’s eyes. You can take an objectified look at yourself. You can see how stupid you’ve been and just stop being stupid. You can let the Space itself magically and effortlessly make you wiser (Yes, this happens).
This is why the monks and mystics do tell us to “empty ourselves,” but there needs to be symmetry. They are not saying to not exist. They themselves are writing books and counseling people, so they can’t be saying don’t live life. The point is, find the right amount of room to breathe. Every aspect of your life needs Space. Nature teaches us this by being full of opposites, like night and day, hot and cold, life and death. These Open-activities, also called non-doing, will cause us to come to a deeper realization that we truly are in union with Space itself, a Space that refuses to be Space without stuff to fill it.
When we live out of our unity with Emptiness, we can have emotions, passions, and determinations, because they won’t take us over, and if they try to, we can dissolve them into ourselves (It’s a pretty cool trick). When we don’t live from the Big Room within and around, one negative emotion after another is now running the show, and one bad habit after another lives life for us, while we just watch, and really, most aren’t watching. They’re not even aware!
How much space is in the room you are currently in? If you are outside, even better, how much of the sky is around you? Let that be a reminder of what your life should look like:
Times of thinking, and times of not thinking, but always within Space.
Times of action, and times of rest, but always within Emptiness.
Times of vibrant emotions, and times of calm, but always within Expanse.
I’ll leave you with the classic Pulp Fiction scene between Mia and Vince, a lesson about how to live a special and comfortable life:
Mia Wallace: Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?
Vincent Vega: I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Mia Wallace: That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.