The Value of Spaciousness
I recently returned from a retreat in Mexico with Darren Rhodes, a talented yogi with whom I have studied for some time now. He gave each of us a copy of the Tao Te Ching and suggested that we choose a verse that resonated with us to memorize. This was mine:
We join spokes together in a wheel
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house
but it is the inner space
that makes it liveable.
We work with being
but non-being is what we use.
-Tao te Ching verse 11, Stephen Mitchell translation, 1988
It has become very obvious to me that spaciousness is my next frontier. I know, that sounds like the beginning to a famous sci-fi movie we all know and love…but it’s true – it is my unconquered and unfamiliar terrain.
I can fill space like no one else, really. My brain, when it’s not fully focused on some intense (ideally, life-threatening) task, is a professional, full-time space filler. It makes lists of things to do – today, tomorrow, ten years from now. It catalogs emotions, experiences, people. It files through snapshots of every house I have ever lived in. It calls up lyrics from Journey songs at the drop of a hat. It plays out multiple endings for all sorts of life conundrums like an automated Choose Your Own adventure story. I told a therapist about this once…she said “it sounded exhausting” to be me. This was my first clue that maybe not everyone’s brain does this. I guess that’s a relief to hear…?
I was listening to a podcast today in which chakra experts Anodea Judith and Lion Goodman were discussing the need for individuals to have a clear vision before taking action in life. When asked about how to unearth that vision, they said, “make space.” Both believed that all the information we need to make perfectly aligned choices is already in us, and that our problem that we are too full of extraneous data to hear and identify what is important. In other words, the Bon Jovi lyrics and studio sub schedule details (in my case) are crowding out the big message. They suggested the usual strategies for observing space that all of us “spiritual folk” already know about – sitting in meditation, being in nature, observing silence, letting meals be just meals. Stuff I already know I need to do – and in some cases (like meditation) – I actually do on a daily basis. The question is, when am I going to truly value the contribution of these space-preservers? Somehow my list-making brain continues to convince me that what it wants to do is more important.
I like that this passage acknowledges that doing and being DO have value – they essentially make a container for the space. So, I can – and need to – think and plan and logisticize some (phew). However, the value lies not in the thinking in and of itself. It is the stillness held within the thinking that is the gold mine. And that is harder to grasp…in the same way that emptiness is hard to clutch onto – it slips through your fingers.
Corroborating this ancient wisdom, my still mangled right index finger (see a previous post…) also points me in the direction of non-doing. It’s not healing all that well – which is no surprise, since I haven’t taken the time to go to PT, and I haven’t slowed down in the way it has asked me to. It’s disfigured, and in some ways it might be better if it stays that way, to remind me that it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We were asked to write a Tao-esque couplet to clarify our intention for the upcoming year. Mine is this:
May I remain spacious to that which would be.
I used the word “would” on purpose. It’s conditional. Meaning, it will be if I let it be.
The question is, will I? Hmm. Stay tuned.