One Thing In. One Thing Out.
(or Space, the Final Frontier)
The natural elements are at the core of Ayurveda as a science of life. We are made of the elements. The elements are us, indistinguishable. In trying to understand how these elements behave to create or destroy health, one stands out as key, behind which, all the others seem to line up waiting for their turn.
Space just may be the element we need most.
Most of us are lacking all the elements to some degree (space, air, fire, water, earth). We could use more fire to digest our food more efficiently. We could use more air flowing deeply through our lungs. We could use more time earthing, physically connecting with earth. We could use more pure water in our systems.
But space (ether) has become, for me, the final frontier. It is the first domino element. If we have space, we can create practices and a life that kindles fire and touches the earth regularly. Without space, we lose the ability to choose the healthy components of our lives.
I came to this realization starkly and suddenly toward the end of my Ayurvedic studies at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. For the first time during a residency as part of a long academic year, we had several evenings off as well as a few unexpected mornings. Our schedule before had been a demanding 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., nine+ days straight with two to three two-hour segments off during the whole time. It was more challenging, rigorous, and enlightening than I ever dreamed it would be, which is saying a lot because I dream big.
During this trip toward the end of our studies, we were gifted with space AND nothing to fill it. The test came at the beginning of the week so we weren’t even burdened with studying. There is no TV there. There is no laundry or dishes or career work to do. I suddenly found myself doing nothing and expanding back into my constricted and jangled cells. I was filling my lungs with air and just be-ing. It felt revolutionary and some switch inside me flipped and I could see the value of staring at the moon or laying with my eyes closed and resting my soul in a new light.
It was like when I was 12 and we used to sit around counting our split ends on hot California summer days. We had nothing to DO but it never occurred to us to complain. We were just be-ing and there was value in that.
When I talk to people about Ayurveda, and most definitely in my own Ayurvedic journey, the common theme is: “I don’t have enough time….” Time to exercise, time to feed myself nourishing food, time to meditate (even for 5 minutes).
When we don’t have time for our own self-care, we run on the fumes of what it feels like to care for others (family, friends, employers, customers), which leaves us vulnerable to their moods and their ability to nurture us, which more often than not is pretty low.
What I have come to believe is that it is not time we lack, it is space. Space to just be, without the TV on or incessant busyness occupying our visual and mental field.
The thought of spending our evenings cooking a meal or our Wednesday night doing laundry so we’re squared and set up for the week is somehow overwhelming. The thought of sitting quietly for 20 minutes in the afternoon to contemplate life, or nothing, is overwhelming.
It’s not the 20 minutes we lack, or the Wednesday night. It’s the space to choose ourselves and to let ourselves rest.
We feel we have to be doing something or, alternatively be so exhausted as to be nearly ill, to justify our rest. We’ve disconnected from the right and responsibility to rest and let the vibrancy come back to our lives.
In this culture, it’s a badge of honor to be busy or exhausted. We’ve earned the right to rest if we can list off the things we’ve accomplished that day. It’s not so much competition to get ahead, but more just trying not to be seen as a slacker, not a desirable state of being.
When was the last time you saw yourself smiling through to your eyes? When was the last time you saw that vitality in the people around you? Have you ever seen those shark eyes in someone you love? Dead, flat? When we lack vitality, all the elements are in play, but when we have lost our ability to be in space without filling every speck of it with activity (our own or others’), we lose air, fire, water, and earth in immeasurable pieces. We deaden. We flatten. We’re running ourselves ragged. This is not a metaphor.
As the domino element, it occurs to me that if we just focus on cultivating space and take a few things out of our daily schedules without immediately putting a few things in, we just may have enough space to take care of ourselves deeply enough to smile all the way up through our eyes regularly. When we put ourselves back into the picture, then all the practices that enhance that picture become doable, possible, probable.