When I was a little girl, dad would take us on a Sunday drive through the vast Texas countryside. The earth stretched out on either side of us, and ahead of us, unending to the rim of a severe, hot horizon.
We were swallowed by the spaciousness, immersed in it. Allowing ourselves to revel in the endless openness — and possibilities — of it all.
Later, as an adult, I moved to cities where life and buildings were crunched and crammed. I found myself yearning for spaciousness, not only of location but of time. Work demanded deadlines and my desk was anything but expansive, cluttered to its edges with words I was struggling to write.
One morning, while sitting on the train on the way to work, I watched the sun rise above the Philadelphia skyline like a glowing red jewel. And my soul stirred in me. I recalled my childhood summers in Tennessee, when I had more than enough space. And time.
I would stay in bed, watch the sun gently bathe the room in light. I breathed. Listened to the trill of birdsong, felt the coolness of the morning breeze through the window before the day grew hot. Heard my own heartbeat. I paid attention. And space opened up within me.
I began to realize how little I had been allowing space in my life. And when space did open up, how quickly I filled it with clutter or things or activities. Even vacations could end up being a to-do list. I hadn’t been listening to what spaciousness had to show me. Or teach me.
A few years ago, I took a mindfulness meditation course. We were urged to stay in the present moment, simply observe what was happening and not judge it. My lower back had been bothering me and the instructor asked me create a “spaciousness” around that ache.
She urged me to experience the discomfort as a small part of who I am. Instead of contracting around the pain, the teacher invited me to expand my awareness into spaciousness. And it helped. No, the pain didn’t go away. But it became manageable.
Spaciousness can do one of two things: Invite us more deeply into a rich intimacy with ourselves and the Divine. Or repel us because it may challenge us to listen to our deepest fears — and longings.
It may open us up to look at our own aging and death or whatever might need healing and forgiveness. Or, challenge us to muster courage to write a book, piece of music, or fulfill the secret desires of our hearts that we’ve shoved aside.
How do we create more spaciousness in our lives? Perhaps we first need to invite it and listen to it, says Christine Valters Painter. In her book The Artist’s Rule, she writes:
“Listen past the first layer, which may sound ugly or painful, and tend to the layers underneath. This takes time, much like growing in intimacy with a friend… it is in this place of hospitality to the unknown where we encounter God… we learn to make space within ourselves because on the other side of the voices that disturb us we find the gift of wisdom waiting for us.”
This type of listening and “making space within ourselves” requires radical courage. And discipline. The late spiritual teacher and author Henri Nouwen writes:
“In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act’. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”
It’s a letting go of our own agenda to make room for the possibilities — and gifts — waiting for us.
When we enter any space, we can breathe into it and allow it to simply “be” before filling it with our own judgments or agendas. We can pay attention to how we fill space with things or thoughts and be gentle with ourselves in ways that might open us up to “aha” moments. We can allow spaciousness in our conversations or on social media.
Ultimately, I believe we are all yearning for that spaciousness of soul, which makes us free for God.
It isn’t always easy. And I’m still learning. Life will and does make demands. But even within those demands, I’m allowing an ever-more deepening space for love to make a home within me.
I am making space for many deep breaths and paying attention to the space between the notes and even the space between these words.
That’s where the music is. The magic. And the mystery.