Guest contribution by Dr. Thara Vayali
As the fall ramps up with task managers and organization tools and the schedules quickly start becoming booked up, our tendency is to jump right in to be productive. Productivity is a reward in itself and it seems that the more productive we are, the less stress we have. Although this is one way to mitigate stress, one of the key pieces of stress management and resilience building that gets forgotten is spaciousness. Without spaciousness, we can eventually crash and burn despite our best intentions.
Creating spaciousness is the art of planning for buffer time in your agenda. Buffer time is not only accounting for the time for unexpected delays or a spontaneous passing conversation with friends/neighbours (which is also important!), but also giving enough time for you to breathe, to notice, and to absorb the context you are in before taking any actions. In our modern society, efficiency and organization can often be placed at the head of stress management and are associated with “doing” or task productivity. Let’s take a step back and – while we give efficiency and organization their due credit – start to view spaciousness as a crucial component of our long-term resilience building.
What is “spaciousness” in daily life?
Just as you might imagine spaciousness in a room or a field, or as the human eye sees the night sky, spaciousness in life is the ‘space between’ – the pauses in between the actions of the day, or a relaxed relationship with time.
Instead of running from meeting to meeting or dropping off someone/ and gobbling your lunch before rushing to your desk, there is a window of time that you “schedule” in, where you become a witness rather than a thinker/doer.
This could be five minutes before a meeting, or 30 minutes between ending a day’s work and walking into the routines of your home. If we don’t build spaciousness into our schedules, the efficiency megaphone within us will call the shots. In modern life, moments of quiet don’t arrive without an element of intention.
We may think that jam-packing our schedules as the act of being present and excited with our days, or as spending our time doing what we love, with people we love. This can be true and yet still be detrimental. The people we connect with and the work we do may be fulfilling, but the sustainability of “doing” constantly is short term and in that time can damage our resilience mechanisms. To build resilience for the inevitable stressors that come with time, we draw our resources from the practice of creating space, even when we feel energetic enough not to need it.
On the flip side, for some of us, there are more than enough energy draining responsibilities to fill up 24 hours. In our current productivity model it can seem we barely have time to sleep, for fear that our precariously teetering stability may falter. Which is to say – it may not be an easy task to create spaciousness. Just because it is not easy does not make it a less important component of stability.
By cramming our days, we cram our minds and bodies, and there is only so long a person can last in a healthy mindset in a crammed headspace.
Stress grows when time is tight. Stress can dissipate when mindful space arrives. Mindfulness is what nourishes resilience. Give your resilience room to grow, so it can be a pillar for you when you need it.
Three factors that influence our capacity for spaciousness:
Planning: Intention matters! Planning to have timed space between actions is a functional way for spaciousness to feed you. If we wait for the “free time” to arrive before taking space to sit back and observe, the spaciousness can feel not only precious, but fleeting and lost to another unforeseen moment in time. The joy of embracing the rarity of spaciousness runs in parallel with lamenting the lack of it. If you know you are choosing to build spaciousness into your days regularly, it is easier to let it nourish you and to let it go. Spaciousness is not handed out randomly, it is fostered.
Prioritizing: The world can tug us in all directions and it is our job to get clear on what helps us serve others. There may be more tasks than you could accomplish in a day. These tasks may be important, but if you remember that your own mental health is the linchpin to being of service to yourself and others, spaciousness takes a front seat. Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Valuing your own needs does not mean you are devaluing another’s needs.
Mindfulness: When we bounce from task to task it can be difficult to observe without sliding into a flurry of thoughts. Using the tools of mindfulness and the sensory experience of sight, smell, sound and touch, you can bring yourself into a witness state where resilience grows.
How to build the practice of spaciousness
As you organize each day this week, look at your schedule/tasks and choose ONE time in the day where you could build in a buffer, a spaciousness for breathing and observing without doing, planning or preparing. Be it for five minutes or one hour, let that time be an open field for observing where you are; for arriving and sensing before acting. It may be a practice that you find takes your emotional odometer into a place of calm. It may be a practice that you will take forward beyond this week into your life.
The ‘“space between” is where understanding happens, where meaning occurs and where all this “doing” has purpose beyond task management. Resilience is built on four pillars: Confidence, Connection, Adaptability & Purpose. Spaciousness allows for these pillars to expand.
As Paulo Coelho writes in The Witch of Portobello: “If all the words were joined together, they wouldn’t make sense, or at the very least, they’d be extremely hard to decipher. The spaces are crucial.”
I’d venture a guess that we could look at the way we use time in a similar way. We could consider spaciousness as requirement to make sense of the moments and actions in lives.
Build space. Prevent burnout.
Thara Vayali is a Naturopathic Doctor & Yoga Teacher in Vancouver and is also a UBC alumnus. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. She is the creator of Change Natural Medicine: Budget conscious, membership based health consulting.