Creating Space

“Clutter accumulates when energy stagnates and, likewise,   energy stagnates when clutter accumulates.”

Karen Kingston


Creating Space: Inside and Outside

Every new endeavor begins with making the space for it in our lives.  Sometimes we have a dream or vision of what we want to accomplish, but must first clear the space in our already crowded lives to make it happen.  The young farmer in the film, The Field of Dreams, illustrates this well when he believes in his vision of creating a baseball field in the middle of nowhere, so that baseball greats from the past will come to play on it.  Encouraged by his now-famous motto, “build it and they will come,” he first must clear space out of his cornfields, which are the major source of income for his family.  This was necessary to make room for his dream to be brought to life.

Other times, creativity springs from the momentum of clearing out clutter, letting go of old ideas, objects, or habits that are now acting as obstacles for the flow of creative juices.  Have you ever faced a creative deadline, like writing a paper for a class, and found yourself cleaning the house or organizing your closet, instead of writing the paper?  Perhaps procrastination is not the only reason for this…perhaps the urge to clear space is a trigger for the creativity needed to write the paper!

Creating space by clearing clutter is relevant in many dimensions of our lives. I discuss examples from four dimensions here:  physical space, time, relationships, and our internal experience of ourselves.  I hope these examples will inspire you to consider other ways you want to create space in your life…

Creating Physical Space

Creating physical space doesn’t need to be done in the large, theatrical dimensions of the movie example above!  For me, clearing space to concentrate on a particular project can mean simply clearing off my desk of all the papers and other distractions.  Then, I place on the desk only those materials that are directly relevant to the project at hand.  Creating space doesn’t need to mean clearing all the clutter from the room, or the entire house, or building an addition onto the house to create the perfect space envisioned in your dreams.  It could, but it can also be as simple as clearing off the extra chairs in the dining room so that guests can join you for a meal.

Sometimes we can create the environmental space we need by moving ourselves to it…we go to the woods or the park to find fresh air and nature; we go to a house of worship to find vast space and quiet; we go to a gym to have the space we need to exercise.  Creating or bringing ourselves to a physical environment conducive to our needs is key.

Creating Time

Creating physical space is not the only way we may need to make room for something new in our lives.  Hand in hand with the environmental space is the dimension of time.  We must make a time in our lives for what we want to create.  On our calendars, our tangible representation of time, we “block out the time” to focus on what is important to create in our lives, and to resist the pulls of other distractions.

Creating space for something new requires a time and a place for it.  This is not enough – but it does create the conditions for something new to grow.

Creating Relational Space

Relationships need space to be nurtured and to grow, so they do not get cluttered with outworn habits and stagnate.  In my therapy work with couples, I am always reminded of the importance of making space for the relationship: a unique dynamic, energetic creation of the joint efforts of the two partners.  Creating space for each individual in the couple is also important, but more easily remembered.

Environmental stress – such as caring for children, aging parents, financial or work demands – can usurp the “we” space in a relationship.  When this is more than a temporary imbalance, the relationship is being asked to withstand greater stress while being denied the nutrients it needs to stay strong and healthy.  The conflict which can emerge becomes a kind of clutter which both reflects the stagnation, and reinforces it.  Entering couple’s therapy is one way couples find to both create space and time for relational growth and clear away some of the clutter.  How do you nourish your relationships?

Creating Inner Space

A final way to think about creating space is within ourselves – in our own minds and being.  Sometimes multitasking is necessary, and we can even enjoy the challenge of juggling many things at once.  Indeed, technology is increasingly tempting us to do more than one thing at a time, such as talking on the phone while driving, surfing the web while using other computer programs, etc. A recent study, however, suggests that multitasking could actually be doing us more harm than good.  People who spent time stopping and starting tasks took 2-4 times longer to complete them.  In addition, brain scans showed juggling tasks reduces the brain power available for each.  Over time, stress hormones from multitasking can damage memory centers in the brain.  Clearing the space to focus on one task at a time, especially on a new or complicated task, results in both better efficiency and memory.

Various practices of concentration, or of mindfulness, can help to create internal space.  In concentration, our attention is so focused on one thing – the candle flame, our breath, a mantra, music, gardening – that other distractions simply fall away.  Our minds are focused, without being cluttered.  Some call this state of concentration “flow”.  In mindfulness practice, we become aware of the constant activity of the mind.  Instead of getting caught up in or attached to the endless potential distractions, we allow them to float into and on out of our inner space like a gentle wind or flowing river.  Rather than increasing our internal clutter, mindfulness nourishes acceptance and spaciousness to grow.

Clearing space in your life – whether physical space, time, relational space, or inner space –doesn’t automatically result in a new idea, program, or creative work.  It does, however, provide the conditions for these to emerge. Is there something you want to grow in your life: Writing, entertaining friends, meditation practice, exercise, making music, other activities?  Try beginning by creating a space for it in your life by clearing out what will get in your way.


~  Action On Purpose Challenge  ~

Determine where you most need to create space in your life, and begin to clear the clutter away.  Here are some ideas:

1 – To clear clutter in your home or office, pick one room, or one part of one room, or one surface…and clear it entirely of everything except what you want to see there.  Take a photo of the space you created. Then, for the remainder of the month, make sure you pause to look at that space every day to enjoy it, and feed the desire to keep it clear of clutter.

2 – Create some sacred space in your calendar.  Block out time to do something that really matters to you.  Draw a box around it in your calendar, and let nothing encroach on this time.  (If something urgent does come up, which happens, be sure to move the box to another place in your calendar.)

3 – Create some special relationship time with a significant other.  Set up a time, go to a mutually pleasant place, and agree to enjoy being together and resist discussing any areas of contention or responsibility for the allotted time.  Have fun!

4 – Begin, or reinvigorate, a meditation practice, taking the time to sit quietly, still the mind, and discover the vastness within.


“Breathing in, I see myself as space.
Breathing out, I feel free.”

Thich Nhat Hanh


Breathing: Available Now

“If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip,
it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”
Andrew Weil, M.D.

Focusing on the breath is both an ancient tool for enlightenment and a modern healing practice. Since we are always breathing, the opportunity to work with our breath is ever-present. This powerful tool has many practical applications. Here three ways to consciously utilize the breath are highlighted: to calm and relax ourselves; to nurture mindfulness; and as a metaphor for life.

Calming & Relaxation

Breathing is both an automatic physiological process, and one we can easily learn to regulate at will. Cultivating a habit of deep, smooth and rhythmic breathing has been shown to positively influence the heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, and digestion. Most of us naturally breathe in a deeper, more rhythmic way when our bodies are at rest, or asleep.

Since you have more control over exhalation, focusing on the outbreath can be a good place to start. To deepen your breathing, use the muscles between your ribs to push the air fully out of your body. The inhalation that follows will be fuller in response. Place your hand on your stomach while you breathe. If your hand moves outward with each intake of breath and inward as you breathe out, you probably have it right. Take a full 4-5 seconds breathing in, pause briefly, and then breathe out for at least 5 seconds. Pause and repeat for several minutes. Think only of your breathing. If it’s hard to concentrate, you might count the seconds as you exhale: one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand, and so on. Focusing on your exhalations a few minutes each day helps you learn to breathe more deeply.

Have you ever noticed that when you are stressed or anxious, you start to breathe in a quicker, more shallow fashion and can feel ready to “jump out of your skin”? You know the expressions: “can’t catch my breath” or “waiting to exhale?” Yoga teachings have long indicated that the breath, energy, and mind are linked, and that calming one will calm the other two. As you develop control over your breathing, you can begin to return to this deep breathing at times that you feel anxious or overwhelmed, bringing about what Herb Benson termed “the relaxation response.” This is a particularly useful tool in any performance situation, when dealing with conflict, or as an aid to concentration when fatigued.


Mindfulness can be described as an active, open awareness in the present moment, with acceptance of all that is experienced. It is the state of being awake, free from the habitual patterns and distracted delusion we often exist in. As our capacity for mindfulness grows, awareness expands until all experiences can be found in the present moment, as each moment is a doorway to the infinite.

In practicing and developing mindfulness, it is useful to have a focus to direct our attention to in the present moment, and to bring our attention back to when it wanders away (which it will, again and again). The breath is a wonderful tool for this purpose, and the central one for many types of meditative practices. To practice mindful breathing, we simply pay attention to the experience of the breath moving into and out of our bodies, right now. We can awaken ourselves to the present moment very quickly, with just a few mindful breaths. Taking the time to string many of these moments together, breath by breath, is what the practice of mindfulness meditation is all about.

Metaphor for Life

For me, the breath also serves as a metaphor for living. We do not have control over our breathing completely. We cannot stop breathing, nor continue to live if our breathing ceases. Still, we can choose to enjoy our breathing, to be aware of it and grateful for it, to practice deep and calming breathing, and to use it as a tool to influence other aspects of ourselves in healthy ways. So with life, we do not have control over the realities of suffering, illness, aging and death. Yet, we can choose to fully live the life we have right now.

“For breath is life, and if you breathe well
you will live long on earth.”

Sanskrit Proverb

Action On Purpose Challenge

Practice the deep breathing training described above for 3 to 5 minutes twice daily. You will improve your ability to settle yourself and increase your confidence in applying this procedure. To learn more about breathing techniques, check out Mindful Breathing or Relaxation Response.

Use this method of focusing on your breathing for 1 to 2 minutes any time during the day when you need a moment of relief. Instead of tensing up in heavy traffic or waiting for an elevator, try a balanced breathing break. A few deep breaths when you sit down to a meal, before you begin to eat, can help you enjoy the food more and aid digestion.

Already able to calm your breath at will? Try the mindfulness practice of simply paying attention to the breath moving in and out of your body. Don’t try to control the breath, or judge your breathing…simply be aware of it. If your mind wanders, bring it gently back to the present moment of your breathing. Here are my favorite words to focus my mind:

Breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

Affirmation: A Foundation Tool

An affirmation is a strong, positive statement that
something is already so.”
Shakti Gawain

The use of positive affirmation is one of the most versatile and powerful tools you have to strengthen, clarify, and inspire you toward your purpose. Our inner lives are actually full of affirmations: positive ideas we believe and accept as true. Of course, we are also full of fears and denials: those things we reject or cannot accept. Use of affirmation turns our attention toward the positive things we know to be true for us, deep down. The conscious use of affirmation helps us to adjust and rejuvenate the lens through which we see ourselves and the world…and that can make a tremendous difference!

In the service of motivating yourself and increasing your confidence to take action, choosing to affirm who you are, just as you are now, is primary. Making an inventory of what attributes, capacities, skills, or traits you already have is key. Count your blessings. Be aware that these are often things you take for granted, and so may be less visible to you at first glance than the attributes you want to change! “I am a loving presence.” “I am confident on the dance floor.” “I am a competent and creative employee.”

As you develop confidence in affirming who you are now, the next step is to affirm your capacity to grow. Here your affirmations will target those areas that you don’t feel so great about by affirming your capacity to change: “I can be a patient parent.” “I can change my diet in healthy ways.” “I can speak my mind at the office.”

Finally, once you feel secure in your belief that growth and change are possible for you in these target areas, then you can begin to affirm what you desire to become…your goals. “I will feel good about myself today.” “I will improve my grades this semester.” “I will be successful in love.”

A truly powerful affirmation combines an aspiration for the future with the truth of the present into a simple, meaningful statement. You are affirming that what you aspire to be is already present within you. I like the image of watering the seeds of what you want to grow within…acknowledging that the seeds are already there, and that nourishing them will help them to develop. What are the seeds within you that you want to see grow?

Guidelines for taking action with affirmations:

Pick a focus.
What is it you want to affirm in yourself or the world? If new to using affirmations, I advise picking a strength you can already identify in yourself. If you feel confident in your strengths, you might choose an area of your life you want to strengthen: your health, your financial success, your loving nature. Is your aspiration more global – that peace is possible, that hope endures, that abundance is unlimited? Identify what is within you that you want to affirm today.

Generate a list of 3-5 affirmations that speak to you, right now. It is important that an affirmation has meaning for you, and says exactly what you intend it to. For this reason, I usually advise people to craft their own affirmations. However, many find that an affirmation others have used can speak to them in profound ways. If you are new to using affirmations, or you are feeling uninspired, try reading various affirmations to get a feel for them before crafting your own. A library, bookstore, or Internet search will lead you to a wealth of examples of positive affirmations. In crafting your own affirmation, you might want to use a simple format such as, “I am a (insert adjective) (insert noun).”

Here are a few examples in this form:

I am an incredible artist.
I am a firm and patient parent.
I am a powerful advocate.
I am a dedicated exerciser.

Or experiment with the form, as in:

I welcome success into my life.
I am growing healthier every day.
My life is filled with love.
Generosity flows through me to others.

Choose one, simple affirmative statement. Stay with it for a period of time, perhaps a month, to really allow it to take root in you. There are so many wonderful affirmations to choose, but skipping from one to another doesn’t allow the kind of unfolding that a consistent, daily practice can nurture.

Write it down. Whether it is an affirmation you have crafted, or one you have heard or read somewhere, write it down in your own handwriting. By writing it down, you are creating a tangible, physical representation of your affirmation in the world. Whenever you see it, it is an external reminder of what it is you are affirming. So put your affirmation where you will see it often! I like to write my current affirmation on an index card and place it prominently on my desk. Others may put it on a mirror, where they eat, or on their computer. How about using the first letter of each word of your affirmation as a password…so you’ll have to recall it every time you log onto your computer?

Give it Voice. Literally, give it voice by reciting it out loud often, at least daily, for a period of time. How about a month? For many it is best to pick a particular time to recite it…while driving to work, or opening your planner, or preparing your breakfast.

Observe what happens over time as the affirmation grows and takes root in you.

Action On Purpose Challenge

Using the steps above, come up with a short list of meaningful affirmations. Then, choose one, write it down, and say it aloud at least once a day for the next month. Observe the impact, over time, of affirming your truth.