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