Clear Sailing

How easy it is to lose track of all the space that permeates every part of our embodiment and lies within every surface that greets our eyes and fills our days.

Spaciousness is unlikely to be the image that comes to mind on a jammed freeway or as we apprehensively look at our Inbox and see all those papers proclaiming undone tasks. Nor do we ordinarily see the space that follows one thought before the next arrives and takes control of our busy, distracted minds.

But perhaps a simple shift in focus can help to bring that inherent spaciousness out of the dim light of world-weariness and into the open. After all, space is the heart of openness. Without space, nothing could move; nothing could breathe and develop.

In spite of appearances, everything is always moving. Nothing stays still, even though our minds often wish they would: what we love leaves; and what we don’t want keeps intruding into our private space, which then doesn’t feel so private.

Our homes, on whose stable foundations we count, can be consumed by fire, swept away by tornadoes, and inundated by flood waters. And–for the moment safe inside–we rely on warm or cool air being free to move through every room; we count on water arriving at our faucets, and leaving through our drains.

We count on the freedom of movement, which space makes possible.

If water doesn’t flow from the faucet when we try to fill our coffee pot, we know that some obstruction has appeared between our tap and the city water supply or–when we lived in the East Mountains–that our 500 foot deep well was not filling our above ground pressure tank. When our kitchen sink, full of dish water, just sits there like a muddy pond after we pull the plug, we know that it’s time to plumb the pipes that join us to the city drainage system.

When no warm air flows into our winter homes as the temperature sinks inside and out, we think first of the flame in the furnace, if the lights are still on, but if they aren’t we suspect that electricity—that other form of fire—is not flowing through our home’s fuses and wires (as also happens with certain neuro-muscular diseases where the electrical flow through neurons and synapses has become compromised).

Whenever anything on which we rely is not flowing freely, we think of obstruction. Our reliance on currents of air, water and fire in our homes, in our bodies, and in our world, is evidence of a fundamental space that permeates and accommodates those flows.

The experience of feeling crowded in by things and circumstances tends to propagate that congestion into our consciousness: the sense of being hemmed in seems to make us crave more things, more stimulation, and more distracting experiences; as if more stuff will help us not miss the quiet of uncluttered spaciousness quite so much.

It is not emptiness that we are then striving to fill. We are trying to ignore that we owe our lives and everything that nourishes us to a space that is always and everywhere available.

Noticing the open space that pervades every appearance can help us to reclaim our freedom to think what we want to think (and no more); to acquire what we feel will be useful and helpful (and no more); and to populate our days with the interests, people, and activities that truly nurture us (and no more).

We are very capable of looking out into our surroundings and observing what appears there; but it’s more difficult for us to look within at the vast galaxies that comprise our bodies.

It takes a little bit of physics and anatomy to visualize what is flowing in our bodies: our lungs pumping oxygen so that our hearts can distribute it to our muscles, lungs, and the heart itself; our hearts bringing oxygen and water to each of the 30 billion cells that comprise our embodiment: our intestines launching all that we consume into the river-ways of veins that supply the nutrients on which our cells rely; and our kidneys filtering the waste that our cells produce. We can envision—like a city planner—the vast spaces that make all this possible. But there is no need to plan, coordinate delivery of supplies, or construct infrastructure. Our would-be planners are just leasing the bodies that allow them to plan, intend, and move through space.

The hidden life of cells, molecules, and atoms, which are the fascinating storybook characters that populate modern science, are part of the autobiography of space. Just think: our very bodies are a parallel universe to what astronomy tells us is the cosmic vastness in which our small planet faithfully orbits; we are living in a storybook richly illustrated with photographs from the Hubble telescope and Voyager/Cassini probes into the intermediate reaches of our solar system. Above and below, incredibly sparse dots of charged energy travel through incommensurate stretches of empty space. And yet here we are, strangely empowered to contemplate these gestures of a space whose presence makes possible everything that arises, at all levels of appearance.

However, there are certainly local obstructions. Our drains block, our cities choke on smog, our national and international relationships resemble twisted intestines no longer flowing within the harmonizing wisdom of the heart.

And let’s not forget that everything is not only full of space, everything is space: our bodies, our minds, and our planetary home, which keeps on trying valiantly to make up for our madness. But time is running out. We need to do our part and invoke our inherent freedom to alter course, a freedom which space allows. A good place to start is to take a breath and let it sail forth on all the rivers and streams that flow through our bodies, thereby stimulating the bursts of electricity that fuel our thoughts and feelings and that activate our intentions. For it is from the ground of our being and from the ground of Mother Earth that the winds of change, so urgently needed, will blow into our hearts.

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