The Space In-Between

So the cookie jar. From the moment I saw it on the store shelf, recognized it as a nostalgic vessel from my childhood and then left without buying it, I’ve been hanging out in that itchy space between craving and grasping.

A place that is very familiar territory.

Anyone who has ever kicked a habit that doesn’t serve them anymore knows the place I am talking about.

This space is where you pitch your tent and set up camp when you are trying to quit smoking or drinking or whatever vice you’ve been using to shut down the chaos in your head.

I huddled around the campfire in this twitchy territory, almost thirty years ago, when I crushed out my last cigarette.

I returned just over ten years ago when I quit drinking.

Other things I try to put down in this space, but with far less success. I set them down only to return to snatch them up again; rushing across the Grasping Line with my prize like a quarterback clutching a football. Things like chocolate, worrying or material objects I want but don’t need, like a cookie jar.

What happens in the mind between thinking about  a peanut buster parfait or the purchase of a material object, be it a cookie jar or a pair of new shoes, and the having of it? What happens when you choose to just stay in that uncomfortable twitchy in-between territory and breathe?

This is the foundation of meditation. This is the purpose it serves.

Most Buddhist teachings focus a lot on this middle ground. This place that is so rich and fertile with possibility every time you find yourself in it.

To begin with, most people run through so fast they don’t even realize this incredible space inside them exists. The idea comes to have a snack and you get up and have one. Done. From craving to grasping in fifteen seconds or less. At no point is there a pause. A meditation, if you will.

The first time you slow down enough to find yourself in this strange in-between space and recognize it as such, your world opens up just a little bit wider than it was before and nothing will ever be quite the same again. Your numb-out vices may remain, but now you know there is another space you could choose to hang out in instead. Suddenly you have options.

To begin with the in-between place feels like a torture chamber. Why not have the thing you crave? It’s right there. What’s the harm? Just take it already.

It’s only when the craving and the grasping itself becomes its own form of torture that you start to pause in the between space. You’re so stressed out, so exhausted, so unhappy and nothing is helping, so before you grasp, you think, I’m just going to hang out here for a while. You set down the bag of chips, the bottle of wine, the vial of drugs or the credit card. Or maybe you’re addicted to  ego, to worrying, to anger or to a judgmental mind. Whatever it is, you just let go. It feels really, really, scary. But it also feels really, really, good. You realize this is what freedom feels like.

Pair this with some quality tools like meditation, yoga, creative pursuits or perhaps recovery meetings or any spiritual practice or teachings that make sense to you and you will find you can hang out in this space for longer and longer periods of time. It’s like training for a marathon, but instead it’s mind training.

I stumbled across a CD by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, about ten years ago. Her gentle, often humourous, compassionate teachings launched me on a path of trying to learn more about this in-between open space. I’ve been moving along on my spiritual journey at a blistering snail pace ever since.

Titled “Don’t Bite The Hook; Finding Freedom From Anger, Resentment and Other Destructive Emotions” this CD quickly became a mainstay in my vehicle. In fact, the original set had to be replaced because I wore the first one out. And then I wore that one out as well. Today, I have a digital version on iTunes that I listen to. I have listened to her teachings so often I can quote bits and pieces by heart and yet, every time I hear them I learn something new.

This week I learned just because I have space on my counter for a cookie jar, doesn’t mean I need to put one there. I can just allow the space-and the memories-to be.