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.

 

Just Love

I have a love/hate relationship with marketable quotes.

You know, those pithy signs you find in the decor section of stores.

I love to read them and so many strike a chord, change my outlook or make me smile. Other times I get comically cranky about the whole industry.

Like when I snapped a picture of the one shown above. On one hand the words instruct you to collect moments not things; a very wise instruction. On the other hand, you are being asked to shell out $21.97 to collect a thing, rather than a moment. Shouldn’t you just tuck the sentiment in the memory bank and leave the thing on the shelf? (FYI I came within a gnats eyebrow of putting this one in my cart before taking the message to heart and deciding to snap a picture of it instead. I don’t need any more things).

Depending on my mood, I can get downright defensive.

Be Calm.

Don’t Worry. Be Happy.

Stay in the Moment.

Live, Laugh and Love.

Just Breathe.

Relax.

I start to feel like I am being peppered with unsolicited advice until I’m like, DON’T YOU TELL ME WHAT TO DO! Who ARE these people with all these smug quotes and instructions who think they hold the answer to my head? You don’t know my head. You don’t have a clue. You can take your chalk paint and barn-boards and stuff them right where…and that’s when I realize I really need to breathe. And relax. Be Calm. And so forth.

At times it seems a tad ambitious to sum up and solve all our problems with a one line instruction beautifully painted on a piece of barn wood.

And yet…that is exactly what I want.

An infallible one line instruction to guide me through life.

It’s a human head and soul thing. You can go back over two thousand years and there you have the disciples of Jesus begging Him for The One Instruction. He tells them parable after parable after parable, but they still keep hammering away at him. Tell us, tell us, what should we do?

Finally he sums the whole shebang up by saying “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

That’s it.

That’s all there is to it.

Love.

Simply love.

Not judgement, finger-pointing, condemnation, preaching, ridiculing, bullying, punishing or rampant posting of nasty comments in the below section.

Just love.

Just.

Love.

Maybe I’ll paint that on a piece of wood and hang it on my wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puzzle of Life

So I got an email from Kijiji just now with the subject line “What type of Dad do you have?” and in my head I replied, “A dead one” which I meant to be darkly humorous, but no sooner had I thought it than I felt my eyes well up and my chest cave in.

What IS that space inside your chest?

It’s enormous.

It is bottomless even.

No one talks much about it, but we all have it.

This spectacular space we walk around with inside of us.

What is going on exactly when it crumples inward with grief?

Or expands with that euphoric joy that comes when you are really kind to a stranger or when you forgive someone after holding a crazy grudge for way too long.

Some say that is where God lives.

I was raised agnostic but whenever I have contemplated a God and dared to ask “So…are you there?” I feel that same joyful sensation.

It’s like a cosmic reply.

In that space.

In my chest.

Maybe that space is sort of like a puzzle piece that each of us holds inside us. Like a playing card no one but God can see. We spend our life shaping it, polishing it, colouring it in with our experiences and then when we die…snap! We become locked into a giant picture that is being patiently created one piece, one life, at a time.

When we’re all finished here and there’s no one left to die, the very last piece gets snapped into place, and bam! We will be able to step back and see the whole picture of what this crazy life was all about.

The Meaning. For ages 0 and up. 250 billion pieces.

There’s crazier theories.

I know for sure that my parents were part of the whole that made up our family picture. And if they are now also part of some greater picture, whatever their puzzle piece represents, it will be something wonderful.

Because that’s what type of Dad-and Mom-we had.