The Space Between

It was a full ten days before Halloween when I stopped by my friendly neighborhood Fred Meyer store to check out their collection of Halloween decorations. For those not from the Northwest, Fred Meyer is the most delightful store in the world. The epitome of One Stop Shopping. You can buy motor oil, a sofa, new lacy panties, a hanging flower basket, brisket, brussel sprouts and a fifth of whisky and have it all rung up on one receipt. It’s fabulous. Even Dave Grohl recently waxed nostalgic about his memories of Fred Meyer when he lived here. Anyhow. I made my way over to the seasonal section only to find the remnants of the Halloween stuff pushed out into the aisles like yesterday’s garbage and the shelves that had previously held costumes and skulls and bloody corpses were now home to reindeer and snow globes and tree skirts. It was October 21, for cryin’ out loud! I don’t know about you, but I don’t do Christmas in the fall and I sure as hell don’t do Christmas before Halloween.

As much as I’ve heard that the guy who runs Costco is a really swell dude, I don’t believe for a hot minute that he simply wants us to have extended, good tidings when Costco debuts all their Christmas merchandise in August. Apparently, all those years growing up we didn’t spend nearly enough money between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, enter the “Christmas Creep”–when all the stores haul out the ho-ho-ho’s and the fa-la-la’s earlier and earlier each year.

I think of it as losing the space between Halloween and Christmas. Sorry, Thanksgiving. Hey November, you were a lovely month back in the day.

Not long after my disappointing Fred Meyer visit, I found myself sitting in a near-empty auditorium at my daughter’s high school. The Wind Ensemble performs a special Halloween concert every year and I like to get there early to secure my special secluded seat at the far end of the very back row, stage right. As I sat, I glanced around and noticed a smattering of other parents already in their seats. Almost without exception, each one with with their face buried in their phone. Scrolling, swiping, typing. My phone was in my purse and I defiantly resisted pulling it out and joining them. Instead, I watched them. Smugly. I looked up into the ceiling where the stage lights hung. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths. I watched as younger siblings came in, dressed in full Halloween regalia, their excitement over the impending holiday written all over their squiggly bodies.

And I thought about the space between when we take our seat and when the show begins.

In my yoga classes, I see it, too. Students rushing to get to the next pose, as if I had a timer to clock the fastest Sun Salutation. Slow down, I say. Find your feet. Feel your foundation. Then, inevitably, as we hold our Warrior 2’s and thighs begin a-tinglin’ and shoulders begin a-twitchin’, I see it again. Let’s get out of this pose, their eyes seem to shout. Take a breath, I remind them. Be here now, because the next pose, the next hour, the next day or the next year you might like even less.

The space between one pose and the next. Slow down. Pay attention. Find your breath.

At the end of yoga class, we lie back in savasana, or corpse pose, to rest and release. We drop our physical practice and drop our breath deep into our bellies again. Observe your breath, I tell them. Notice the space between the inhale and exhale–those tiny pauses at the top and bottom of each cycle of breath. The space between one thought and the next lengthens. When we come out of savasana, we feel better, clearer, almost as if a wand full of magical unicorn goodness has been waved over our prone bodies.

The space between one thought and the next. In meditation, we practice making that space longer. We work towards dwelling in “no mind.” I’ve been in that space before. Believe me, it’s nice there. .

Maybe you’ve been behind the same mini-van I’ve been behind–you know, that one with the video screen attached to the back of the front seats? Nearly always with Dora The Explorer or Frozen in brilliant technicolor for the preschoolers in the back? The space between leaving and arriving. Are we there yet are we there yet are we there yet? I get it, I have two kids, too. When they were little, car trips were filled with conversation and arguments, a lot of cranky crying, a few naps–if we were lucky–and occasionally, that magical sighting of a deer sneaking out of the woods on the side of the road. Or a shooting star streaking across the black sky. A hot air balloon hovering just above the corn field.

The space between here and there. You know what lives there? Opportunity. Presence. Magic.

It was just over ten years ago when I walked into the nursing home and sat alone at my mother’s bedside as she lay dying. It’s really happening, I remember thinking. She was on her way out of this world and I made myself as present as possible. I sat beside her and watched the rise and fall of her chest and witnessed the space between her breaths growing longer and longer. Every once in awhile, I was sure she had taken her last, only to be surprised by the next. Until there wasn’t a next. Stillness. Peace. Grief. Her transition into death no less sacred than the birth of my children.

The space between the last breath and no breath. Between life and death. Let me tell you, it’s not easy to be there, but really important that we are.

The space between the dead of night and the light of day. Those hours when our darkest demons and ferocious fears take on a life of their own. Full of the what-if’s and what-now’s, the would-of’s and should-of’s thundering in my brain. Mindlessly, I reach for my phone, telling myself it’s just to check the time. One tap and I’ve opened up Facebook then Twitter then Instagram. Searching for something to drown out the dark, I scroll and swipe. But I never find what I’m looking for. I roll onto my back and join my index finger and thumb together on each hand, in Gyan Mudra. I breathe and soften into the dark, into that space between monkey mind and welcome sleep.

I was in yoga teacher training when I first learned about “holding space” for another person. The simple art of being present with a person in the midst of their experience–be it full of grief or joy or whatever it looks like–and hold that sacred space for them. As yoga teachers, we were encouraged to teach a class without any expectation of what anyone’s experience might be and without feeling pressure to change it to better suit our needs. What that looks like is a yoga class filled with people experiencing intense physical challenge, others processing emotional pain, some simply there to stretch their muscles for the next triathlon, a few ecstatic physical breakthroughs and everything in between. It isn’t my place to tell the class, collectively, what their practice should look or feel like. I am there to simply guide and hold space for their practice.

I think of this when I sit with a friend. Can I take in and witness their words and emotions without thinking ahead to my response? Without my impatient mind straining to brainstorm a solution? Can I be present without reacting? Allowing the space between thoughts and language and emotion to land and simply be.

The space between their words and mine. Why do I rush to fill the blank space? Fear, usually.

The space between this and that. Between where we are now and where we’d like to be. That uncomfortable space of unknowing, between who we are today and who we hope to become. How many less-than-stellar decisions have been made because we couldn’t bear to simply sit in the space between now and the future?

Back to the here and now, I’m intent on simply being in this space between now and later. The rainy days and muddy trails, the shades of grey that seem to define each day. I look up at the trees in my woods, most with just a few scant leaves still clinging to their branches. They’re not in a hurry. These trees and the dirt and the ferns all seem to say, “Let’s slow down here for a bit to rest. Spring will be here soon enough.” The space between rest and growth.

So, I’ll soak up the preparations for Thanksgiving without much nod to Christmas, although I’ll admit to already having purchased our annual Advent calendars from Trader Joe’s. I love Advent calendars–the mindful countdown to Christmas, the sweet anticipation accompanied by a little chocolate behind each door. And when the Christmas frenzy reaches a fever pitch, I’ll take time to sit and let my eyes grow unfocused on the gleam of the tree lights. There’s no rush. It will come. It always does.

Whether we are being pushed and prodded by retailers into Christmas in August, or we choose to obliterate the space between here and there by sticking our face in our phone, or numbing out the space between grief and healing with our distraction of choice–it’s always our choice. Like I always tell my kids, make good choices. Be here now.

What’s your hurry?










One thought on “The Space Between

  1. Kris

    Essays like this; they remind us why we are here. To LIVE. To find the magic you speak of. To be present in life’s happenings and embrace each one. Pause, feel it, then let it go.

    I first heard the expression “pay attention” from you. When stuff “happens” and my life starts to feel negative I repeat those words like a mantra. I’ll make it my intention for the day. Tracie- this is a beautiful piece and a thoughtful reminder. I’m going to think about that now in the space between sleep and wakefulness!! Reading this however felt like a hug from a dear friend. Yes…for me…almost that good. Thank you.

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