It’s ironic that I am writing an article about leaving space at a time when I have left very little space to write it in. As the sun sets, tension and anxiety slowly creep up on me. When pitching personal development topics to our editor Paul, the whole idea around leaving space in our lives appealed to us both the most. Yet, as I try to delve further into this topic, my mind becomes blank – or preferably – spacious. Nonetheless, I take three deep breaths, and I begin.
The idea of leaving space as the key to well-being is one that has persisted throughout the centuries: from Buddhists to the ancient Greeks to current day health providers. Buddhism and the philosophy of Stoicism believe in the principle that when we give up on attachment and respond to the world as it really is, we are well on our way to enlightenment or the good life. Being detached and non-judgmental are ways to create space in our minds. Mindfulness, which is part of Buddhist meditation practice, focuses on the sensory experiences of the present and on observing the mind in a non-partial manner as it chatters away. This practice has been clinically proven to reduce depression and anxiety.
Leaving space is even seen as a riskmanagement tool. When everyday demands, emails, chores and to-do lists seem to pile up on us, we need to pull what the Huffington Post coins as our ‘Personal Airbag’, to protect ourselves from the avalanche. This airbag is the space that we afford ourselves in order to prioritize what matters the most and what could be done tomorrow (like doing the washing up for instance).
Dating experts and relationship counsellors highlight the benefits of leaving space in relationships. Matthey Hussey, author of the New York Times bestseller Get the Guy makes the pertinent point that the more slowly a woman responds in a relationship, the more likely the man will react faster. The online dating site E-harmony’s relationship expert Rori Raye advises women to take a step back in dating and leave space for the man to take the initiative, since it is in his nature to want to pursue her. She says that something as small as letting the man take the lead when there is a lull in conversation could send him the right signals.
Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist and former weekly advice columnist at The Guardian, often expressed the benefits of extracting ourselves from a situation we’re wrapped up in. She believes that one way to help ourselves through a dilemma is to consider the role that we are playing and whether we are partly responsible for it. We can do this by taking a step back, leaving space and seeing the fuller picture.
Leaving space can be easily integrated in our lives. According to Tal-Ben Shahar, the former lecturer on positive psychology – also known as ‘the science of happiness’ – at Harvard University, taking three deep breaths is one of the quickest ways to calm us down. This can be done at any time: at our desk; at a red-light; in a queue; or just before starting to write an article. Other ways are switching off our phones or email, which can lead to better concentration. Positive psychologists have identified that even leaving our inbox open whilst concentrating on a difficult work task could reduce our IQ by ten points. We could focus on the task at hand, like washing the dishes, rather than worrying about something which cannot be dealt with at that particular moment. Philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The happiness that is genuinely satisfying is accompanied by the fullest exercise of our faculties and the fullest realization of the world in which we live.”
By leaving space we are creating a more flourishing life. Our concentration strengthens; our anxieties weaken; our perspective on life lightens. We make better choices because we have allocated time and objectivity to them. Furthermore, we allow the unexpected to happen. Some of my most wonderful experiences came about because I left space for life to naturally run its course.
When we leave space in our lives, we set the boundaries and principles for the way in which we want to live. We reclaim a sense of control which has been lost in the interminable flurry of thoughts and tasks. Seeking ownership of our space does not have to involve immediate big changes in habit or lifestyle – we can start small: take three deep breaths. Galen, the most famous doctor in the Roman Empire and whose influence dominated western medicine for 15 centuries, taught us that the fundamental principle of life is air. Leave space and let the air in.
Gemma Rose writes at livingroomphilosophy.com