Monday, November 1, 2010

The Space Between

There is a space between the way the world sees you and the way you perceive yourself.   

It's not a place  you like to visit often, this in-between space, because it's where you tuck your private fears and insecurities.   It's also the place you park your unrealized hopes and dreams:  the way you want to be versus the way you actually are.

The in-between space is where your subconscious thoughts live.   They can be hard to see, these quiet plot lines, because you're so used to avoiding them that you mostly don't even know they are there.   This is the place where the subconscious thoughts you seek to avoid gain power over you without you knowing it.

Most of us, I think, dwell in an external space:  we focus on keeping up appearances, staying relevant, involved, active.  

We like to participate in thoughts and actions that bolster what we want the world to see.   It is so much harder to stop, withdraw, and examine ourselves in a private, truthful way.    If the outside looks good, why bother with the inside?

When I was drinking, I lived from the outside in.   If you were okay with me, I was okay with me.   End of story.   Alcohol took root in my life because I didn't want to face my private fears.   I didn't want to sit with my feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, boredom or anger.   Why would I?   After a few drinks those feelings got quieter; I could believe in the version of myself I presented to the world.

I lost myself in the chasm between the outside and the inside.   

It's very, very hard to stop and look at the in-between space.  Most of us don't examine it too closely unless we're forced to - if some external force stops us dead in our tracks.    Maybe it's a health problem, divorce, loss of a loved one, pressure from family or friends.  Perhaps we just get sick and tired of being sick and tired.   But it almost always takes a Defcon 5 alert for people to examine their inner self.  

Why would we?   Who has time?  Why go poking at the hornet's nest with a stick when everything is sailing along just fine?

I guess it's a choice, then.   Do you want to live an unexamined life?   Or not?

A friend of mine said to me the other day, "I feel like I'm missing everything that happens to me, even though I'm right there.  I'm so consumed with the next thing, always in a hurry, that I don't absorb anything that is right in front of me."

If you want to visit your in-between space, deprive yourself of the things you do to escape.  It may be staying busy all the time, a drink at the end of the day, a favorite television show, the computer, a bowl of ice cream at night or a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. 

Look at those things you do just because you always do them.    If you always volunteer for committees and activities, try saying no.   If you always watch television at night, try turning it off.    If you always read before you fall asleep, trying lying quietly in bed instead.     Instead of an hour on the computer, try an hour of meditation.

Your in-between space will show up the moment you stop.

I've been experimenting with meditation.  I say 'experimenting', because I don't really know what I'm doing.   I had noticed, though, that as soon as I was alone in the house, I became edgy, restless.  Both kids were off at school, my husband at work, and I would pace around my house, my thoughts racing about what to do next.  Laundry?  Jewelry orders?   Vacuuming?   Blogging?   Run errands?    I'd freeze like a deer in headlights, get overwhelmed, and start puttering away on the computer just to get out of myself.  

I didn't want to be alone with my thoughts, so I'd tweet, facebook, blog.  I just needed to be out in the world, projecting.  

So I tried stopping.   I found a quiet, sunny spot on the floor to sit and think, just to see what came up.

It wasn't pretty.  

All the things left undone descended upon me: the unreturned phone calls, the unmade jewelry orders, the unfilled-out forms, the unmade appointments, the messy house, the unfolded laundry.   Within seconds I was in that in-between space, where I tell myself ways in which I don't measure up:  I'm a procrastinator, I'm disorganized, I'm lazy.    My mind went right to those negative plot lines I feed myself.   When I distract myself, I don't have to think about them.   When I stop, they crush me.

My subconscious negative thoughts gain power when I don't practice looking at them.   They are the white-noise that clutter up my accomplishments, my serenity, my peace of mind, my gratitude.

I resolved to sit with them at least once a day.    I pondered why the negative, undermining thoughts showed up loud and clear, and the positive, peaceful ones evaporated?  

I think it is because what we refuse to look at actually gains power in the dark.    It has certainly been that way for me with drinking, eating, and insecurity.

Now, when I meditate, I try to cultivate an objective observer, one who doesn't put labels on emotions, who banishes judgment.    I'll feel panicky, thinking about all the ways I don't measure up, and my gentle observer will nudge me away from labeling myself.     Look at the panic, she'll say.  It's just a feeling.  Feelings are created in your head, it isn't who you are, it's just how you feel

It's a work in progress, to be sure.   As hard as it is to stop, meditate, cultivate the gentle observer, it's even harder to take her with me out into the world.    I'm working on that.

Something popped into my head as I meditated this morning, and it's kind of ironic:

The journey starts when you stop.

Note: Giveaway winner and this month's item in the post below this one... 


  1. Holy lady! How did you get into my head today? This is exactly how I'm thinking, and a perfect description of what happened when I hit rock bottom in my depression. I realized I was exerting a whole lot of energy on avoidance, and not enough on just being. It was like a smack across the face when I saw it for what it was. And I love every word here, because you've identified my road map. A road map toward acceptance, and understanding of one self. That's a powerful thing. Thank you!

  2. Love this.
    I'm trying to remove the things I do to escape. This morning I sat at the table to have breakfast instead of perching on the couch with the laptop. Last night I didn't turn the BBC on to lull me to sleep (well, I did, but then quickly shut it off because something that sounded like it was about torture was starting.) I sometimes get up and sit for a few minutes before starting my day.

    I spent a week at a meditation & writing retreat (with Susan Piver, check her out. She writes a book about how not to be afraid of your life, and is looking for bloggers to interview her about her new book "Wisdom of a Broken Heart, she's on twitter @spiver. And her website has great information about meditation. /tangent. not a commercial...) in Vermont. Sitting for up to a half hour at a time 3 times a day. Then writing. I don't have a regular meditation practice so it was tough. But very interesting to see what comes up. And to just let it go.

    I use meditation when I start to have anxiety also "oh, that's thinking. oh, my that's the physical sensation of my stomach flipping. oh, that's the story I'm telling myself about what those thing mean." It's very useful during times of stress, but I imagine it's more useful when it's a daily practice.

    It was also very useful for my writing. It seemed I was allowing the writing to come out, rather than "doing" the writing.

  3. Great post. It is interesting and sad how much time we spend avoiding our own emotions.

  4. I want to stop...I'm not sure how.
    Maybe I don't need to know how?
    Just jump?

  5. I love love love this line:
    "The journey starts when you stop."
    I can see it painted on a wall in a future house of mine...

  6. Your posts speak to me. I so know that spot, that in-between space. I'm glad you're experimenting with meditation. I loved it for the one week that I once practiced it for. :) I'm working on my issues. I love that I have company! :) :)

  7. Love this post. And I love your advice to just stop doing the things you do out of habit to see what happens. I love the part about panic, because I find myself feeling panicky all the time. Like today when I noted that it was November 1st which means the madness of the Holidays is right around the corner.

  8. So very true. The "stopping" also challenges your images of who you are--I'm the person who volunteers, who blogs, etc. Gets you to a truer self.

  9. Of all the blogs I read, I have to say that yours always hits the nail on the head for insightfulness - you have a realy talent for always making me stop & think. Thanks!

  10. I often go go go until I am forced to stop. Usually through a deep depressions. Which isn't really healthy.

    I need to institute stopping points each day for myself. To stave off the depression, to ground me, to bring me closer to my true self. This is a good reminder that I need to do it...and that I can do it. Thank you for that.

  11. Loved the post, as well as these comments.
    "The space between" reminded me of talk I watched recently about perfection, how so many of us strive for it and in doing so do little but escape our own realities. (The talk was Brene Brown's, part of a series from TEDx Houston.) She talks about how much we suffer as a result of that escape and how we are the most addicted, obese, and medicated cohort in human history. She advocates that, instead of seeking perfection/escape, we let ourselves be seen, practice gratitude and joy, and believe that we are enough. As you note, meditation is a means to do all those things, as is working at leading an examined life.

    Thank you for your honesty, Ellie.

  12. I read recently that as a society we are obsessed with being busy and how we feel shame if we allow ourselves to do 'nothing'. It is incredibly difficult to do, but I think that it is well worth it.

  13. I often go go go until I am forced to stop. Usually through a deep depressions. Which isn't really healthy.

    I need to institute stopping points each day for myself. To stave off the depression, to ground me, to bring me closer to my true self. This is a good reminder that I need to do it...and that I can do it. Thank you for that.