Making Space

I am currently reading two books simultaneously.  Usually when this happens I am struggling to get through a challenging book so I take a break with something quick and humorous.  This time, however, both books are challenging, I’m actively reading both, and they are intertwining in a fascinating way.

From A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle:

“I’m not asking you to do anything.  All I’m asking is that you find out whether it is possible for you to allow those feelings to be there.  In other words, and this may sound strange, if you don’t mind being unhappy, what happens to the unhappiness?  Don’t you want to find out?”

She looked puzzled briefly, and after a minute or so of sitting silently, I suddenly noticed a significant shift in her energy field.  She said, “This is weird.  I’m still unhappy, but now there is space around it.  It seems to matter less.” This was the first time I heard somebody put it like that: There is space around my unhappiness.  That space, of course, comes when there is inner acceptance of whatever you are experiencing in the present moment.

Compare to this bit on “expansion” from The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris:

Step 1: Observe

Observe the sensations in your body. Take a few seconds to scan yourself from head to toe.  As you do this, you will probably notice several uncomfortable sensations.  Look for the one that bothers you the most.  For example, it may be a lump in your throat, a knot in your stomach, or a teary feeling in your eyes.  (If your entire body feels uncomfortable, then just pick the area that bothers you the most.) Now focus your attention on that sensation.  Observe it with curiosity, like a scientist who has discovered some interesting new phenomenon.  Notice where it starts and where it stops.  If you had to draw an outline around this sensation, what shape would it have?  Is it on the surface of the body, or inside you, or both?  How far inside you does it go?  Where is it most intense?  Where is it weakest?  How is it different in the center from around the edges?  Is there any pulse or vibration?  Is it light or heavy?  Moving or still?  Warm or cool?

Step 2: Breathe

Breathe into and around the sensation.  Begin with a few deep breaths (the slower the better) and make sure you fully empty your lungs as you breathe out.  Slow, deep breathing is important because it lowers the level of tension in your body.  It won’t get rid of your feelings, but it will provide a center of calm within you.  It’s like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm: the anchor won’t get rid of the storm, but it will hold you steady until it passes.  So breathe slowly and deeply and imagine your breath flowing into and around the sensation.

Step 3: Create Space

As your breath flows into and around the feeling, it’s as if you are somehow creating extra space within your body.  You open up and create a space around this sensation, giving it plenty of room to move.  (And if it gets bigger, you give it even more space.)

Step 4: Allow

Allow the sensation to be there, even though you don’t like it or want it.  In other words, “let it be.” When your mind starts commenting on what’s happening, just say, “Thanks, Mind!” and come back to observing.  Of course, you may find this difficult.  You may feel a strong urge to fight with this feeling or push it away.  If so, just acknowledge that urge.  (Acknowledging is like nodding your head in recognition, as if to say, “There you are, I see you.”) Then bring your attention back to the sensation itself.

Mr. Harris continues to explain that this technique of expansion is not limited to bodily sensations and encourages bringing up painful thoughts and memories in order to practice.  It actually works!  By making space around the pain, it became easier to accept and gradually dulled.

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