By Anita Vasudeva November 2007 Pause – and think about the pause, the gap, the space in between two thoughts, two breaths, two words, or two bars of music. it is space that makes existence possible and it is in this space that God resides Last week, as I settled into the aircraft seat on my way back home from an envied ‘break’, I picked up the magazine in the seat pocket and opened to an almost blank page – with a scribble at the bottom that said: “The greatest challenge is still the blank page.” Needless to say it got me curious enough to figure who was advertising what. It also got me thinking about what surely is a truism – without the emptiness, what would we fill? And from there on to – what is it that lies in the silence of the emptiness, the openness of the gap, the quiet of the pause? What power lies in the space between two filled pages, two things, two people, two actions? In a world where we are encouraged to get away from our lives to get a life, where life is on a non-stop fast lane, where everyone wants 48 hours to complete what they must, and professionals charge by the man-hour, then God forbid, if you are free, you must catch up with the latest movie, family, friends, the television soap, the play, the book, the game, the shopping. Finally, WH Davies’ words come true – ‘What is this life so full of care / we have no time to stand and stare’. And if we do not stare at the blank page, at the open space, at the gaps between and within life, how will we ever meet the greatest challenge? Get in the gapI turn to the person in the seat next to me, and ask, “What does a gap or space mean to you personally?” He knows me well enough not to question why I ask random questions while looking out of the window at a sky filled with a blue space and wide gaps between cream-puff clouds. “It means perspective – space and time create a distance which allows you to look at things with a clarity and put them in perspective,” he replies. The word is echoed many times in my conversations with young, old, student, worker, doctor, counsellor, teacher, in the days that follow. And I come to believe that while we fill our lives and those of our children with things to do and aspire to and achieve, it is time to pause a while and look at the wisdom in nature, in studies, in the arts, in the enlightened voices of spiritual men, to understand the critical role of empty spaces, of the gap, the interval, the break, the pause between things, people, actions. S, a colleague at work, says to me, “Anita, have you considered that gaps lead our aspiration, and that is quite a wonderful thing. It is the emptiness or ‘without’ that motivates us to fill it – be it material, emotional or spiritual.” True, many times. The workplace is one area where most professionals learn to use spaces and gaps to function effectively. A young executive claims he measures the gap between his performance and someone who is seemingly doing better than him to try and set his own benchmarks and work up to higher standards. P, a counsellor whose clientele consists largely of young adults between 20 and 35, has a balanced perspective. “While gaps between what we have and what we aspire to, can motivate many people and work to create a positive energy in many, I know many of my clients who suffer the negative aspect when they have allowed the space between themselves and others to turn into a depression, a frustrated longing”. Much of her therapy consists of enabling people to allow themselves to embrace differences and gaps, to look for spaces that separate in order to touch the inner core of their own selves, and find the greatest joy therein, to manage the gaps and spaces. I talk to people, and find a lurking fear. A fear of any spell of time which is quiet, any space which has no activity, and remember words from Rabindranath Tagore’s journals: “When I am in my community, I am afraid of leisure. Because, the community is a compact body. Any gap therein is a loophole. To fill that up we must have drinks, cards, chess and throw our weight about, else the time does not pass. That is, we don’t want the time, but want to expel it.” S, a 24-year-old executive living in Delhi, says to me, “Pauses and gaps are great if they come at a time when you need them. But in the regular flow of life, I don’t know what to do with empty time or space. It makes me uneasy and fidgety. It makes me nervous. So I’ll call a friend and we’ll hang out or see a movie or go for a drink or something.” K, a 35-year-old housewife, finds my questions disquieting. In her day which has much time and space after the needs of the home and family are looked after, she watches the soaps on television, reads, or will call a friend and go shopping, or visit family. Do you get to just be aware of your time between the things you do? “Where is the time?” she asks, “I’m always doing something. I hate to get bored.” The quiet of nothingI come from a generation that was inspired by boredom, from a time when you could lie on the grass outside your home and look at the shape of clouds or the blank blue sky, and just be with the quiet and the nothing. I miss that. And perhaps the young children who go from tuition to tennis class to dance class to birthday party to taekwondo to cartoon network and unit tests also miss that. And there emerges the need for what is today called a “gap year” after school. Many urban 12th graders are already feeling pushed by the pressure of which college, what MBA, what career, how do I get there fast and get money and success, not helped by the anxiety of their parents or their peers. It is not for nothing that they are the ‘burn-out’ generation. So, what used to be a part of the larger framework of the education process – a year to travel and learn about other cultures – is now a “gap year” – a year to breathe and recover from school and get ready for the world. Perhaps it is the same – they too want the space and time for the quiet of nothing. For as Tagore goes on to say: “But leisure is the throne of the Great. The Universe situates in endless leisure.” Perhaps which is why it is often in leisure, in the quiet of the mind and the soul, in the spaces between the hectic pace of life, that we are at our most creative; it is often then that we heal and recover and create and glimpse the Divine. An insightful friend says to me, “Gaps are colour, gaps are taste.” I look confused. “It’s true,” she says, “If there wasn’t a gap between black and white, yellow and red, wouldn’t it all be one mass of one colour?; and if it wasn’t for the space between each bite, each flavour would just mingle with the other to create one singular taste. That’s true of everything suddenly and we play a game throwing examples in the air only to realise that without spaces, the beauty of distinctness would disappear. Which is perhaps why a spiritual goal leads one towards Oneness, where everything is in the gap after your soul has had its happy fill of exclusive differences. Relating through space“I need my space.” How often do we hear this or say this or, indeed, feel this? Have you longed for silence after a spell of noise and talk; have you cherished your alone-ness after too long with too many people; have you put up your feet and looked at the sky and thought of nothing after a protracted mental engagement at work? What about people? Try and stand really very close to someone for a few minutes, and they will move away, perhaps casually, to create the space between the two of you. Always. What about relationships? However close you are to your child, your parent, your spouse, your friend – do you not want space within the relationship? “We can’t live in each other’s pockets,” many people proclaim. And they are right, for we all want our quiet spaces that strengthen the togetherness with the other. The power of space – physical, emotional and mental – has restored what is true and pure between people. And Khalil Gibran was wise in his poem when he wrote, “You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. … But let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” When I told my mother the first time I was in love, she said, “Enjoy it, darling, but now and later, even when you know you have found the partner for your entire life, remember to respect the spaces between both of you – a part of you is yours, a part of him will always be his. Don’t step into the space or it will strangle your relationship like weeds choke a field of healthy grass.” Twenty five years later, I find she’s still right. Even with my son with whom I share a strong bond of love and friendship, we both find the need for separate physical space (he in his room, I in mine) and time and activity which belong to us alone, making it easier to come closer in happiness. As S said, “Gaps set the pace – for life and relationships.” Every kind of relationshipMy niece was complaining that her boss simply didn’t appreciate the amount of work she produced during the work week. “Why don’t you give her an update on a regular basis, every Saturday, perhaps?” I suggested. “Maybe you aren’t communicating enough. “No, masi, maybe we’re communicating too much. I tell her everything as it happens and she asks me 10 times a day, so by the time
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