Emptiness that Fills You Up

Real freedom has space and time. Time to be what we want to be. And space that feels safe and open to explore and experience what is around us. 

Space to count our blessings and to be blessed.

Our self-imposed busyness makes us blind to what is in front of us around us and above us. We are on a mission, so focused and yet so myopic. We feel handcuffed by the time warden, even though we have the key.

This is something I have been working on for decades. Still a hack in progress. I changed my sleep patterns, found a meditative routine, and continue to cultivate small plots of time to re-plant the fields.

Easy for a “retired” guy to preach. But it has been my hard-fought quest to build a lifestyle and time portfolio that creates space.

Wave Inside by Char

I have a coaching client who wants to relax more and I introduced a brief meditative process that takes 20 minutes. He said, “What can I do in 5 minutes, that’s all I have?!” Yikes.

I love Ashley Whillans concept of “time confetti”. Her scenario that we all can relate to:

“You have one hour of leisure at 7 p.m. During that hour, you receive two emails, check both, and respond to one; four Twitter notifications about useless pontificating or terrible people saying terrible things, and you thumb through the replies for one of them; three Slack notifications from colleagues asking you questions or a favor, of which you answer one and ignore two; one alarm reminding you to call your mother tomorrow on her birthday; and four texts from a friend trying to make plans for next weekend, all four of which you reply to. Each event in and of itself is mundane and takes only seconds. But collectively they create two negative effects. The first is the sheer volume of time they take. A few seemingly harmless interruptions usurp 10 percent of this leisure time. Research shows that our estimates of the number and nature of these interruptions is conservative, so typically it may be worse than this. The second, more invasive effect of time confetti is the way it fragments the hour of leisure.  

Sounds so fun and even whimsical, but these colorful pieces of celebratory paper represent the brutalized remains of your sacred “leisure time.”

We think we are good at “managing time” but we aren’t. It manages us! And our distracted minds dart from thing to thing under the false guise of being active, engaged, and productive. Our monkey brains can’t sit still. We need stillness and even emptiness to help us sort, sift and see what is important.

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye advises to live like a poem. “When you think, when you’re in a very quiet place, when you’re remembering, when you’re savoring an image, when you’re allowing your mind calmly to leap from one thought to another, that’s a poem. That’s what a poem does.”

Ikigai  (icky guy)

There is a beautiful and complex concept in Japanese called ikigai. Literally translates into life and value or the value of living. Loosely translated, ikigai incorporates the meaning of life, your sense of purpose and your ability to be you. Yeah, a lot packed into those 3 syllables! One of the tenets of ikigai is a concept called yutori. Spaciousness. Room in the mind and space to experience the world. We would all agree we need more of both.

Thank you for being early. Thank you for being late.

One question an ikigai teacher asked: You have to catch a 9 am train to get to work, do you ever get there early to relax and see what happens?

Sounds crazy? But try this, get to your next Zoom meeting early and see who is there. I have had some great little exchanges in that little slice of time.

But we get into a pattern of running and often late.

Tom Friedman’s book, Thank you for being late. He reflects on the pace of our lives and the impact of technology and to reflect on the possibilities and dangers.

“….opting to pause and reflect, rather than panic or withdraw, is a necessity. It is not a luxury or a distraction—it is a way to increase the odds that you’ll better understand, and engage productively with, the world around you. How so? “When you press the pause button on a machine, it stops. But when you press the pause button on human beings they start,” argues Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN. “You start to reflect, you start to rethink your assumptions, you start to reimagine what is possible and, most importantly, you start to reconnect with your most deeply held beliefs. Once you’ve done that, you can begin to reimagine a better path.””


Our amazing brains routinely process 11 million bits per second of how we experience the world at any one moment. We are lucky to be aware of 40-70 of them.

Some of the things we miss are important and relevant.

Serendipity. Being at the right time and place has been a major factor in your success. How you met your spouse, got a job, invested in a stock….were dependent on a crazy series of random things to fall into place. Our smooth sculpted revisionist stories of how things came to be ignores the circumstances,  fortunes and coincidences of our lives.

How do we enable this serendipity and the clarity of purpose and path? And find your ikigai.

In addition to any practice of meditation, yoga, kriya, running, writing—to quiet and focus our monkey brains, we need other times, resting quiet moments between activities–space.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it well: “In each pause I hear the call.”

Intentional space and time

Room and space mean you slow down. You add some time cushions. I know, great theory hard to implement! If you are like me, you never have time to think and plan. I forced myself to block out times on my calendar that said “DNS”(do not schedule), “Busy”. I’d schedule walks or breaks. Many of these would be sucked into the vortex of “higher” priorities and “emergencies and crises”. Like the old Eisenhower meme when he divided his inboxes into Important and Urgent—everything became Urgent!

But it helped to intentionally block the door of noise and tasks that interrupt thought and create space.

Being intentional about time and space matters, but it is a relentless hand-to-hand combat war in the trenches. But when we win, we can dream.

Day dreaming

One of my best friends had a boss who encouraged daydreaming—literally looking out the window and let you mind wander. The boss had reaped the rewards of this type of contemplation to sort out his thoughts, ideas, and priorities. Once my buddy was staring out the window of his office completely transported to another dimension, and his boss snuck up on him and patted him on the back. My friend was startled and turned to his boss who was saying quietly, “Good job, good job.”

We need more bosses like that!

  • Build spaciousness!
  • Slow down, even a little.
  • Cultivate serendipity!
  • Daydream! We need your dreams.
  • Schedule uninterrupted, perhaps device free, time into your calendar.

I told my client to start meditating for 5 minutes each day but allow 10 minutes and see what happens. 😊

Thanks for reading. John

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