“There is something greater and purer than what the mouth utters. Silence illuminates our souls, whispers to our hearts, and brings them together……" Khalil G
During a yoga retreat at Casa Cuadrau in the Spanish Pyrenees last year one of the participants shared with the group that during her time in the mountains she had realised how little time she gave herself between one activity and another; she often rushed from one thing to the next without pausing.
Reflecting on this afterwards I couldn’t help thinking that this is a familiar feeling to many of us. In the business of day-to-day life it is very easy to neglect to give ourselves that space in between. The reasons for this are many: It might simply be that filling our time seems more natural, familiar and purposeful, and in our commitment to our responsibilities and the people in our lives, it is easy to forget how it feels to truly give ourselves space and silence. In the pace and fullness of modern life there is often little time for stillness. We have forgotten that there is space underneath all the noise and rarely stop in a way that allows for deep and nourishing rest and the replenishment of our reserves.
But also it may be that in creating more space we open ourselves to feelings that we'd been busily avoiding, inevitably perpetuating a certain type of overactivity, which was probably the very reason why I took myself off to the mountains! Being on retreat provides a space where people can be with themselves more intimately. Mountains have a way of laying you bare and revealing your innermost self: there is nothing to hide behind when you are part of a vast spacious vista. Just as an open mountain landscape provides a space for you to step more fully into yourself, a mountain forest enfolds you in it's reassuring alpine embrace and 'whispers to your heart'. It is like a wise and supportive friend who listens quietly and comfortingly.
Just as Danny, our mountain guide, led us carefully along the changing mountain terrain, it is sometimes necessary to help navigate my patients through uncomfortable inner emotional terrains, holding a sacred space for the release of emotions or tension. Within a therapeutic context I am very aware of the importance of opening a space that allows patients to connect more fully with emotions that need to be given expression. These can be vulnerable and cathartic moments, just as pauses in music can contain a world of feeling and emotion that has the power to resonate with and transform the deepest parts of ourselves .
Without space our emotions are like flowers trying to push through a crack in a stone pavement. We may give ourselves little room for stopping or feeling but eventually our inner world has a tendency to reach up in unexpected places, although often unknowingly creating many different forms of physical and emotional tension or pain in the process. This might be seen in a person's posture as shoulders that fold in protectively around the heart and the lungs, in the clenching of back muscles or tightness within the chest, or in the abdominal pain that someone may be experiencing.
You may not feel it necessary to go to the Spanish Pyrenees to find space, although I would highly recommend that you visit the wonderful Casa Cuadrau mountain retreat! You can give stillness the space it needs, and yourself the space it craves, by moving the 'stone pavement' a little at a time and creating your own rituals. The way that we do this being very individual to ourselves: it may be sitting quietly in a peaceful place in the house or in your garden, walking in a park or in a forest or listening to a beautiful piece of music.
The practice of simple yoga stretches where broadening and lengthening your physical frame can help you to release tension and feel more spaciousness within despite feeling pressured outwardly. Deep breathing too, not only helps us to center into ourselves in a way that gives space to our feelings, but also engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body to relax.
In yoga and qi gong we talk about the importance of finding space in between the breath through deep and slow breathing, that moment of stillness between the movement of the breath. Just as this stillness is a calm point from which the breath rises, so we can provide a calm center for our thoughts and feelings to surface. However, if our breathing is too fast or shallow due to tension or anxiety, which often occurs when we feel that we have no room for pauses in our lives, then we block the silence that lets our vital energy through.
When you find the space in between, it is something that can come everywhere with you, hopefully changing the rhythm and breath of the busiest days.