• Reflective Resources

Z is for Zwischenraum (space between)

Z is for Zwischenraum; a German word (pronounced zvish-en-raum) meaning an open or empty space in or between things


Although I may be using a bit of literary licence for my Z post today, the concept of space is very interesting.


We often hear many phrases related to space – I need to ...clear some space, hold space, make space, have some space etc etc telling us that the concept of space is just as important as the physical space that surrounds us.


“A vessel is formed from a lump of clay with care, however, it is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful. ” Laozi


But what is space ?


“When I put my pen to a blank sheet, black isn't added but rather the white sheet is deprived of light. Thus I also grasped that the empty spaces are the most important aspect of a typeface.” Adrian Frutiger


A space can be seen as a negative thing – e.g. having a blank page and being stuck for ideas but it can also be seen as something positive like a blank canvas which gives us unlimited freedom and possibilities. So what makes the difference in this context ? Our attitude or something else perhaps?


Space is not just an absence of something it is intrinsically essential within itself


Why do we seek to fill our lives with activities and plug the gaps ?


“As human beings, we have a natural compulsion to fill empty spaces”

Will Shortz


What happens when you spot some free time in your calendar ? What do you do ?

Breathe a sigh of relief or immediately seek to fill the time you have free with something else ?


“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Socrates


Our days are busy and often filled with countless activities so much so that we often forget about creating space to nurture ourselves, and this has a negative effect on our wellbeing and on those around us. Space is essential to create a life of balance


“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson


How creating deliberate space can improve our well-being


Space allows us time to accommodate and assimilate ideas and concepts. Assimilation and accommodation are important aspects of a growth mindset and lifelong learning.

The process of assimilation is relatively subjective, because we tend to modify our experience or the information to fit in with our pre-existing beliefs. We all come across new information about the world around us daily. Most people tend to be fixed in their existing beliefs, therefore they assimilate new knowledge rather than changing their belief system.


Accommodation on the other hand requires more effort and requires us to develop new schemas (or shortcuts) or replace them with new ones through the process of learning i.e. we reshape our existing containers to accommodate old ideas that are being changed or even replaced based on new information.


Deliberately creating space is not about doing nothing at all ; it is about doing the right things i.e. creating time to do things which are essential for our well-being


We can either fritter away time and do unimportant stuff and then try to fit in the essentials into whatever time we have left or we prioritise the essentials first and then fit the rest into the ‘gash moments’ of our day. It is our responsibility is to work out what is essential for us


“Because he believed that if you wanted to get rid of a hole, you filled it. He had not realized at the time that there were all sorts of filler that took up space, but had no substance. That made you feel just as empty.” Jodi Picoult


Life is definitely about balance, a mix of work, rest and play and our actions or lack of them can have a major impact on the quality of our lives. It is not just a case of time of organising our time better or setting aside specific parts of our day for certain activities or to rest, to make the most of the time we have, we have to give sufficient thought to the quality of the experience.


“There is no more profitable investment than investing in yourself. It is the best investment you can make; you can never go wrong with it. It is the true way to improve yourself to be the best version of you and lets you be able to best serve those around you.” Roy T. Bennett


We all have moments that we could describe as ‘gash’ moments in our lives e.g. even if it is something as simple as waiting for the kettle to boil or waiting to collect someone or for someone to arrive, etc. Rather than complaining we don’t have enough time to do things or to rest, we could use these moments to invest in ourselves. What appears at first as small insignificant moments of time can be used positively and effectively if we choose to do so.


How creating space can improve our relationships


“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. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.” Khalil Gibran


I have always loved this quote. It is important to choose our friendships carefully because we need space in any relationship to be ourselves and grow at our own pace to be the person we were meant to be.


To have a deep, meaningful friendship where we are ‘seen’ and we ‘see’ the other person, there needs to be acceptance, integrity, consistency, loyalty, openness and authenticity whilst still guarding our own freedom, individuality and independence. A good relationship allows the space for self-expression, mutual learning, disagreement whilst maintaining respect of one and others point of views.


“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.”

Alice Walker


It is also worth remembering that friendship is a two way street of give and receive. If you are happy to give to others but don’t allow or accept your friends’ help then it is a one way relationship as you are not really opening yourself up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable.


“In the most complete friendship there is always a little empty space, like the space in an egg.” Jules Renard


Space is useful when we communicate.


“It was better to leave the space empty of words than to choose the wrong ones”

Robin Hobb


By listening and creating a moment of space before we speak, we don’t get caught up in the heat of an argument and make knee-jerk responses and say something that we may regret. Instead it allows us the chance to reflect, choose our words thoughtfully, then communicate intentionally to a conversation.


“Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something: they’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” Anthony Robbins


Relationships flourish whenever you can be yourself and you can give another person the space to be their self without any demands.


“If you feel incomplete, you alone must fill yourself with love in all your empty shattered spaces ” Oprah Winfrey


Your well-being is your responsibility and it is only when you are secure in yourself that you can really give unconditionally to others.


Love can come when you're already who you are, when you're filled with you. Not when you look to someone else to fill the empty space. ” Deb Caletti


How decluttering our physical environment can improve our well-being


“The spirit of my home is entirely bound up in a quality of space. I have only the objects I need and nothing more. Empty space in which to think and relax is both stimulating and calming.” John Pawson


By removing clutter from your daily life, you open up mental space and energy that can be redirected towards pursuing your goals or simply being 100% present in whatever you are doing without distractions.


“I asked myself, “Who would I be if I weren’t busy? What would be left of my life and me after I removed excess stuff from my home and allowed my day to have unscheduled open spaces?” Lisa J. Shultz


You can also de-clutter your ‘to do’ list or diary by removing tasks or activities that don’t add any benefit or meaning to your life hindering you from building the life you want. Bank statements, emails and social media notifications can also be de-cluttered by cancelling unnecessary subscriptions, unsubscribing from newsletters or pages that are no longer relevant.


De-cluttering doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process that, as it unfolds, reveals increasing amounts of time, space and energy.


We cannot think if we are trying to do too much at once. There is no such thing as multi tasking, just rapid task swapping. By focusing on one task at a time and creating a moment of space (a bit like the old adage count to 10) we don’t get caught up in distractive, knee-jerk responses and it allows us the choice to contribute positively and intentionally.


There is a Zen proverb that says, “When eating, eat. When walking, walk,” which although simplistic sums up the essence of Zen i.e. bringing our full awareness and attention to whatever we are doing at the moment.


Regardless of what we do, taking regular breaks, being fully present in the here and now without anything else vying for our attention, is important to retain a relaxed, Zen-like attitude. It is important to consciously create moments of calm (more so when we feel overwhelmed) as what we do with our time today will determine the quality of our life later. A bit like the Gandhi principle of “If we don’t think we have the time to stop for 5 minutes because we are too busy, then we should stop for 10”


A final thought...


Human life is fragile: we live in the space between one breath and the next. We often try to maintain an illusion of permanence, through what we do, say, wear, buy, and how we enjoy ourselves and who and how we love. Yet it is an illusion that is constantly being undermined by change and death.” Victoria Finlay




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