Let us undertake an inquiry into the spaces we inhabit.
Take a look at the space you are sitting in. Look at the walls, if you are indoors. Look at their adamantine quality – how strong, impermeable they are. See how they enclose you from the space outside.
See the light that comes in from the window, how different it is from the light that comes into your space from the screen on which you read this article.
Pause, let the mind rest, and absorb the nuances of the space that you are in.
The more still you feel inside, the more deeply you can perceive the qualities of this space.
The more your mind is racing with thoughts, the more you will feel that these descriptions are simply information, not particularly useful.
When we feel still inside, our perception of space, in all its sensations and emotions, is layered. We are always absorbing more and more.
When we are not still, our perception of space is of its most surface layer, and the mind wants to use it like an object.
The walls and the light create our space.
Space is not something in itself, it is created by that which exists in it.
Thus, even an empty room has deep qualities, for it is always formed by light, and by the structures that enclose it and exist within it.
What is the space in your room like?
Does the room have empty space, so it can draw in stillness and peace. Or is it filled up, with objects, colours, all of which lay a claim on that space?
Are the objects in the room in a harmony with each other, in the way they are placed, in their colours, shapes and sizes?
The space we are in shapes our consciousness, and our consciousness shapes that space.
Crowded spaces and chattering minds go together. Space consciously kept sparse can have a calming effect, it can bring us back to ourselves.
Over the millennia, the space that is our earth has become excessively crowded by man and his activities, which is perhaps a reflection of the inner states of human beings.
The sky is calm and gentle, while on earth, in an ordinary neighbourhood in a city, or a bustling market, there is the cramped chaos of activity.
We create space through our body.
How do you sit, and how do you move in your space? Are you hurried and tense, or are you in touch with yourself, with the desires, vulnerabilities of your body as you move about?
The quality of the space in our cities depends on the way those moving through it on foot, and on vehicles traverse through the city.
In turn, the quality of this space shapes the consciousness of us all who live here.
Every moment, the contours of the space we live in are being chiselled by our movements.
In my mid-20s, I spent a week in the monastery of a Christian order where the monks deeply valued silence.
Certain number of hours in the day were devoted to silent living, while working, resting, meditating, or doing whatever one was to do at that time. If the monks needed to communicate to each other, they would use sign language, or go quietly into a corner to speak a few words. At other hours, they could speak freely, but still preferred the quietness of the contemplative life.
People from all over the country would visit the monastery to nourish themselves in its peaceful atmosphere and carry back some of that peace to their everyday lives.
The spaces of that monastery were deeply calm.
Farmland was spread out around the buildings. In the centre of the monastery was the chapel, where the monks would gather every few hours, leaving their work, for a quiet prayer, before dispersing again.
The design of the monastery, therefore, was one of the buildings and land radiating outwards from the chapel. The movement of the human beings living there was similar, the chapel being the centre of their lives, to which they would return every few hours, and then spread out again to complete their tasks – working on the farm, working in the kitchen, studying in the library, resting.
The chapel had white walls, which were largely bare. It was sparsely furnished. At one end, there was a large, simple cross. Ample sunlight poured in, in the shape of beams, through the walls on the sides. There was no ornamentation in colour, sculpture, or paintings that is so commonly associated with the churches of the middle ages.
The chapel was simplicity embodied.
Our mental health is intricately linked to the space we live in.
Often, therapy is about talking and analysing our thoughts. But we are not merely bundles of thoughts, even if at times it may feel so.
When we are small children, we need a maternal presence with who we can feel a sense of union; who can absorb all the difficult emotions that accompany growing up, and offer us a space to experience them, share them, and who can respond to them with tenderness. When the mother is healthy, she is a quietly absorbing, soothing, life-giving presence.
Then, the atmosphere of the home becomes an extended mother. We long to go back to those walls, those chairs and beds, those smells, because they carry the soothing quality of the mother.
Unfortunately, all too often, the mother and the atmosphere of the home are unable to carry these qualities, and carry other, isolating, fear-giving qualities.
In the 1920s in Japan, a form of therapy called Morita Therapy emerged, which emphasised living close to nature, doing simple tasks like watering the plants, feeding the birds, sweeping the garden, rising and sleeping with the changes in the shades of natural light outside. The patients would be encouraged to observe the quietness of nature, to harmonise their lives with it.
Unlike talk therapy, here, the patient was being introduced to a new way of being, an antidote to the excessively mental lives that modern human beings live.
Unlike us, plants and animals are deeply present to the space they are in, and they are not caught in thought patterns. They cannot be, even if they wished to.
The capacity for language, and the capacity for complex thought which is concomitant with language, is both a gift and a curse.
As a gift, it allows us to express intricacies of human experience in our words and creations, thus creating ‘civilisation’.
As a curse, it traps us in our own minds, out of touch with the space around.
Morita and other such therapeutic approaches encourage us to reach mental health through a harmony in the ways in which we sense and respond to the physical world around us. When our movements are like the movements of nature, flowing with the nature of light as it changes through day and night, the presence of trees, the activities of animals, the deep qualities of the sun and the moon, then we come to a sense of peace, because we are not intruders in the space in which life has brought us.
When we are oblivious to these, we become centres of disharmony, within and outside ourselves.
Thank you for reading till the end.
I hope you leave this page with an attuned sensitivity to how the space around you shapes you, and how you shape it.
How we relate to space is also how we relate to others in our lives, whether they are physically present, or whether they are present in our hearts, even if far away.
Because space is everywhere, within and outside us.