How do you use your space? Do you give yourself any?
Reading the news leaves us with daily bombardments with messages of what else we need to do more of: “More exercise! More vegetables! More self-care! More civic engagement! Floss more!” Paradoxically, we get a similar message of what we need to less of: “Eat less [sugar/fat/gluten]! Use less plastic!” Drive less, sit less, use fewer chemicals, and by the way, make sure you don’t worry so much. It’s hard not to get lost in the space between more and less of how we should be living our lives.
Humans are more depressed, anxious, and unhealthy than ever before. Despite our beliefs that we’re making progress in many areas like technology, our over-consumption and busyness leave little room for space, silence, and rest, which likely contributes to our decrease in well-being.
In our current society, with so much emphasis on connecting, consuming, and producing, we often have little room to be. With so much external pressure to be “doing,” we’ve begun to equate doing with “living.” Alternatively, we may label making time for non-doing as indulgent, selfish, or lazy. We may even fear space between all the doings, and become unknowingly addicted to doing so much that we avoid not-doing things: we create, we play, we give, we connect! We sidestep silence and space between all the doings.
Consuming can be thought of as any form of taking in: (eating, reading/learning, watching tv, listening to others, scrolling social media.) Producing is a form of putting out (presenting, teaching, speaking, creating, providing for others.) An unbalance in either without space between the two often leads to instability in a person’s overall wellbeing, and often leading to anxiety, depression, relationship problems, low self-worth, compulsions, and addiction.
For example, an unemployed person, who lacks a fulfilling opportunity to produce, may turn towards extra consumption: eating more food, watching excessive tv, or playing voyeur on social (and comparing one’s life against others who seemingly have it better.) Too much of this imbalance can result in feelings of depression.
New parents and caregivers of all types often a heavy hand in producing for their dependents, which leads to burnout, drain, depression, poor health, and relationship stress. It’s probably easy for you to identify someone in your life who fits this description: they appear as very caring, thoughtful, and reliable to others. Commonly, caregivers fall into the guilt trap that they are not “doing enough” and try to overcompensate by giving more, with little time to consume or have space for themselves.
Our current generation of students can feel overwhelmed with the pressures to absorb information as well as produce good marks to keep their academic life afloat and yield good grades. This cycle can repeat itself after one lands a job: Start-up culture is notorious for the competition of who is giving of themselves more, so as not to be outdone by another co-worker.
Sometimes we consume and produce to avoid that which is unknown to us. Those who identify as a people-pleaser and a caretaker for others might ask themselves what they might be doing if you weren’t so busy focusing on others? We can get so busy taking care of others that we forget about and neglect ourselves.
How many days of the week do you consciously make sure that you have nothing planned? How many hours in a day? If your schedule allows you a lot of unscheduled time, how often do you fill that with something either productive? In what ways do you fill in the gaps in your life?
We are often uncomfortable in the spaces between consuming and producing. Next time you notice yourself in a conversation where silence appears, see what happens for you. We pick up our phones, might laugh anxiously, ask another question, feel all sorts of awkwardness, or find a reason to exit the situation. Space can feel scary. Anything can contact unnerving when you are not used to it.
When you allow yourself space that is neither consuming nor producing, over time, you can consciously increase your awareness through noticing, reflecting, and beginning to understand yourself much more.
Please make no mistake: this will not always be comfortable, nor luxurious; often, it will allow uncomfortable feelings of loneliness, grief, anger, and fear to surface. However, in allowing these thoughts, sensations, and emotions to surface, you have an opportunity to give them space, and attention so that they may release their grip on you.
When you no longer fear the gap between all the doing of being human, you recognize the gift that life affords you in the being. You can become a witness to the experience, appreciate the preciousness of being alive. As a result, you feel more fulfilled in consuming and producing even more. In essence, you start to recognize when your acting in a way that is avoiding. In turn, this space will enable you to be more able to both consume and produce deliberately and with much more presence. You show up more fully to your work, your relationships, your life.
We might consciously create it to turn inward to understand ourselves more. If we don’t rush to fill in space with producing or consuming, we might find something new, surprising, uncomfortable, or even something buried away in our subconscious.
Psychotherapy is a place of reflecting, between the consuming and producing; it’s a place of noticing the feelings of all that goes on inside us while we’re busy living the lives outside. Despite the increase in social acceptance of psychotherapy, there is still a collective stigma about creating a space to reflect each week. Many people feel ashamed, ambivalent, or fearful of seeking therapy as if there is something ‘wrong’ with them. Sadly, some may label others who go to psychotherapy in a category as ‘needing help’ in a derogatory sense, that only people who need “fixing” would go meet with a therapist. I have often wondered how it could ever be a negative thing to understand yourself more. I would argue that this world could use more self-awareness, if only so that we would be less inclined to react unconsciously, harming ourselves, others, or our environment.
Give yourself some space. Space to breathe, to think, to listen to yourself.