The case for taking space: a bigger picture approach
We are all looking for the next step. But what if your next step is a step back?
We are in the midst of a global pandemic and right now, we don’t have the whole picture of what’s possible. Over the coming months, we will need the collective whole and the creative drive that comes from working with challenge and change. From here we can innovate ourselves and our industries into new ways of being in the world.
But before we go to create from, we need to sit with our reactivity. So, in this article, I’m making the case for taking space. Let’s give ourselves the permission to sit with this edgy, uncomfortable space for a bit. And for that to be okay.
It’s okay not to be okay . . .
Let’s not rush through to the ‘everything is okay’ stage. Otherwise the steam is going to continue to build and reactivity is going to direct our choices. Instead, we could take some time to be with this. To process what we’re going through and to grieve what is lost. Normalizing our stress, anxiety and worry, and creating space to feel what we’re feeling, will give us more choices going forward. If we step back, as opposed to sprinting forward, we begin to see the emergence of a bigger picture.
It makes me think of the drawing of a fish that John Wheeler scribbled on a napkin at a cocktail party. The fish looks back on itself symbolizing the universe looking back on itself and self-creating. But before creation, comes space and reviewing. And just like the fish, we need to look ‘back’ at where we are and wonder about that, be with that, even in our reactivity before we can take creative steps forward. Honour what is.
Here are some ways you can help yourself and others to take space during these uncertain times:
Normalizing that it’s okay to be worried/anxious/stressed/fearful will help you- and the people around you- to process reactivity. “An abnormal reaction in an abnormal situation is normal” are the words ringing in my ears spoken by a beloved meditation guide! These are normal and expected human reactions to life’s ordinary challenges, let alone during a global pandemic. So, make it okay to not be okay for a moment. Take the pressure off yourself to be super positive and cheery so that you don’t end up feeling stressed about being stressed or sad about being sad. These emotions are understandable and taking space to honour them will help you to eventually shift them into something else.
Normalizing is a useful practice to share with your family and friends, and it also can be hugely beneficial at work. A simple way to introduce this tool on a conference call would be to open with a revealing question:
-What’s the most challenging thing for you about working from home?
This is a simple way of normalizing whilst also keeping people safe. You’re not asking them to share their deepest darkest fear, you’re inviting them to share their challenges with working from home and as a result, you start to normalize that ‘this situation is hard and that’s okay.’
Time to Process
I had the privilege to be in a conversation of support with a first responder earlier this week. He talked about his return home from his shift. Once home, he heads straight to the basement where he created a make shift shower. Before he heads up to spend time with his family, he sheds all of his clothes, puts them in the washing machine and takes a shower. It’s a ritual that enables him to quite literally shed the contamination from the day. During our conversation, we developed this further and he agreed to add an armchair to his basement. From now on, he sits in his ‘easy chair’ and takes time to be with himself while the laundry is running. He only gets up to go and see his family once he feels emotionally “sanitized.”
This is a great example of creating space to be with yourself. Before connecting with his family, he takes a moment to connect with where he is. So, get curious. Find out what’s really going on for you. Investigate your fear, worry or anger. What’s behind it? Do some emotional digging and breathe…
Collaborative vs. Competitive
Remember we are all at different points in this journey. What is foreground for you, is different from what has somebody else’s attention. We all are worrying about different parts of this thing and we’ll be processing this in different ways. This is big, so some people- including those closest to you- might be holding a different piece of the puzzle. And every piece is a part of the whole.
We all need space to process reactivity without judgment or competition. Yet, in relationship we typically do one of two things: we jump to a solution or we compete: “well that’s nothing compared to the challenge I’m walking with.” I had an experience of this the other day with my partner Faith. We were on different calls during the day and Faith was focused on problem-solving how to get our programs online. I, on the other hand, was focused on the global impact of the issue on our partners and Faculty and my reactivity to that. Both of us were processing reactivity about the pandemic but from different “lands” or perspectives. It turned into a very loud conversation with nobody really listening but both trying to either solve the other’s problem or compete over which was the most challenging! Speed took the space of “being with” and yet what we both needed was a moment to step back, process what we were dealing with and feel properly heard. Sometimes “problem solving” can actually antagonise the problem. Maybe creating space is the best way you can ‘help’ a family member or friend right now.
So, how might you hold space for someone in your life? Think collaborative over competitive by allowing others to ventilate and react from where they are without judgment. Honour the diversity of reactivity and create space for the people in your life- including you- to process at a safe pace. Maybe this is the kind of social distancing that is needed on the emotional level?
Dream over the edge
We can’t create like before, we have to innovate something new, out of something strange and scary. Taking time to dream can help us to see beyond boundaries and create opportunities for cross-fertilization.
There are many stories where this is happening already. The other day I read about a distillery that has switched from making alcoholic beverages to hand sanitizer. Initially, they thought they were going to have to close down because of what they saw happening. But in the end, they saw something different. They realized that one of the main ingredients of hand sanitizer is alcohol and so suddenly they shifted their operations in a whole new direction in service of an emerging need.
A similar shift is happening for N95 medical masks. We have- in 3 months- used the same number of masks that would typically be used in a year. As a result, members of the medical profession are using materials that were previously used for other functions and are stitching masks together. It appears we’re going more general again. Using the same expertise yet crossing boundaries into other specialties in service of the larger whole.
So, can you take a moment to dream beyond the boundaries in your life? What might be possible for your occupation or business if you think beyond your conventional ways of working? Dreaming our way over edges- like the distillery making hand sanitizer or the home-made medical masks- can lead us to discover creative opportunities for cross-fertilization. Opportunities that perhaps weren’t visible until now. So instead of running headfirst into the fire, can you take a moment to assess what this new landscape might look like? While you’re waiting for the dust to settle you can take the time to dream.
A Step Back
Before we innovate and create, we need to take space. If we create space to process reactivity, we can choose to respond differently. Instead of letting fear and worry drive the show, we can step in with the response pattern that will best serve us, and others, in the situation. And we can help others to do the same by holding space for them, normalizing what they are feeling and encouraging them to dream beyond traditional borders. Imagine what might be possible if your next step is a step back…