When I first wake up in the morning and am still lying in bed. While brushing my teeth. While standing in the shower. While sitting in meditation. While eating breakfast. While walking in the neighborhood. While cooking dinner. While doing the dishes. When I am lying in bed at night about to fall asleep.
These innocent and harmless moments are what I call the empty spaces.
In these empty spaces, my mind is filled with thoughts about what I feel anxious about and what I feel inspired about. It is an unconscious process, one that I cannot control and do not wish to control. It is in these empty spaces that I am an observer, not a director. I become a follower, not a leader.
[Listen to me read this reflection here, if you prefer audio]
These empty spaces are not so empty though. They are filled with information, possibly the most valuable information and definitely the most relevant information that I have access to. The thoughts that naturally fill these empty spaces are an indication of where I may feel out of balance and what I may not be at peace with.
An example of what often fills these empty spaces is the infamous to-do list. Some mornings, I wake up with my mind racing about all that is that I desire to do that morning, let alone that day. This morning, my empty spaces were filled with thoughts about finishing and publishing this reflection. Yesterday morning, it was about moving out of our Toronto office space for good and helping my dad with a few computer requests.
The to-do list is an obvious source of thoughts that fill my empty spaces. My mind is not at peace, as it cycles through what has to be done, for fear that I may forget.
Beyond the to-do list though, sometimes when I have trouble falling asleep at night, my body is tired however my mind remains active. Proof that I am more than my body. My mind grips onto thoughts about something that may have happened that day that I feel disappointed with. It makes sense for thoughts of disappointment to enter my empty spaces, as I have not yet come to a place of acceptance. Once I do learn to accept whatever happened, or didn't happen, then these thoughts leave my empty spaces.
Ideas that inspire and lift me also have a way to fill my empty spaces. I remain inspired by the idea that we are in a Year Zero moment, and have been given the space to make different choices and hit the reset button in so many facets of life and society. This idea has become a passion, spurring thousands of thoughts that find a way to come into my empty spaces when I may be journaling, showering or walking.
What I am learning though is that it matters less what fills these empty spaces, as it continues to change, as everything always does. What matters more is what I do with the information that comes into my awareness.
To become aware of these empty spaces itself is a meditation. To bring awareness to the thoughts flowing and floating through my mind is the meditation. If I tried to quiet, control or even calm these thoughts that fill my empty spaces, then I would be depriving myself of such valuable information.
This information is highly actionable. Once I am aware of what I feel out of balance about, what I am not at peace with, or even what I feel deeply inspired by, I will start to make different choices.
These choices will change my life in ways that make sense for me, in this moment.
Like a kid riding a bike, a teenager playing basketball or someone playing golf, one can get good at most activities with practice. Mindfulness practices help build the skills for me to learn how to listen to these empty spaces. How to pay attention to the thoughts that unconsciously fill my mind, and the invaluable information that arises continuously throughout my day.
There is another path. Instead of paying attention to these empty spaces, I could instead choose escapism to try and ignore them. Netflix, Instagram, alcohol, drugs, excessive eating and constant consumption are ways to suppress the information that is filling these empty spaces. In doing so, I lose out on the power of awareness and all of its benefits.
A few weeks ago, I took a self-declared Wellness Week, which I have also asked everyone on my team to do this summer. During my Wellness Week, I turned off my phone completely and went screen-free for seven days. I also did not read the news or consume any media. I kept my reading of books limited to a few personal favourites, that I have already read countless times before.
In a sense, this week was an experiment to create even more empty spaces. I created the conditions that encouraged me to become more intimate with the information sitting in my empty spaces. My primary purpose for this time was to learn to sit in these empty spaces and soak it all in. The experience was unique, meditative and profound.
I found myself feeling inspired with new ideas for our world, for my business and the many projects I continue to invest in. I also noticed insecurities and anxieties arise, about themes in my life that I had not paid much attention to previously but could now see how they ripple into many facets of my life. It takes strength to sit with the discomfort that can arise in the empty spaces.
Having moments to sit in my empty spaces, be it shorter, like staring into the distance for a few minutes, or longer, like going screen-free for a week, have become important to me.
The most productive thing that I can often do is to pause, and pay attention to the valuable information sitting in my empty spaces. I trust that from this awareness of my inner wisdom, I begin to experience changes and different choices, naturally. These begin to influence me in ways that are more aligned with what it is that I need most at this moment.
This is the value in paying attention to my empty spaces.