One of my meditation clients asked me recently if I would write about the concept of space and its importance in meditation. I’m grateful for what is sure to be a challenge, so here goes.
Let’s start with a definition. Space is one of the five elements along with earth, air, fire, and water. Also referred to as ether, space is both a container for all that is and a vast expanse and emptiness. The experience of space, at least for me, is a key component that arises out of meditation practice.
Form does not differ from Emptiness
And Emptiness does not differ from Form.
Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.*
As an element, or something of which we ourselves are comprised, if we have an imbalance of ether, either too much or too little, we will experience that symptomatically. Too much and we may feel literally “spacey” or have difficulty concentrating. Too little and we may be quite preoccupied with insignificant details or feel lack of divine connection. A balance of the element results in harmony and inspiration.
So, I don’t want to give the impression in writing about space in meditation that there is anything one should or must do in order to experience or foster space. Space is always there. We simply need to be aware of it. But if you’ll forgive me, I will bring the reader’s attention to three aspects of space for contemplation.
While we meditate, our breath itself can be the entry point to our awareness of space as we feel the space of the lungs filling and emptying. We can bring our attention to all the empty spaces in the body…between the bones, the organs, between the cells, and even between the atoms of the cells. When we feel pain, we can work to bring our breath and a sense of spaciousness into the pain and notice any shifting that results. As we sit still, we can turn our attention toward the body in space and feel how our awareness expands beyond the body.
We can also bring our attention to the space within the mind. This is accessible through the senses, such as noticing the bed of silence upon which sounds in the environment are occurring, for example, or by noticing that one perceives a smell in the room and how that odor might originate in one location and spread upon air molecules through the open space to our nostrils. We can also utilize an awareness of passing thought. When we place our attention on the silence and the gap between, it is as if we are expanding space. It seems to grow. But as I’ve said, it was always there. With this cultivated spaciousness in the mind, we can question our thoughts and inquire into our true nature.
The final point, if there was a final point, could be said to be the expansion of spirit. It is the recognition that we are, in fact, both within and without that very spaciousness that we are noticing. We are both form and formlessness.
Finally, I will share a message that came to me in a dream the night that mother died. She was quite ethereal but unmistakable herself, yet she didn’t speak. We stood at a window, the sill at about waist height. She pointed with great insistence to a spot on the window sill, as if it held great importance. I followed her finger, gazing at the tiny details of dust particles that had collected. And then, we began to rise off the ground, her finger still pointing, but as we rose, more and more came into my awareness. From a focal point of a spec of dust, to the color of the paint, to the panes of glass, to the frame itself, and outward. Up and up we went, my awareness expanding to include more and more, out from the window now, to the wall, to the house, to the city, to the country, to the earth, to the sky, to the universe…and every detail was contained within the space, but the space was eternally expanding and more and more inclusive and aware of not only everything inside of itself, but of itself as well.
Rather than impose any further interpretation of this dream on you, I will refrain and let you sit with it yourself.
Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha*
(Gone, gone, gone to the Other Shore, attained the Other Shore having never left)
*from the Heart Sutra