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The Space In Between
The rare experience of the spacious present.
In what feels like recent memory but in fact was ~16 years ago, some friends and I went on a road-trip through the U.S., mainly across the South, meandering up through the Midwest to eventually wind up where my brother was in college at the University of Wisconsin. The trip is seared into my memory, and there are several elements to it that I’ve always had an urge to write about, particularly the sheer sublimity of America and the vastness of her interiority. But that element can wait for another day, because there was always something about the trip that I could never quite articulate. And now, finally, I think I have found it.
I could never quite articulate why the most memorable part of the trip, at least for me, was the time in between destinations. It wasn’t a singular occurrence; each time we left one place and continued on the journey, I slipped into an ineffable sense of suspension, which transcended the simple reality of countless hours on the road. A feeling of detached moment to moment awareness, juxtaposed between the consciousness of motion while suspended in a moment in time. For those hours, the specious present underwent elongation into a spacious present; an expanded temporal experience and state of pure presence.
The question that has persisted for me over the years is why. It couldn’t be explained by anticipation of the next stop, or nostalgia for the place just departed, because the sense of the moment was immediate. Yet recently it dawned on me that this was precisely the reason; for those fleeting hours, we were content in the space in between places. In the rarified atmosphere of time spent away from future projections and past yearnings. And what a rare experience it is, given the human temporal paradox of constantly running forward in time to the next “Thing”, while trying to run away from the inevitability of our mortality.
I have somewhat of an obsession with time, and the phenomenon of our experience of time. The first 3am Thoughts essay of 2023 also wrestled with the concept of time:
“This very concept of a ship on the ocean contains a vital clue to the mystery of our temporal relations: that we exist in time, a series of continually overlapping breaks in the waves, experienced in relation to the receding wake of the past and apprehended horizon of the future. This is why the concept of a pure present moment is so elusive; any fleeting moment exists as a subjective phenomena, difficult to truly separate from the integrated views of past and future.”
So much of our lives are spent in a state of future projection, exacerbated by living in a culture that insatiably pursues “Doing” and the acquiring and accumulating of “Things”. We move so quickly forward on the linear years of our lives worrying about what is next, and much of the rest of our remaining time is spent lost in the nostalgia (and regret) of hours and days past. This temporal dilemma means that precious little time is spent in the specious present, let alone with sufficient presence to create a more spacious present.
When I started a meditation practice, I used guided meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn, on one of which he would talk about silence, and the spaces between sounds. The spaces between sounds. An awareness so granular as to seem sublimely out of reach. Yet it is the space in between - in between sounds, in between places, in between “Doing” and “Things” - where we find the spacious present. It is the only space, the only moment, in which we find it. The only moment we truly have.
The spaces between places. How often are we here, in that space? Embracing the in between is perhaps the challenge of our lifetimes. We never seek the space in between because our conditioned focus is only ever on another outcome. We chase outcomes until the only predetermined outcome arrives, the moment of our death. Little wonder we have a whole genre of literature of deathbed lamentations, advice that comes too late for the author and goes unheeded by the reader.
The spaces in between. This is where life happens. This is life; the space in between birth and death. Yet it is the space that is easiest for us to miss; elusive in its demand for temporal consciousness. Finally, I can explain why that experience of the space in between places felt so ineffably spacious and profound. And while I can’t go back in time and exist in that space in between places, I can carry forward the sense of wonder at the in between. So I may sit here a little longer, and listen for the spaces in between sounds. Who knows what I might feel in that space in between.
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