Space To Breathe

Our lives are so full. What a privilege! For one to be able to try new things and explore new places – all are potentially life-changing opportunities. Our experiences and choices are many; and, that in itself can be exciting, promising, and overwhelming. 

Tonya Dalton, author of The Joy of Missing Out devotes a whole section of her book to creating simplicity. She points out that by not simplifying our systems, routines and structures, they are easily filled with mundane tasks; and, we miss the joy of the moment. She reminds us that, “when we feel in control of our schedule, we don’t just survive, we thrive.” She goes on to say that creating some space in order to structure our days can be “beautifully simple and takes minimal effort.” 

What happens when we add space into our busy lives? Space to simply reflect, breathe, and better understand gives us a different perspective. This perspective realigns our focus to keep sight of those items most important to us. I don’t think creating space happens just once. It is a continuous process. For example, I’ve blocked out morning time to do the things I determine are most important to me. At the start of this school year that space contained yoga, meditation, reading, writing, setting intentions and sometimes exercising. 

Whew. I’m tired just writing all of that. 

After three months of this routine, I began to dread this morning time and found reasons to avoid it. I had, once again, filled up a small amount of space with too many things to accomplish. Therefore, the me time I had carefully carved out had just become another series of tasks to complete. This was not the routine and structure I wanted.

So I changed. Why stay in something just because it sounds good when the reality is, it isn’t good?

I limited the amount of things to accomplish and focused on the quality versus the quantity. I would much rather be effective with this precious time than efficient. But it took some time for me to get to that point. I struggled with all of the things I said I was going to do because I felt that I had determined these were the big items that helped me stay the course to my north star. I didn’t want to fail or quit or let myself down. 

You know what changed things for me? This concept of tight and loose. Let me digress a second here. I was in a meeting with colleagues and we discussed the professional learning community (PLC) process. The book Learning by Doing A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work was provided to every school in my district last summer. As we were discussing where schools are with this work, I heard a colleague share this concept of what is tight within this framework and what is loose. Tight is the structure. The expectation to meet together (create space), to reflect (create accountability of self), time to practice (create structure), the use of common vocabulary (create understanding) are all elements of the tight part of a PLC. The loose part is how all of the tight elements are defined. 

This concept of tight and loose can be applied to our personal lives as well. They can help us find harmony. For my life, the tight elements include creating space to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. Tight is insuring I have a structure in my day that fuels my mind, body and soul in a healthy and meaningful way. I feel the loose parts are specifics. Today it may feel like writing, tomorrow reading, the next day a twitter chat. The point is that there remains a choice. 

Choice and space together in our day can easily become lost in social media, unproductive conversations or beneficial relationship building opportunities. What is the difference? I believe this is where intention and stress gain traction. When I’m mindful of this space and choice and not overwhelmed, I can utilize this time to check on classrooms, marginalized students, or work on those items that I value most. 

This space is vital!

Space is the first thing to go in a crowded day or busy schedule. It is the first thing to go when stressed or when excited. It has never been so easy to fill our time with something to distract us from our goals. The down time has become time we connect through our technology. This connection replaces our own internal dialogue. This dialogue could be called our intuition or our self-talk. And if we no longer hear that self-talk, then are we clear on what we really think and feel about the specifics of our lives?

If I get upset about something yet never fully process where and why that anger or sadness occured, does it shift my perspective? I would say it does – no matter how much I recognize the impact there is a residual effect.

One of my lines in my personal mission statement is “Hustle while you wait.” Lately, when saying this line in the mornings, it hasn’t felt quite right. Why? Because if I’m always hustling, then I’m never just living in the moment. I’m never listening to me. Quieting my mind is as important as eating or breathing or sleeping. It helps me simply stop and reflect. 

The present moment is where I want to live because it prevents me from building expectations on shoulds and coulds. These words immediately remove me from what is in front of me. I should finish that book. I could join this committee. I should exercise. By intentionally ignoring the shoulds and coulds, I am choosing the present moment.

Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle Is The Way says it best. “One thing is certain. It’s not simply a matter of saying: Oh, I’ll live in the present. You have to work at it. Catch your mind when it wanders – don’t let it get away from you. Discard distracting thoughts. Leave things well enough alone – no matter how much you feel like doing otherwise.” 

Being present takes intention. It takes focus. It requires saying no to all the many things that are vying for our attention. It means we must add value to the space where we simply breathe. That space then becomes the resting place where we can refocus, center our compass and reset our direction. It is the space our intention lives and our decisions are made. It provides us the foundation and grit to be present and simply breathe. 

Sometimes when I witness the beauty of an unexpected sunrise, I’m reminded of the power of space. Space allows us to see the beauty we didn’t anticipate and therefore keeps us grounded in gratitude.

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