No matter where you go, there you are. – Confucius
There is a childhood story of mine that repeatedly gets told in my family. Apparently I was about five when my mother heard a noise at the door one late afternoon. She saw me trying to tie my shoes with a very stern face, my Hello Kitty bag dangling from my shoulders, filled with my plastic tea cups, Barbie-doll and her bed. She asked me, “Where are you going?” to which I vaguely replied, “I’m leaving.” My mother insisted, “Yes, but where?” as I insisted back, “I’m leaving.” My mother tried a different approach. “But it’s getting dark. Won’t you be afraid?” No comment. Finally my mother said, “Look. It’s getting dark. It’s also going to rain. If you want to leave, fine. But wait till the morning.” I considered this alternative and decided to stay.
Funny thing is, even though I can’t recall why I wanted to leave, I remember as clear as day the thought process I went through when I was packing that bag… like how my Barbie would need her bed when she needed rest. How it didn’t matter that I had no clue where I was going just as long as I wasn’t there anymore. Maybe I still hold on to this memory because as an adult, that impulse to escape is still within me whenever I feel a sense of entrapment. Escape from a situation, a job, a relationship, a rutting routine… or myself.
As Erif Hoffer, eloquently puts:
Man staggers through life yapped at by his reason, pulled and shoved by his appetites, whispered to by fears, beckoned by hopes. Small wonder that what he craves most is self-forgetting.
We all feel the urge to break free from our reality and devise different forms of escapism from the intolerable. We daydream about going somewhere isolated like a tropical island or a cabin in the woods and never having to have to answer a call or an email. We watch ridiculous comedies or reality tv-shows that we won’t admit to anyone. We try to take refuge in the temporarily comforting embrace of shopping, alcohol, junk food. We seek an opportunity to take a long, uninterrupted nap or drown ourselves in our books.
There is a very thin line, however, between the urge to run away and the need to take a break, a breather, or a move. And that line lies in our true intention. If our intention is based on fear – of responsibility, commitment, facing conflicts or seeing ourselves in the mirror, happiness even – then we need to remember that closing our eyes and plugging our ears won’t change a single thing. Because wherever we run to, along with our barbie dolls and plastic tea cups, we will also carry ourselves in our suitcases. We can never escape from ourselves.
And yet, if our true intention is based on the will for self-discovery, creativity or change, then it is a different experience all together. I love the story of Einstein for instance. How he used to get away from his blackboard and rush to play his violin when he felt stuck with a problem he couldn’t solve. Or how Gertrude Bell, an aristocrat from England in the late 19th century, discovered her true self only after she went to explore the Middle East, despite the protests of her loved ones. Or how Gauguin’s little breaks from his work as a stockbroker to visit art galleries led him to become one of the masters of Impressionism and Symbolism at its peak.
We need to give ourselves that space sometimes. To breathe. To take a few steps out of our comfort zones. To allow ourselves to escape habits and routines in order to experiment. To discover abilities we didn’t think we inhabited, or things we didn’t think we’d love. To get some distance to see the big picture. To get rid of the daily noise to hear our instincts that whisper in our hearts what we really want to run to.
How much space do you allow yourself?
It’s the space between the notes,
that creates the tune in music.
It’s the space between breathing in, and out
that makes a breath, a breath.
It’s the space between the words,
that gives the words their meaning.
It’s the space between the thoughts,
that allows contemplation.
It’s the space between the actions.
that allows the movement.
It’s the space between you and yourself,
that makes you, you.
How much space do you allow yourself?
How much of it, is you?