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The thing about space…

Saturday, February 12, 2011 by Marianne Elliott

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…is that life will sometimes just expand to fill it.

I decided not to go to South Africa because I knew I needed more space in my life. Every time I sat still long enough to really notice what was going on in my body last year I got the same message: I need more space.

So I moved back out to the beach, where I can walk out my door to an ocean that stretches away as far as I can see. I committed to a more regular practice of meditation and a simple yet spacious new pranayama (breathing) practice every morning. I dropped a few commitments, let my regular posting here lapse for a while and – hardest of all – cancelled my trip to South Africa.

And behold, there was more space in my life. More space in my body, in my breath, in my day.

Space to breath deeply

I found time for walks on the beach, and for starting my day with the practices that ground me. I made time for therapy, to work through the stuff that keeps coming up every time I dive back into my manuscript or let another layer peel away in my relationship. And just yesterday, despite many interruptions, I even finished the latest round of revisions of my manuscript.

Space to sell tacos

But life still feels very full. Because the space I’ve created is also allowing me to support the people in my life who need me. I can help my sweetheart get ready to open his Mexican restaurant by selling tacos at the City Markets, writing website copy and – best of all – testing menu options. I’ve been able to open my home to a friend and her one-year-old as they transition to a new chapter in their lives. I’ve hosted family visiting from overseas, and had time sit and listen to friends when loss and grief sideswipe them.

What this all reminds me of is a conversation I had with Tara Sophia Mohr about the symbiotic relationship between self-care and service.

Life is not quite like putting on an oxygen mask

Tara and I agreed that the oxygen mask rule (i.e. that you have to look after yourself first, before you help others) didn’t quite ring true to what we had both experienced in our lives. The problem is not with the emphasis on self-care, which we both endorse whole-heartedly but with the implicit sequence (first me, then others) built into this adage.

Because taking care of ourselves is part of taking care of others. I’ve said this before, but it’s so important that I’m going to say it again.

Giving generously to others is part of giving generously to ourselves.

We don’t do one first and then, when we’ve perfected it, move onto the other. Doing one allows us to open up to the other, and vice versa. We deepen into both at once.

Naturally, we each enter into this process of opening our hearts and deepening our compassion through different doors. Our karma, our personality and our family and culture all play a role in deciding whether we are first inclined to focus externally (on serving others, as I was) or internally (on developing and healing ourselves).

And as Tara so beautiful expressed it, sometimes helping another is the perfect door for us to enter into deeper compassion for ourselves.

So am I worried that all that lovely space I carved out for myself is filling up with time spent nurturing the people I love rather than lots of long, quiet stretches to start writing my next book? Not nearly as much as I might have been a year ago. Because I’m increasingly confident there is no difference between the two.

All steps are taken on the same path

We are so much more connected than we often recognise. As my dear friend Christine Mason Miller said in a recent post:

“Once I began to more consciously consider every part of my daily life as contributing to my “most important” work, I began to see everything differently. … I recognized that taking good care of my family was the same thing as taking care of the world. … Everything is connected ~ all steps are taken on the same path.”


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16 Responses to "The thing about space…"

  1. Thank you for this. I often fear that the concept of take care of yourself first can be misunderstood creating more separation from others, and an even more self- centered approach to life which can’t lead to fulfillment at all.

  2. I love your holistic way of looking at service — if we are all connected, then all paths lead to the same destination. When I was externally focused, it was too easy to get disconnected from my internal guidance system and make compromises that depleted me.

    Going back to taking extravagant care of myself and healing from all the compromise and over-extension was a wonderful way to strengthen and focus me so that I could be useful to others once again.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Heather Plett, Marianne Elliott. Marianne Elliott said: I've written a post! "The thing about space… (and why life isn't really like putting on an oxygen mask)" – […]

  4. Meg says:

    I’ve thinking about the holistic approach to love and care a lot recently, especially since I started working with pregnant women. Watching them care for themselves and their babies — it completely blurs the line between love for self and love for others, in a way that has encouraged and emboldened me to take both more seriously.

    As always, thanks for sharing where you’re at!

  5. I loved this post. When I work with clients, a huge part of the journey is helping them come to terms with permission for self-care. I am going to be sharing this post as an guidepost for them. Thank you!

  6. Jo says:

    I feel this truth in my heart every day but it’s a struggle, precisely because of that feeling that putting others first detracts from my own needs. I intuitively know that isn’t the case but putting it into words is often too hard. Thank you for doing it for me – you and Swirly. I’m going to read this post over and over.
    And mmmmmmmmmmmmmm…Mexican…

  7. debra says:

    It is true that giving is receiving, and that receiving is giving. What a lovely thing—so simple, yet, for many of us, so difficult.

  8. Lindsey says:

    This is so beautiful … and just what I needed today. It occurs to me that I still need to be very careful in choosing what it is that fills that space – because I have historically let in some toxic things and people – but generally I love your assertion that it’s all part of the same path. I agree on a deep soul level despite the fact that I do feel anxiety about what feels like creep into my quiet hours. That said, being with others, helping and giving to others, getting out of myself, is always the fastest way to remind myself of my own extraordinary abundance. xox

  9. Swirlu says:

    In the book I am reading right now, I just read a passage that discusses being in engagement with one’s immediate life ~ with what is directly in front of us ~ and releasing our preconceived notions or expectations of what something “ought” to look like. It’s the same lesson over and over again, isn’t it? To be in the NOW. As always, I love reading about your insights and experiences.

  10. Lanham True says:

    Nurturing our loved ones is indeed a way to nurture the world. I love this. Thank you.

  11. i love your spirit. you continue to be an inspiration and example for me.

  12. Lubna says:

    Tara’s words are beautiful. They brought me hope.

  13. Amanda says:

    love, so very true. and I think this is why also when we need to heal ourselves from grief and loss, anger sometimes one of the best things we can do is reach out to others and offer our service…

  14. Emily Perry says:

    Ah yes… and it sounds like that space is now just holding more love~ !

  15. […] I learned that if you make space, life will fill it. […]

  16. Lisa McKay says:

    Aha!!! Lovely, thought provoking, post. As someone who’s spent much of their career trying to figure out how to help humanitarian workers foster resilience/stress management strategies/etc I love the depth and nuance in this post and this acknowledgment of the interconnectedness between pouring out and being topped up. Very cool. I’ve just added your blog to my google reader. Nice to e-meet you! Cheers, Lisa

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