When I moved into my new office (almost 8 months ago), I noticed that my sessions seemed to improve. They went deeper somehow. At first I just thought it was a coincidence. I thought that perhaps my skills as a healer had improved around the time of the move. Then my office mate, who is also a healer, mentioned that her sessions had also become more powerful since we moved. I wondered if it was actually the space itself that was creating this effect.
Since then I’ve been investigating the power of space as medicine. What I’ve discovered is pretty amazing. Space really is the final frontier!
The physical spaces that we inhabit are sensed by and through our nervous systems, which relay some conscious and a ton of unconscious messages about the space we are in back to our brains. Numerous studies have shown that our brain wires (and rewires) itself in response to our environment.
It seems to follow then that the environments, or spaces, that we spend our time in have an enormous impact on our well-being. In the many (or even most) old systems of medicine there is a “space component” – the idea that a sick person should spend time in spaces that are beautiful, supportive, relaxing and comfortable in order to heal. One example is Vatsu, which is the Ayurvedic art of arranging one’s space so that the energy flows in a way that creates those qualities I just mentioned. Once the space has been created, the patient can simply spend time there and let the space do the work.
Letting the space do the work is a really powerful concept when it comes to healing and wellness on every level.
Space, as you may (or may not) know, is considered to be one of the 5 elements from the ancient Vedic school of thought. To be clear, the Sanskrit word for “element” is mahabhuta, which translates as “great primal force of existence.” I wanted to mention that because sometimes I think just using the word ‘element’ misses something.
The idea is that everything that we experience in the universe is made of 5 different mahabhutas – primordial forces, or energies. These energies, or elements, are the backdrop of our entire existence and color every experience that we have. They are within us and all around us. They are the subtle stuff that everything is made of.
Really, these elements are just a way of organizing energy. Some philosophical schools recognize different elements than the ones that I am going to write about here. I’m going to write about the elements recognized by the Vedic schools, because it’s what I’m the most familiar with. (The Vedic schools are from ancient India, by the way. They gave brith to yoga and Buddhism and Ayurveda and a bunch of other awesome stuff. FYI.)
The point is that in order to work with energy in any kind of effective way, we have to have a system to organize it. Sometimes people get caught up in arguing about which system is best. To me, that’s ridiculous because it’s all the same energy. It’s just that we have to have a way to talk about it and work with it. So the Vedic elements earth, water, air, fire and space are a way to do that.
Many other philosophical schools only have 4 elements; earth, water, fire and air. One of the reasons that I like the Vedic philosophy is that it recognizes a 5th element; space (also sometimes called ether). The old Western mystical traditions also recognize this extra element. In fact, the alchemists called this element “the quintessence.” Quintessence, my new favorite word, is defined by Miriam Webster’s dictionary as “the pure and concentrated essence of a substance” and/or “the most perfect embodiment of something”.
Quintessence is the perfect word for the element of space, because it is really different from the other 4. While air, water, fire and earth all have particular qualities, space is the absence, or totality, of all of those qualities. You can think of space as containing all things, and at the same time being totally empty. You can also think of space as being infinite.
This, in a way, makes space the most profound of all of the elements and perhaps the closest expression of, or the quintessence of, Divine Consciousness.
Because you and I are both expressions of Divine Consciousness, we have this quality of space within us; we have our own infinitude, and an ability to contain all things.
Of course, when we get stressed out and we forget that.
I find that my tendency when I am stressed or stuck in old pain or suffering somehow is to clamp down and clench up around whatever it is I’m experiencing. I struggle and wrestle with my pain, and try to push it away. I narrow my focus around it, or sometimes I narrow my focus around something else to distract myself from it.
The point is that whenever I do this, I am in resistance. The problem of course, is that as Carl Jung famously said, what we resist persists.
Now it’s certainly true that sometimes I can focus in on something and do some healing work around it and I might start to feel better. Maybe I can do some mediation, or some energy work, or some yoga, or maybe I can talk with a friend or go and work with a healer. All of this is important and totally useful.
But there’s another piece of the puzzle. I can do all of that work around healing my suffering, but I can also just make some space around it and let it be there. I can pan out, so to speak, and take a wider angle. I can make room for it. I can relax around it.
This is such an important part of healing.
The practice of making space for our suffering is really different from all of the other things that we do to try and heal. It’s also really different from the things that we do to avoid or try and hide from our suffering. It’s a kind of third option. When we take this option it gives us some perspective and some breathing room. It also connects us directly with our own divinity.
Divine Consciousness, just like space, contains and holds all things, with no exceptions. In the old Vedic traditions they say that, because of this, we can find God everywhere. When we make space around our experiences, I believe that’s what we’re doing; we’re finding the Divine in that moment.
We’re also dropping our resistance, which allows things to release. Making space around the things that feel particularly painful or stuck or challenging might just be the missing link to our healing.
“Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat. My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in the stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals: not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly –
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.”