Nov. 10, 2020

The Necessary Practice of Making Space


EPISODE 8

It doesn't matter how much we understand conceptually about living authentically. If we do not make space in our overcrowded and busy lives to connect with ourselves and work on our interior journey, there will be no transformation in our life.

In this episode, I talk about why it is paramount that we learn how to make space in our lives. I also share about how an awakening to inauthenticity led me to learn this fundamental principle of making space, and how learning it transformed the way my husband and I live our lives and our marriage.

Share this episode via this episode page.

CHAPTER MARKERS
00:00 - Introduction
01:31 - The Importance of Making Space
10:05 - The Vicious Cycle of Inauthentic Living
12:27 - Story: A Marriage Moves Towards Authenticity
20:55 - PRAXIS: Listen. Ponder. Act.
22:36 - Conclusion
Available here.

TRANSCRIPT
Available here.

REFLECTION PROMPT
Listen. 
- As you listened to today’s episode, what struck you? 
- What emotions or thoughts came up in response as you listened?

Ponder.
- How much white space is there in your own life right now?
- Is there a sufficient space for you to breathe in between the things that you have to do? 
- Is there a space that allows you to pause and review and recalibrate?
- Is there a space for you to just simply be? 

Act.
- In your calendar block out some time within the next week or month and label it “White Space”.
- Resist the urge to make plans for this white space ahead of time and resist the urge to give this block of time away to more productive pursuits.

For full details of this reflection prompt, please see transcript.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Book Recommendation: Greg McKeown. "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less"
Article: Bryan Gardner. "Why the White Space in Our Life Matters"

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Transcript

EP 8 | THE NECESSARY PRACTICE OF MAKING SPACE

Do you ever feel like there is so much going on in your life that you don't have space to breathe?

[00:00:10] INTRODUCTION
Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax and listen on to Becoming Me.

[00:00:41]
Hello again, my dear listeners, we are now into episode eight of the becoming the podcast, and I have had such great pleasure hearing from some of you. Thank you for giving me feedback and letting me know what this podcast is doing for you.

One feedback I've received from listeners is that they struggle to find time in their busy lives to really listen to this podcast without interruption and to reflect, I really empathize our lives are overcrowded enough as it is. And we are constantly having to make decisions about what to say yes to and what to say no to. Everything has an opportunity cost and making the interior journey is not something you can just head on to an already overcrowded life. It just wouldn't work.

[00:01:31] THE IMPORTANCE OF MAKING SPACE
So in today's episode, I'm going to be talking about a fundamental principle that needs to be in place, if we are to make any progress in our interior journey. This is one of my favorite topics and something that I find really important and also something that I really still struggle with. And this is the principle of making space in your life in particular making white space in your life. 

So what is white space and why is it important?

[00:02:04] 
Have you ever visited an art or photography exhibition? If you have, you will notice that the artwork or photographs, they are always spaced well apart. There is generous white space in between the artwork so that when we view them, we can comfortably give our attention to each piece without being distracted.

[00:02:25] 
White space is an important concept in design as well, and in type setting. It is the space between elements. It is the space between texts. So think of what it's like when you are reading a poorly formatted document. I mean, where all the text is too close to each other and perhaps the lines between the texts are too small, so much so that everything is squished together and you can't even quite tell what you're supposed to be paying attention to.

[00:02:58] 
Have you ever noticed that an overcrowded document is really difficult and terrible to read? Whereas one where text and graphics are well, spaced out is much easier on the eyes and a lot more pleasing to read and you don't get eyestrain doing it. Well, the concept of having white space extends to our daily lives, too.

[00:03:22] 
If you received an invitation to dinner at your favorite restaurant, would you eat a heavy meal or snack right before your appointment? Most of us in this scenario wouldn't, right? We would usually choose to eat lightly in the meal before. And I have even known friends who would just skip the previous meal entirely when they know that they are heading to a feast.

[00:03:46]
Why is that? I think it's an instinct that we all have because we know that our stomachs have limited capacities and we want to be able to have room in our stomachs so that we can enjoy the meal that we know is coming.

[00:04:05] WHITE SPACE GIVES US ROOM TO MANEUVER
When we have white space in our lives, we are more able to savour each experience because we can pay full attention to each thing that comes our way. And we also have more grace to maneuver when life surprises us, as it often does, and we have to change our plans.

[00:04:26]
Having white space built into our lives mean that we can more easily pause and recalibrate and look at what it is that we need to do in order to change directions. On the other hand, if we live our lives in such a way that there is very little or no white space in it, then when something unexpected happens, we would get flustered and a lot more stressed because there is often a domino effect.

[00:04:56] 
So just imagine if you had back to back appointments, if one appointment arrived late, you'd either have to cut it a lot shorter, or you're going to be running late for all your subsequent appointments. But if you built in buffer between your appointments, those buffers would be actually white space.

[00:05:18] 
Then even if something unexpected happened with one of your appointments, you may not have to contact your subsequent appointments or reschedule them because that white space gives you a cushion for the unexpected to happen. So, having white space built into our days really allows us to live less stressfully, more gracefully. 

[00:05:41]
Now, white space does not just appear in our lives magically. It is something that we need to actively create through intentional living. We need to be the ones to design our life, such that there is enough space in between the elements that we need to pay attention to.

[00:06:02] MAKING SPACE FOR SOMETHING NEW
Back in may this year, when I first realized that I would be launching this podcast, I knew that I was going to have to purposely make space in my life in order to make this idea into a reality.

[00:06:17] 
The first thing I did was to decide not to take on any new work engagements apart from the ones that I had already committed to. I blocked out September, October, and November completely. I knew from experience that I needed a blank canvas, especially since I had no idea just how much work was in store for me.

[00:06:43] 
I have never done a podcast before. I don't have any experience and background in audio recording or editing. I knew I was facing a steep learning curve and I just wanted to have plenty of space to be able to concentrate on getting this done. Clearing my calendar and turning down multiple requests for meaningful work was something that was really not easy for me to do.

[00:07:12] 
And there were times that I was really tempted to just sneak in maybe one thing, because you know, it sounded like I could do something really meaningful. But thankfully I was able to protect the space that I wanted to create. And I am now so, so grateful that I did that because doing this podcast is a lot more hard work and I had anticipated.

[00:07:36] 
And if I had not made space for it, you would most certainly not be listening to this episode right now. In fact, the pace is so intense that I currently don't really have time to do anything else apart from this podcast. Pretty soon, I'm going to have to create space in order for me to recalibrate and figure out how to bring back other important elements into my life.

[00:08:05] 
We are finite beings with limited time attention and definitely limited energy. In fact, we don't ever really know what is the final span of our life. We don't know what is the totality of the time that we have. That means that the choices that we make about what we put into our life really matters. And if we do not learn to create space and prioritize our life, we will be allowing other people and the circumstances of our lives to make that decision for us.

[00:08:40] MAKING SPACE FOR WHAT IS ESSENTIAL
Now, let me turn to the task that becoming me is interested in, and that is making the interior journey into greater authenticity and wholeness making this journey is. Like learning an art and honing a craft, a skill in how to live our lives with greater integrity, into fuller meaning and purpose. Ask any person who has mastered some kind of skill or craft or, or spot how they became proficient.

[00:09:11] 
And they will all tell you that they spent a lot of time training and practicing and honing their craft. And in order to do that, they would have needed to make a lot of space in the lives for that art or that sport. They would have had to make a lot of sacrifices. We probably have all heard of stories of Olympian athletes, especially Olympic champions, how much they sacrifice compared to ordinary people in terms of their social lives, in terms of the diet.

[00:09:45]
And all because they were very clear what they wanted to do, and they were willing to clear space to fill it up with what was most essential. Those who failed to make space for their goals will almost surely fail to achieve their aim.

[00:10:05] THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF INAUTHENTIC LIVING
Now take a moment. And as you listen to what I'm about to describe, think about how much it applies to your life right now.

I have a lot of things going on in my life right now. And I constantly feel hurried and I am often stressed. I am impatient with people when the needs keep me from keeping to my tight shovel and I get angry when unexpected situations pop up and derail my plans. 

[00:10:37] 
My life is so full of things to do that I am anxious about many things and I do not have the space or the time to slow down, down, or pause. Therefore, I do not have the time to be still and to connect with my inner self. 

Because I am often not in touch with my inner self. I live life on the surface without being anchored by my most deeply held values and convictions.

[00:11:07] 
And because I am not anchored, I am easily confused and distracted when difficult choices need to be made or unexpected situations crop up in my life. 

I find that I am unable to discern because I lack clarity about what is actually directing my life. And because I lack the ability to make wise discernments and choices, I continue to pack in too many things in my life, and I find that I am always without space or time to reflect.

[00:11:44] 
This vicious cycle keeps me peddling harder and harder on the surface of my life. Months and years pass. And even though my external circumstances keep changing and I am growing older, I still struggle to know my true self and I still struggle to live from the inside out.

[00:12:03]
What I just described is what I call the Vicious Cycle of Inauthentic Living. And I have been caught up in it my whole life. Even now I'm constantly feeling the pull into this cycle. And whenever I stop being intentional about making space in my life to take care of my interior journey, I am sucked back right into it.

[00:12:27] STORY: A MARRIAGE MOVES TOWARDS AUTHENTICITY
When we are living only on the surface layer of our lives, that is when we will often experience FOMO, right? The fear of missing out, because we are not in touch with our deeper selves. We are always afraid that we would make the wrong decision and miss out on something that we really want. And in the end we just don't make any discernment really, and just try and pack in as many things as we can.

[00:12:56] 
Conversely, the clearer we are about who we are and what we stand for, the more easily and quickly, we would be able to decide what to let go of, even when it is really good things that we may need to let go of. 

So let me share with you my own example of learning the importance of making space in my life.

[00:13:22] 
Years ago when we were newly married, my husband, Henry, and I used to pack our calendars. Apart from our work, we try to fit in as many social appointments with family and friends and self-improvement opportunities such as maybe courses and talks to attend. And we also packed in church ministry and also try to fit in of course, a couple times.

[00:13:47] 
Our weekday evenings were usually filled. And our weekends often consisted of back to back appointments. This lifestyle made us look like we had a really full and vibrant life filled with activities and friends and meaningful things. Even however, underneath that glittering surface, our inner lives were barren and weak, and even our marriage suffered why.

[00:14:15] 
Well, our schedules were so packed with activity that at the end of the day or week, we were so tired, we would just veg out in front of the TV or be on our devices, scrolling mindlessly through social media. We had no energy to connect more meaningfully with each other yet we never thought of simplifying our lives.

[00:14:37] 
Why? Well, because it was so hard to decide what to leave out. We had a really difficult time saying no to people as well. I mean, we had friends who wanted to meet us and whom we wanted to meet. There were colleagues who invited us to social events, which we thought was not very nice to say no to. 

[00:15:00] 
The ministries and church were always asking for help. Not to mention those few years when wedding invitations came a few at a time, we just didn't know how to say no or how to choose what to say no to. And so we ended up trying to cram in as many things as we could.

[00:15:21] AWAKENING TO INAUTHENTICTY
Soon though, we found that we became more impatient and irritable with one another and thankfully one day, after having to rush from a heated argument between us to an appointment where we were to minister to another couple, we realized just how horrible and inauthentic it was to live this way. What are we offering others, anyway, if we don't even have the ability to keep our own inner lives and marriage healthy?

[00:15:52] 
After that incident, we decided we had to try and identify what was going wrong. And we decided that every month we would review how we were doing both personally, as well as in our relationship with one another. And we reflected on why tensions have been high or why things were going well. And it didn't take too long for us to recognize that we were doing really poorly because our lives had no buffer, no white space. 

[00:16:22] 
We were constantly stressed because everything was packed so tightly that when something unexpected happens, our stress immediately peaks because there is a domino effect on all the other things that we had planned. And even more importantly, we realized we were doing poorly because we were too tired out and our minds and hearts were just too saturated with noise to be still; to be quiet; to rest. And we had no energy and no time to connect with our inner selves. 

[00:16:55] And because we had no connection with our inner selves, the interaction and conversation between the two of us remained on the superficial level. Eventually our relationship also started to lose its depth and we began to lose focus on the meaning and purpose of our being together.

[00:17:15] 
On the surface, we were doing many good and meaningful things, including being very active in church ministry. But in reality, we were disconnected from God, from our inner selves and from each other. 

[00:17:30] 
Fortunately, we both agreed to do something about it and we began to make some changes. Every month or at most, every two months we set aside a full weekend, as much as possible for rest. And on these weekends, apart from worship, we kept them empty of any plans or activities. 

We prioritized being instead of doing and gave ourselves permission to explore, to play to nap and engage in the long and deep conversations that we love about life, about God, about our dreams and our own personal journeys.

[00:18:13]
We also set aside one weeknight a week as white space. So that at least for one week, night, every week we are at home for dinner together, not meeting anyone else or doing anything else. And also, that night we would be able to have an early night and catch up on rest.

[00:18:33]
What I just described was something that Henry and I went through - oh, I can't remember how many years ago now. And the exact form of how we create and maintain space in our lives changes according to the season that we are in the responsibilities that we have. This means that we need to review this discipline fairly often.

[00:18:57]
We have found that in times of major transition, we need even more white space in our lives so that we can have more buffer for the stress that change brings. And more space to connect with our own inner selves so that our lives are not being led by the external circumstances we are in, but from our souls and from our relationship with Christ.

[00:19:17] BECOMING ABLE TO HOLD SPACE FOR OTHERS
When we learned to dive deeper into in ourselves, we recognized that if we were to honor our own limitations, and if we really believed that our relationship with God and living authentically with each other in our marriage was a non-negotiable thing, then we had to become essentialists. 

We became so much happier once we changed our lifestyles to incorporate space. We stopped doing back to back appointments, which meant that whomever we were with had our full attention and we were not constantly worrying about the next thing that we have to get to.

[00:19:56] 
Our time with people became deeper and more meaningful because there was time for conversation to become deeper and more meaningful. While on the surface, it looked like we became less available to others, in reality, it actually meant that much more of ourselves were available. 

When we showed up, we could be more fully present attentive, and we brought with us the greater mindfulness and peace that we have been cultivating to those we met.

[00:20:27] 
It doesn't matter how much you may learn conceptually about living authentically. If you do not make space in your life to let it become a part of your daily living, if you do not make space to connect with yourself and work on this interior practice, there will be no transformation in your life. It's as simple as this: If you are serious about making the interior journey, then you're going to have to make space for it.

[00:20:55] PRAXIS: LISTEN. PONDER. ACT.
So let's turn now to the Praxis prompts that you can use to be more deeply nourished by this episode.

One, listen.
- As you listened to today's episode, what struck you did something resonate particularly strongly with you?
- What emotions or thoughts came up as you listened

[00:21:17]
Two, ponder.
- How much white space is that in your own life right now?
- Is there a sufficient space for you to breathe in between the many things that you have to do?
- Is there a space that allows you to pause and review and recalibrate every now and then?
- Is there a space for you to just simply be every now and then?

[00:21:44]
Three act.
- In your calendar block out some time within the next week or month and label it “white space”.
- Resist the urge to make plans for this white space ahead of time and resist the urge to give this block of time away to more productive pursuits.

When the time comes, you can decide how you wish to use this white space in a way that serves you best. You could use it for a nap. If what you needed to do was to catch up with rest or read a novel you've been wanting to read, or maybe connect with someone you haven't had the time to reach out to, or if it really down to it, this white space could serve as a buffer if plans change unexpectedly and you need space in your calendar to maneuver.

[00:22:36] CONCLUSION

I would like to bring today's episode to a close by recommending a book that quite literally changed my life as well as Henry. The book is “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. If you are you ready to learn a way to have clearer and sharper focus in your life for what really matters do check out this book.

[00:22:57]
But this book alone, isn't going to help you if you're not in touch with your core and what your deepest values and convictions are. On the other hand, if you are already trying to practice living from the inside out, then this book is going to help you more than you can imagine. 

[00:23:15]
Well, that brings us to the end of this episode of becoming me as always go at a pace that is right for you. Do as little or as much as you are ready to and take breaks whenever you need. And I hope that after listening to today's episode, you are ready and perhaps even eager and create white space in your life.

[00:23:38] Remember the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction. No matter how small those steps might be, and no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin. The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive.

Don't forget to visit my website at becomingme.sg and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy Becoming!