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The Power And Potential Of The Space Between
I first became aware of the space between while writing my book, Economics as if the Earth Really Mattered. Most of it was complete but the most important chapter — the whole reason for all the other words in the book to exist, “Toward a Gaian Economy”, had yet to be written. The final deadline had come and gone. My editor was understanding but insistent. I’m not an economist, have never taken a course in economics, yet I was writing a book with “economics” in the title. My preconceived idea of what it meant to write about the subject of economics was a huge block. I needed to create a framework the rest of the book would fit into. My heart said, “Ask the Earth.” So that’s what I decided to do.
I took my yellow-lined pad to a brook in back of the home of The Institute for Gaian Economics in Worthington, MA (now defunct), and followed it upstream until I came to a human-made pond that had long since been incorporated into the ecology of the place. I sat in the tall grasses at the pond’s edge, spent some time just being there, then asked the Earth, Gaia, “What is the most important thing for me to communicate in this book?” And what I heard, clearly and without a doubt, was, “Communicate the power of the space between; the space between the in-breath and the out-breath, the space between the moment when the eyes see something and the mind puts words on it. In that space anything is possible. In that space is the opportunity to change the world”.
I remember sitting there, the sun warm on my skin, while the message came, whole and at once, into my mind. “Thanks a lot”, I remember thinking. “How am I supposed to do that?” The idea was new to me but it made absolute sense. At the same time it felt too esoteric, especially for a book on the economy, even one as unconventional as mine. But I trusted the message because I trusted my relationship with the Earth. As I focused on my breath and the breath of the teeming life around me, seeking another clue or, ideally, another clear message, I felt the space between everywhere — between my breaths, between the blades of grass, between the voices of frogs and insects and birds, even between the molecules of water in the pool. I the felt the web connecting everything, myself included, and I somehow knew that the space between created the web, kept the balance, even allowed for my perception. It was so simple and at the same time profound. And now my task was to put words on it.
The purpose was to show another way to model the economy. We could move away from the destructive, profit-at-any-cost system by creating alternatives, by making different choices. The book profiled alternatives to demonstrate that it was possible and to show that people were already taking the first steps. Those words were written. But the pieces needed to fit into a whole — a new paradigm that integrated the the economy into the life of the Earth. The Earth could not be one thing to consider in the planning process but must become the foundation upon which the economy is built.
The message about the space between took my thinking to a deeper level. I felt how the interconnectedness of all the different life forms around me worked together to create a healthy ecosystem, even over time allowing the integration of the small, human-made pond. Instead of survival of the fittest, I felt cooperation. Just then the words of Paula Gunn Allen (I think it was) came into my mind about how Native people believe the Universe was created by the relationship between respect, cooperation, harmony, and balance.
At that thought, the block was gone. I began to write. When I was spent, I ran back to the house, holed myself up in my room, took everything I had written for that last chapter — which was lots because I’d been struggling with it for a long time — made piles in a circle around me, and with scissors and tape (this was before the computer) began cutting and pasting.
For hours I worked in a frenzy, knowing exactly what I had to do. In the introduction to that chapter I wrote: “A Gaian economy would be whole, organic and synergetic; it would flow with the natural process of change. One place to start our envisioning is with the processes that underlie all life. As we look carefully at the web of life around us, as we begin to trace its strands and the process of connection, we find values essential to Gaia. They lead to principles that can guide us in our attempt to create a Gaian Economy.” Everything flowed from there. I mailed the finished piece to my editor and nervously awaited his response. A couple of days later he called. Like a miracle, he understood what I had done and he loved it.
The message from the Earth on that day so long ago gave me the space to shift out of my preconceived idea of what it meant to write about economics. It helped me put a vision into words and my book was one of the first available on the subject. Now ecological economics is a regular course of study and most people working in the field have degrees and doctorates. Despite this, and despite the fact that many of the projects in my book have grown and prospered, we seem to be no closer to creating a Gaian economy than we were back in 1985. And the need to do so is more urgent than ever.
This is why I started to publish Gaian Voices — not to create a Gaian economy, I haven’t worked in that arena for years now — but to speak out for the Earth however feels right. Ultimately this led to the idea of another book, one I’ve been working on now for three years. But it’s hard because I keep getting caught up in fear and despair and this is not what I want to communicate.
One of the puzzles activists face is how to convince people to change. All kinds of strategies are used from gentle persuasion to hard-hitting, painful facts. Sometimes it works but more often people shut down or end up feeling overwhelmed, and nothing changes. Here’s what I think: Change generally doesn’t happen through intellectual bombardment or guilt-inducing emotionalism. Change happens when a shift occurs in our basic belief system, a shift that requires enough space to allow for its possibility. If we hold onto our beliefs like a dog with a bone, there is no space for change, and so we remain stuck. But if we can let go for just a moment, if we can simply breathe in that space, then we open ourselves to a world of possibilities. The most powerful shift is one that replaces fear with love, despair with compassion. Once this shift occurs, our actions will change and the world will be a better place.
I attempted to communicate the power of the space between in my first book by explaining that how we experience the world is up to us in each moment. We can walk blindly forward, robots to our daily grind, or we can open to the beauty and wonder that surrounds us and moves through us all the time. We can buy into a limited view of our life and purpose or we can expand our awareness of what’s possible. When we live in the world as active participants with all that is, the space between becomes a moment in time where we can exercise conscious choice. But it’s not easy.
Even once we become aware of the limitations of our beliefs, even once we want to change, the patterns of our lives and the tapes we play ourselves bring us back to square one over and over again. What can we do about this? My next book, I told myself, needs to address this somehow. And not just for other people, for me. I cannot inspire while my spirit despairs. I cannot create positive change while I’m fighting negativity in my heart.
My grandmother taught me that there are no accidents. Everything happens for a reason, we just don’t always get to know what it is. I accept this as truth because it fits my personal experience of life. What some call a coincidence is actually a sign along the way. We can pay attention or not, but when we do we are rewarded with little (or not so little) gifts. A few weeks ago I opened an e-mail about a book by Gregg Braden called Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer and felt compelled to order it. The book’s subtitle, “The Hidden Power of Beauty, Blessing, Wisdom, and Hurt” spoke to me. I sensed it would help with my despair and negativity. I’ve read other books by Braden and found them inspiring, exciting, and sometimes difficult to get through. This book, however, could have been written by my grandmother.
Nanny knew how to pray and she prayed often. She never prayed for something, rather she blessed the situation, trusted God, and let go. Instead of praying for someone to get well, she saw them whole and healthy. This way she was not envisioning disease and giving energy to it, but rather she envisioned a healthy person — and gave energy to that instead. When I’d lose something, like a favorite ring, Nanny would say, “Nothing is lost in Divine Mind”. And it seemed that what was lost was found at just that moment when my anxiety left and I felt peace. Suddenly I’d know just where to look! It was like a magic spell that I use to this day. Nanny would simply smile and give thanks. (Which was another thing she taught me: The importance of gratitude).
In his introduction, Braden explains that wisdom and hurt “are two extremes of the same experience . . . the beginning and completion of the same cycle. Hurt is our initial feeling, our gut response to loss . . . Wisdom is the healed expression of our hurt. We change hurt into wisdom by finding new meaning in painful experiences. Blessing, beauty, and prayer are the tools for our change.” Prayer, Braden reminds us, isn’t about words, “it’s based in the silent language of human emotion. It invites us to feel gratitude and appreciation, as if our prayers have already been answered.” I am reminded of those moments when I become overwhelmed by beauty and emotion. I may be in the garden or the woods or next to my favorite river or when I felt my maternal grandfather’s presence so strongly at Delphi. My breath is taken away, my eyes fill with tears, I feel as though I’m shining. I am both powerful and humble — and full of gratitude for the experience. This is prayer.
I read this book as eagerly as a starving person would consume a delicious meal, grateful that I followed my instincts to order it. About half way through I came to a section titled, “The Mystery of the Space Between”. And I knew — this is why I ordered the book. Using language so similar to my own all those years ago, Braden writes, “There’s a power that lives in the space ‘between,’ that subtle instant when something ends and what follows next hasn’t yet begun. . . . Regardless of scale, between the ‘beginning’ and the ‘end’, there exists a moment in time when neither one has fully happened. That moment is where the magic and miracles come from! In the instant of between, all possibilities exist and none have been chosen. . . . All events originate from this powerful, magical moment.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks. My first thought was, “It’s real! I can trust what I know!” And my heart cracked open. Despite how dire our situation is I knew in that moment anything is possible. And I also knew that logic has nothing to do with it. That’s why we can’t solve our problems logically. They’re too big for that. We can pray. We can love. We can act with compassion. And we can pray some more. Pray in the ancient way. Pray our emotions, pray our love, pray our peace. There are no guarantees. But anything is possible — that’s the power of the space between. Once more I was sitting next to the pond listening to the Earth. The message was the same. My reality was validated at a time when I very much needed it. The same energy but a different point in time, another rung on the spiral.
Braden says (and so did my grandmother though she used different words) that the future is determined by the quality of our energy in the space between. So if we want a vibrant, healthy future then the quality of our energy, our thoughts, our emotions must be healthy and vibrant. In other words, a healthy future will not happen as long as our thoughts and emotions are fearful and despairing. I know this sounds like new age woo-woo, the old “you create your own reality” that translates into blame and isolation: if you have cancer somehow you created it and therefore it’s your fault. But this is deeper than that, and not so personal. I decided to make “the space between” the theme for this issue — to allow for a greater exploration of the concept and to add new dimensions to my understanding. Becoming aware of the power of the space between is key to transforming outmoded and even dangerous beliefs and patterns.
I know I have a tendency to focus on bad news. I feel it’s important to know what’s really going on in certain areas, especially as it impacts the Earth. But I have to remember what the Earth told me years ago about the power of the space between, and my responsibility to communicate it. In my own way I have contributed to the negativity in the world, not by sharing bad news — we need to know the truth — but by feeding into the energy of fear and despair swirling around us. When I make the conscious decision to feel love and compassion, when I find ways throughout the day to bless painful or uncomfortable situations, I begin the process of improving the quality of the space between, and of the future. “When we can move beyond . . . the good and the bad of what life shows us,” Braden writes, “then we find our greatest power to become more than the things that have hurt us. Although our minds know that these things may exist on one level, it’s the feeling in our hearts that speaks to the Field of the Mind of God . . . and creates.
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