Creating Space

To get in the flow a basic principle is to look for the space to flow through rather than at the things that prevent flow
Ideas and frameworks, Reasoning from first principles. Neil Keleher.


creating space

A basic principle for flow (I'll differentiate here, basic principles apply to the actual doing, whether in execution or practice, first principles is more a tool of analysis (which can include basic principles)) is to look for the space to flow, rather than the things that block flow.

This principle can apply to dealing with anger and things that piss us off. It can also apply to dealing with the possibly negative things people say that coerce you to give up on what you are doing or trying to do.

It can apply to analyzing thoughts, and habitual patterns of anger (and how that anger might distract us from our bigger goals or purpose.) It can apply to doing yoga or other physical activities where you seemingly run into "blocks" that prevent further progress.

In this article I'll talk about how I learned about this idea (which could also be thought of, depending on context as 'creating space'), and how I learned to apply it in various contexts to make doing (and flowing while doing easier.)

Ideally, what you'll come away with is an understanding of a basic principle that you can apply in a wide variety of contexts of activities to make the doing of said activity more efficient, or more joyful (or less dreadful) or a bit of both.

The idea of creating space in a variety of different contexts

One of my earlier exposures to this principle, that of creating space or looking for space, was in Keith Code's a twist of the wrist. It's a book about motorcycling, (how to do it better). He said that when he rides, or races, he doesn't see the other riders as obstacles. Or rather, he doesn't focus on the idea of them blocking his way. Instead he looks at the spaces between them. Because that's where he wants to go.

I read about the same idea in a book on Chi Gong (or Tai Ji). I don't remember the title, but the author relates a story of a butcher who always keeps his knife sharp, without having to sharpen it. The trick was that he cut where there was space.

Now whether a butcher or a motorcycle rider, in order to look for space, you have to sense where the space is.

As a motorcyclist we use our eyes. And we position ourselves relative to the road so that we can easily sense what is ahead.

As a butcher, the knife becomes a sensorial accessory.

As we move the knife, we feel for where there is the least resistance. And we follow that path in order to keep the edge sharp.

I also got a taste of this principle when learning how to bench fit while undergoing trade training in the army. When sawing or filing we were taught to stand with enough space between us and the piece that we were working on so that we had room to move. This was because we would be repeating the same actions over and over again. The better the relationship, the easier it was to file or saw, and to do either activity accurately.

So if you are ever working on a piece of metal or wood, if you position yourself so that you have the optimal amount of space between you and the piece of metal or wood (or where you are cutting the piece) then you can work on it relatively easily.

What that means is that in order to create space you have to be aware of your relationship with the piece you are working on. If the relationship is less than optimal, the idea then is to change the relationship so that it is closer to optimal.

Butchering a piece of meat, you can use the knife to both probe and cut the meat. What matters then is the relationship between the knife and the piece of meat.

Riding a motorcycle, the interesting thing is that your position on the road can affect how you see the road ahead. Changing position relative to the road and relative to other traffic can make it easier or harder to see the gaps in the road ahead. And being as traffic is always moving, each vehicle in its own way, if you are aware of how traffic is moving, you can sense gaps before they appear (or you can sense when gaps are about to close.)

About 20 years ago, my girlfriend at the time gave me a couple of books about business. One was by a Buddhist nun (I think). The author talked about wanting to start a particular type of business but checking before hand whether that type of business already existed. It did and so they didn't bother going ahead with their own business. Not that I am in a position where I can give effective business advice, and bearing in mind this was 20 years ago, the lesson I saw was that they could have done their business but in a way that differentiated them from the currently existing business. What the author did was rather than looking for ways to go forwards, they looked at excuses to stop.

I've been a single father for most of my daughter's (now son's) life. A friend asked me, did I ever worry about money when thinking about raising my child.

I do tend to worry alot.

My relationship with the mum was less than ideal. What I focused on doing, particularly once my daughter was born, was doing what I had to to work and to take care of her. The money always seemed to be there, and when it wasn't, my family, (my parents, my sister, my aunt) all helped me out.

The point here is that rather than worrying about a possible lack of money, I focused on what I needed to to do raise my daughter.

Sometimes (a lot of times) out thoughts are focused on what blocks us rather than on clear road ahead

As I mentioned, looking for space, (or creating space) is a concept that can be applied in almost any endeavour.

In some cases it requires an awareness of relationships, what's going on around you. In other cases, it requires an idea of what is going on in your head. What are your thinking.

For me a striking example of this occured while teaching standing side bend in a yoga class. (I might actually have been doing it in my own class, I can't remember).

I thought I was at my limit, as far as I could go. But then, instead of thinking "this is as far as I can go", I focused on the idea of feeling my body and working at creating length, or space, or both.

Instead of focusing on the idea of "this is as far as I can go" I simply turned that idea of by focusing on another thought, one more in line with what I was trying to do.

Almost as soon as I changed my thinking, my body responded. There wasn't a huge difference in outside appearance, but I could feel the tightness disappear. I could gradually move deeper into the pose.

Falling in the Corkscrew

This idea of mental awareness is important, particularly while doing things.

As an example, while on a motorcycling course, with Keith Code, I fell in a corner known as "The Corkscrew".

I'd been thinking about high nice it would be to get off the bike once I was in the pits, and as the road veered left and inclined, I found myself sliding on the road next to my bike.

I realized that because I'd been thinking about what came after the ride, versus focusing on the act of riding, i.e. looking ahead, looking for space, that's why I fell.

How does this relate to creating space or looking for space?

The next day, when I was riding again, I felt afraid going around the corners. I hadn't yet realized what I needed to learn from the previous accident. What I eventually realized, as I went around each corner, was that I was looking at exactly where I didn't want to go, the outside of each turn.

I then started to direct my gaze to the road ahead. All of a sudden the fear dissipated. I was no longer afraid. I actually started to enjoy the act of riding again. And it came from simply looking at where I wanted to go, versus where I didn't.

More recently, yesterday at the time of writing, I was talking to a friend about an incident at the gym. A friend who I like was doing squats with one leg on a bench behind her. A guy came up to her and asked her how long she would be. I'd encountered said guy before and he generally spends more time resting on equipment while looking at his phone than actually using the equipment for what it was intended.

It seemed to me that my friend hurried her last set and went of to her next exercise.

I felt that perhaps I could have dones something or not. But in anycase, for my next few sets, I used my anger at said guy to drive some of my own sets.

Later on I talked to my friend about said guy. She didn't mind too much (or so she said) being as it was her last set anyway.

We ended up chatting for quite a bit after that.

I told my other friend about the whole incident, in particular about how angry I was at the interloper. His comment was that I must have been really angry when I was younger.

I wanted to defend myself. And to an extent did. But later I thought about it. I find on occasion I get in a thought loop involving some previous incident where I thought I'd been done wrong by. Invariably the incident decays into not very nice scenarios.

If there are two wolves in our head, kindness and it's opposite, then these thought cycles I get into tended to feed the wolf that was not kind.

A friend told me that one day in the morning he found a spot to do a meditation in one of the parks. Some lady came along and more or less pushed him out as it was her spot. He relaxed, let her push him out and as a result ended up in a spot that actually felt better.

Meanwhile, a friend (a facebook friend I should say) wrote about how he was in trying to sleep at a hostel and some rude girl's alarm kept going of. Rather than shutting it off she kept snoozing it. Pissed off, he decided to get up and and see about taking some pictures. He ended up with a great set of photos that he shared with his written description of how it came about. He was still pissed with the girl though.

For me, when I look back at my own experience at the gym, the interloper gave me something additional to talk to my friend about, not that we may have needed it. More to the point, by focusing on him, and what I should have said to him, or would have liked to, it distracted me from what I need to do, or from simply the good things that are possibly happening now.

Stephen King once did an article or an interview about how the idea for his book the Shining came about. In the days of type written manuscripts, his son had thrown his manuscript all around a room. It could be said that the sun went dark in Stephen's eyes. He was pissed. The incident ended up being the inspiration for The Shining.

In general, to look for space, or to create it, we have to be aware. Sometimes it's our thoughts or our mental mode that we have to be aware of. Other times it's the relationship(s) that we have to be aware of. Sometimes it's both.

The interesting thing with anger (and also fear) is it tends to separate us (or create the circumstances necessary for separation.)

You might say, isn't separation a good thing, since the whole point of this article is about creating space!?

In this case separation means the breaking of the relationship that we are trying to create space within.

So for example, going back to sawing or filing pieces of metal or wood, if we stand too far away from the piece, we can't work on it. The relationship is broken (or isn't there in the first place). In the same way, the idea of looking ahead while riding a motorcycle is to maintain the relationship between rider, bike and road. As a friend liked to say, keep the rubber side down.

When I started thinking while in the cork screw, that's when I came of the bike thus breaking all of those relationships and creating an undesired one, direct contact between my backside and the road. (I was wearing leather, and I hadn't been going fast, and so the only damage was minor damage to the bike and the leathers. )

Focusing on the idea of what we want

I'm not currently dating, but am interested in a particular lady. We talk fairly regularly, but after one interaction I was left with the impression that perhaps she wasn't interested. And so I got depressed. Yet again, I thought, somehow I'd messed things up, or yet again got interested in a girl who wasn't interested in me.

My thoughts tend to follow a habitual pattern in such instances, and it may actually be a pattern that I'm addicted to, or that in the least is habitual.

It was difficult, and I wasn't sure it would work, but I focused on the idea of what I wanted, a happy relationship with someone I could have good conversations with. The depressive thoughts were still there in the back ground, but I made the happy thoughts, and it wasn't about being in a relationship with that particular person, just being in a happy relationship.

I made those thoughts my focus, the thoughts of what I desired, instead of the thoughts of what I was scared of happening. The worry was still there rattling around in the back ground, but the better idea was in the forefront.

Later on I went back to the gym. I wasn't sure if I'd see my friend or not, but in either case I worked at keeping my head empy. The particular lady saw me, waved, and I waved back. She came over and we started chatting.

Interestingly, in an earlier conversation I had the opportunity to tell her that I was a single father, but slightly obfuscated that fact. I didn't lie, but at the same time it felt like I wasn't being completely open, not the ideal way to try to start a relationship.

With my second chance, I did have the opportunity to tell her that I was a single father. Interestingly, the conversation seemed to open up a lot more, on both sides.

I should point out here that the using of basic principles (trying to adopt them) can be fraught with errors and mishaps and wrong turnings. I can only suggest here that that is part of the learning, part of the process.

Anger, frustration, those can be the signals that we aren't quite on track. And rather than being a bad thing, if we can learn to look at why we are angry, or fearful or worried, we can often use the source of what vexes us as inspiration for the idea of what we want.

Working with what we have

When I went to visit my parents in PEI for the first time, I took only a small pancake lens for my DSLR. It was less than ideal for a lot of the bird shots that I took. We went out on a boat one day with friends and I wished I'd brought my long lens, but dealt with what I had. I basically shot a load of pictures by the seat of my pants and ended up with some nice photos. So rather than being miffed that I should have brought my long lens, I dealt with what I had, I looked for spaces so I could flow, rather than the things that prevent me from flowing.


At the end of that motorcycling course where I fell in the corkscrew, one of the instructors pulled me aside to critique my riding. He'd been responsible for riding behind a couple of riders to video them from behind. His main comment was that I wasn't using the road well enough. It took me a while to process but basically what it amounted to was the better I positioned myself on the road, the better I could see ahead, and the faster I could ride.

With filing, and even with sawing, it's possible to feel the way the tool is moving, and as a result, it's easy to see when we are on target or going off. Note, that if I feel, as early as possible, when I'm going of, it's easier to correct, and I thus end up doing less work.

Note that in this context, filing (or sawing), trying to correct a mistake can be harder than not making a mistake in the first place. Here the point isn't to to be so worried about preventing mistakes that it hinders you from actually getting on with what you are doing. It's to focus, to sense. And if you do make a mistake that it takes a while to recover from, learn from it. What is it that you can do to sense that particular type of mistake earlier, so that you can avoid it.

For me, with filing, I learned to feel when the file was starting to rock, when I was in fact creating two flat surfaces versus one. And so before that second undesired flat surface big, I could correct it. The trick was to hold the file, and even press on it in such a way that I could feel it connect to the metal and as a result, feel the surface of the metal I was working on.

And that's why with motorcycling in particular, positioning matters. With good positioning you can see as far ahead as is useful. And then you can be ready to do whatever you need to do as easily as possible.

And that was perhaps one of the earliest lessons I learned about creating space. It came via my dad when he first started teaching me to drive. The idea was to position the car relative to other traffic, as much as possible, so that I could see all around me and so that I had room to move should I need it.

So room to move is in part about creating the ability to sense, but it's also about creating room so that you can move when you need to.

But to create the ability to sense, you have to adjust the relationship.

And so the first goal of creating room to move can be that of maximizing (or optimizing) sensitivity. then you can make further changes based on what you sense.

If you sense that you need to act as early as possible it's then possible to act in such a way that you maintain sensitivity. You can thus continue to maintain the relationship, whether it is with a piece of metal or wood, a motorbike yourself and the road, a friend, or a potential partner.

Anger, a sign that we are focused on what is blocking us

Emotions like fear, anger, or frustration, can sometimes be indicators that we aren't looking for or creating space, or that we are focusing on the things that potentially hinder the relationships we want to maintain or create.

And so it can be a good idea to recognize when you are in such a state. (Luckily I had a friend to point it out to me, after the fact.)

Moving as one

As a final note/story, yet another place where I encountered the opportunity to play with this principle was in social dance. Learning the cha cha, the rhumba and a few others, we were taught that our frame, the way we held ourselves mattered, whether we were the lead or the follow. The frame was how we connected to our partner and it was how we positioned ourselves relative to each other. We could thus adjust said relationship so that we both had room to move.

But as well as connecting the relationship, our frame also allowed us to feel each other. Adjustment was required. Not too tight or rigid. Not too loose. With this connection we could continue to maintain room for each of us to move. We could thus dance together as one.

Published: 2021 05 03
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