The Space Between

user Andrew Blum
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Recently while rushing off to something non-urgent I passed a couple on the streets of San Francisco. The man leaned over to his wife and asked, “Do you have the sense we are walking too slowly? Everyone is passing us.” We are not in New York, folks. We are in San Francisco. Aren’t we the “slower” city? The city of mindfulness and yoga and conscious living? The city of big ideas that incubate slowly in small garages before exploding onto the scene? I couldn’t help but think that these two have it right – a slow midday meander. Everyone I know is just so busy. It’s not just the marrieds or the marrieds-with-kids, it’s my single friends too. It is teenagers and toddlers alike. No one has been spared the increased pace of life as we know it.

As an antidote to the speed vortex, I turn back the clock 150 years in my mind. In this world, people are lingering over breakfast and reading books in front of a fire. Others are boarding horse-drawn carriages or the earliest of trains to arrive a few miles further from where they started and the sense of accomplishment is huge. So many miles. These were slow journeys filled with conversation with fellow passengers and enjoyment of the scenery. These were people on the eve of big change for whom speed was still a scientific concept yet to be explored. 150 years later, we are all up against the very thing that we developed to advance us.

We live in the day of Amazon Prime – two day delivery service to your door. You can dream up the book, jacket or pair of socks you want in the morning and have it at your doorstep in 48 hours. People say it’s not fast enough. Soon we will move to same-day service and other-worldly drones will descend on our homes and leave us packages. The world is not slowing down. If anything, it’s getter even faster. The harried pace of our personal lives is compounded by the harried pace of our work lives and it’s all one big hectic rush.

The busy-ness will not end. It finds ways to fill the time on your calendar marked “private” and the slots on your weekend marked “exercise.” So the only way to counteract its effect is with a very conscious effort – a practice, if you will. A practice of putting more time between things instead of jamming them up against each other like the highway does with our cars and the airlines do with our seats. I’ve started focusing on this in-between time, the “space between,” as I call it.

Building a practice of creating space between means creating something powerful enough to counteract the sheer pace of things – an inertia that urges you towards action just so you can fit it all in instead of letting you quietly hit the pillow. One more email before bed. You might be missing something from your news feed. 100 unread messages. Ghandi once wrote, “there is more to life than increasing its speed.” It is up to us to slow it down. Each day. Each hour. In each interaction. The space between meetings (even when there is none), the space between the work day and the transition to family or home time, and the space between the end of day and sleep. These transition times are sacred – rich with learning and mental sorting and a chance to simply pause.

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