For the past few months I’ve felt claustrophic. Partly, this was imposed upon me by the pandemic-induced lockdown. Partly, I imposed it on myself. I’d find myself lamenting the fact that I didn’t have time to read, write, meditate or whichever other millienial self-improvement cliché I was exploring at that moment. “Why do I never have any time to think?” I’d ask my partner while listening to a podcast, cooking dinner and keeping an eye on Slack in case some work-related emergency arose. She probably responded, but I couldn’t tell you what she said. In an effort to protect itself from sheer information overload my brain filtered it out.
In the all-out-war for my attention, it was the human-being standing in front of me that lost to the digital and transient. If only I had more time, more space, I could be present. I had to get away.
I took a week off work at short notice, jumped in the Kombi with my partner and set off without much of a plan. We didn’t know where we were going to end up, but I knew what I wanted to find: space. We spent the day hiking in the warm embrace of the winter sun. The sandstone pillars towering above us provided some much needed perspective. The day to day ruminations of a frantic mind began to melt away in their shadow.
As I sat, surrounded by the infinite beauty of the mountains it became apparent that my problem was not with time. It became apparent because I was scrolling through Twitter, listening to (yet another) podcast all while trying to maintain a conversation. I’d taken a week off work. I was sitting in a van in the middle of nowhere. I had as much time as one could hope to have but it was still there. That mental claustrophobia, clawing its way back into my mind. I could have paid attention to her, or the beautiful landscape we were fortunate enough to find ourselves apart of. But instead I chose to pay attention to my glowing rectangle. Consuming the thoughts, ideas and opinions of strangers; of disembodied avatars. How could I possibly think for myself when my head was filled with the cacophony of other’s thoughts, ideas and opinions.
How then, is spaciousness to be found if not through the experience of abundant time? Free time is a necessary component, but it is not a sufficient one. A plant will not spontaneously arise through the conditions of having access to light, soil and water. They are necessary conditions, but not sufficient. A seed must be planted in order for a plant to grow. A creative, deliberate act of cultivation allows the garden to come to life. In the same way, spaciousness must be sought and cultivated. Our attention and how we direct it is the seed.