The Between Space

During a recent and rare synchrony of unseasonably warm weather and 30-minutes of free time, I was able to go for a long overdue run in one of my favorite places near my home. It had been a while since the last time I ran, and I’ve never been the world’s greatest athlete, so I slowed to walk a few times along the way. I caught my breath and witnessed the sights and sounds of nature, spending an extra minute in a particularly scenic spot to stretch a bit. Writing this, the beauty and balance of those peaceful moments sounds like perfection. However, I realized during this run that each time that I slowed, I wasn’t enjoying the opportunity. I was witnessing the beauty, yes, but not really experiencing it. As soon as I slowed, my mind immediately began planning when I would begin running again. And when I started running, my mind immediately began planning my next break. I was missing the peace and pleasure that comes with staying in the present moment. Moreover, I realized that the run was an appropriate metaphor for how we experience, or rather often don’t experience, our own lives.

There’s a character in one of the television shows that my children watch named Dr. O. One of her many amusing quirks is that at the end of any act, large or small, she authoritatively calls out “What’s next?”  Although not something I verbalize, this humorous catch phrase is an underlying subconscious mantra in my own life and one I recognize in others, and for good reason. The passage of human time is recognized by moments of beginning and end. We are biologically defined by it, cellular birth (beginning) and cellular death (end). Our social and cultural norms and rituals are set by calendars and clocks. We measure our personal experiences by the beginning and end of relationships; friendships, romances, marriages, children, and even by the time spent living or working in a specific place. The starts and stops of eras are memorable and we worship our watershed moments. We cling to them. It’s in our language; “Life isn’t measured by the breaths that you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.” I mean, that’s some moving stuff, right?

Here’s the thing though, life is literally measured by the breaths that we take. Literally. And the moments that take our breath away are amazing and worth recognition, but they are moments. They are few and far between. The between is when life is really happening. For some of us that blanket of between, with its routine, peace, and stability, is as suffocating as a blanket of overwhelm. Some, like me crave, plot for, and dream of the beginnings and the endings, the next memorable moment. Others search for it while scrolling through TikToks, Twitter, Facebook, and other apps. But truthfully it is in the between space of monotonous nothingness when everything happens. These are the moments of our friends’ laughter, our children’s imaginations, or our parents counsel. These are the hundreds of kisses between our first and last. These are the hours that we stay by the side of someone whom we love and learn something profound from someone whom we don’t. This is the time that we have, silently with ourselves, to be an active member of our own life. Our presence in these moments is what we will be remembered for, so we should redefine and revere them as the ones that are worth remembering.

Movies and television show only the outlines existence. The audience sees a few stimulating clips of activity, transitional moments, and everything is wrapped up in the end. Life isn’t like that though. The real substance of our stories can’t be found in an outline. The essence of who we are is how we handle the space between the bullet points. Before I knew it, my run was over. Time passes quickly and if we hyperfocus on beginning and end, birth and death, there is only one option ahead of us. We are essentially just wishing our lives away, or at least ignoring the moments that really make it truly ours.

Some synonyms for monotony are tedium, boredom, and repetitiveness. Others are equability, evenness, and oneness. If we are only able to notice the first list, we become witnesses to our own movie. But if we can stay present enough to embrace the second list, to relish in the monotony, we are no longer our own audience. We begin to fully experience our lives in every moment. The transitional, pivotal watershed moments will come. And they will be even more breathtaking when we’ve practiced presence in the between space. So please consider this your written invitation to play the starring role in your movie, to pause long enough to become comfortable in your own routine and turn your “What’s next?!” into “What’s now?!”

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