I’ve been thinking a lot about space lately. Not outer space, though that’s not a bad thing to contemplate, but the continuous area or expanse around us which is free, available, or unoccupied. (I guess that is outer space!)
I’m interested in the way things relate to a particular space and how they fill it…. Quite regularly, and sometimes rather subconsciously, I will move an object around in the kitchen to see how it ‘feels’. Other times I will take things out to open up a room more. It can drive some people crazy! Some of the reason behind this constant innovation is the aim for greater economical use of space, and some of it also points to a need for change and variety, I guess!
I have also been consciously thinking about space in a new way. We are so blessed with the large open areas we have here in the far north of Scotland. And I look at the country of Canada where I come from, which shows a grandeur and landscape on a whole other level.
When I first came to Caithness it was one of the first things I noticed on arriving — the huge expanse of sky in relation to sea in relation to land. Rather than finding it daunting or the space filling me with a sense of fear or uncertainty, it did the opposite. I had been living in a city and now I felt I could breathe again.
We are fortunate and gifted with these masses of land and sea, with the nature and the wonderful wildness that fills them; with the openness and opportunity that only space can provide.
How do we use space? How do we value this gift? How do we appreciate the empty areas in our homes, space in our neighbourhood, our landscape, or in our daily calendars even? Why do we feel the compulsion to fill space?
A painter has been coming over for the last few days to paint the outside of the bungalow with a fresh coat of white. It’s not easy to paint outdoors on days like today: rain and wind one minute, sunshine the next, but he has been patient and persistent, so that when a sweep of rain comes through, he waits in his van for the rain to subside, and then picks up where he left off when the clouds part and there is favourable weather. As I write now, I see a dark cloud in the distance, gradually pushing the current sunny moment aside.
In his painting of the porch area, I noticed that he painted around the swallow nests, leaving them undisturbed. I love that. Making space for the creatures. They are long-term residents, after all, and if things go to plan, the same swallows will be back in the spring.
There is a question these days as to whether or not we are overwhelming the creaturely world around us or allowing room for other beings to peacefully co-exist with us. Part of that is down to the disconnection we have with nature - with food, our bodies, where food comes from, and our human role of stewardship on this earth.
What do we leave space for?
We feel a need to occupy space it seems - whenever there is some, we are compelled to fill it with things, be it information, busy activity, unnecessary items, profit-making enterprises or social media. But what about space for space’s sake? What about clearing the decks, which in turn clears our minds and brings a new sense of freedom to the world?
How much do we really need?
Sometimes space can be daunting. FOMO (fear of missing out) seems to fill the gap when we are on our own. What if we could become more comfortable in our own skin and in the spaciousness that taking time for ourselves can bring? Instead of fear or insecurity, perhaps this precious opportunity can be filled with a new and growing confidence and creativity, built up through time and experience. In many ways this is the challenge just now, and I suppose FOMO can hardly exist in the same way while everyone is in lockdown!
Along with the reality of physical space comes thoughts of ‘headspace’. These days, whilst working at home, I do feel my head getting rather full at times. I think that social media plays a large role in this and I am considering taking a break from it for a while, to clear the decks and save that energy for more rewarding things in my life.
The need to ‘fill’. Where does that come from?
I’ve been listening to an audio book by the Dutch adventurer Miriam Lancewood. It’s intriguing to learn how she felt about time and space when she was first in the wilderness. For her it was very daunting. And she got bored. Gradually, she experienced how boredom could be transformed into creativity and acceptance. Over time, she learned how to match the rhythms and pace of the wilderness, becoming more settled in herself and in the environment around her. Her mind was filled with peace, clarity and purpose, rather than worry and scarcity.
Artists often talk about the fear of the ‘blank canvas’ or the uncertainty in how to take a painting forward without 'overdoing it'. I know what this can mean! But, somehow, resisting the urge to hastily fill that emptiness is a vital creative act in itself. In those moments of hesitation, maybe we should just step away from the piece for a while - come back to it with fresh eyes. This is something I've had to do with a painting I started some weeks ago. Perhaps the days, weeks, sometimes months, given between one brushstroke and the next, can be just the thing that's needed: giving time and space for the imagination.
I guess this is our voyage into ‘outer space’…