A few months ago, I found myself in the middle of a busy gathering. People from all walks of life were congregated into one spot and there was a frenzied buzz in the air. Conversations jostled for space, topics spilled over each other, and voices fought to be heard in ever-ascending decibels. I swiveled this way and that, feeling anxiety rise as I tried to latch on to discussions as they passed me by. Unsuccessful, I only grasped empty space.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. The air flowed in and then flowed out. This was more predictable. In a steady, calming rhythm, it traveled deep towards the tiniest nerve and back out. Fresh air plunged deep inside again and then let itself be expelled into the outer world.
In the act of observing my breath, I felt a space grow. Clashing chattering fell away. The din subsided. The air softened. I opened my eyes.
And that’s when I saw the friendliest smile directed at me. Warm eyes looked at me and tinkled. I smiled back, openly. I went up to him and soon, we were in an easy, effortless conversation. That night, I made a friend.
So much of our world today is about cramming stuff in, whether it’s calls, tweets, or posts. Do more, we are told, and then do some more because it’s not enough. Don’t stop, you’ll miss out, you’ll be left behind. With maniacal insistence, we are prodded into jammed spaces with no breathing room, and expected to dance with as many partners as possible.
No, I say. I will not cram. I will not fill the gap. There is a reason why we pause between an inhalation and an exhalation and then an inhalation again. It is the same reason that, within each blink of the eye, there is a blankness.
We shut both eyes to see the world anew after each blink. Within and between breaths, we get a momentary reprieve from our preconceptions. In this infinitesimally small but real space, we get to receive.
In my experience, it is well worth it to let the gap be. It carries many untold gifts. I found a friend. Who knows what’s in store for you.
Post-script: the title of this blogpost is inspired by the London Underground’s daily instructions at every station, “Mind the gap.” While it refers to the gap between the train and the station platform, I think it is a wonderful reminder to pay attention to the little spaces that allow us to breathe and stay open to receive everything life has to give us.