Four months ago in May, I began a simple breathing practice that has brought excellent benefits into my life. Each month, I have been blogging about the things that I have learned from my practice and the benefits I have discovered. You can find links to the first three articles at the end of this post.
That Time I Walked Fourteen Miles
Shortly after I began my breathing practice, I suddenly discovered that I had the interest, stamina, and confidence to do long-distance walking. Last month, my longest walk was fourteen miles.
I have kept up my walking practice, and I thought I would be writing to you this month about how I walked eighteen miles or twenty miles.
Instead, I want to write about how I decided to get rid of my couch.
I Need Space
My couch had really been getting on my nerves. Don’t get me wrong. It was a nice couch. It was big, velvety, and it had recliner seats on the two ends.
But it was just so big.
And my living room is kind of small.
And everything felt so crowded and squashed.
My couch was stressing me out, but the idea of getting a new couch really stressed me out, too.
And then one day this summer, I started reading about people who purposefully choose to have very little furniture in their house. In fact, some people practice furniture-free living. You can read about this here: The Health Benefits of Furniture-Free Living.
I suddenly realized, Wait a minute. I could just get rid of my couch AND NOT GET A NEW ONE.
I talked about it with my husband who, it turns out, had actually been inspired recently by the idea of minimalist furniture.
We were definitely intrigued by the idea of getting rid of our couch, but we were reticent. Where would we sit or lie down when we were watching movies? What about company? Wouldn’t it be kind of weird not to have a couch?
We hesitated for a while, but finally we did it.
We got rid of the couch.
And it was great. Our living room suddenly had so much room. I felt like I could think more clearly, and I felt like my creativity flowed much better.
It is not an exaggeration to say that I felt more free and more alive.
My new living room space seemed to reinforce the deep breathing practice I began in May, and it also seemed connected to my walking practice, although I couldn’t exactly say how.
We adapted to our new living room arrangement well.
We brought some big, fluffy pillows into the living room to recline on. My husband made two wooden floor stands, and we often use them to eat on. (We usually eat in the living room.)
I also use them as a stand for my books and coffee when I am reading and typing in the morning.
We had company over shortly after we got rid of our couch. We recently got rid of our dining room table chairs, too, because they were very old, falling apart, and beyond repair. They weren’t really safe for anyone to sit on.
We warned our company ahead of time that we had just gotten rid of our couch and chairs, and it turned out to be no big deal.
It was actually a fun and cozy dinner.
We all sat on the floor on pillows and used various trays, floor stands, and lap desks to put our plates and glasses on. We had great conversations and laughed a lot.
Our conversation wasn’t hindered in any way by our lack of couch and chairs, and because sitting on the floor kind of felt like an adventure, it improved our good humor. I think it is right to say that our newfound living room space created more space to connect with our guests.
Space is Important, Y’all
I have been surprised at how much I like not having a couch, but I probably shouldn’t be. The spaces we are in and the amount and quality of space around us deeply affects us.
This is why Asian cultures have long payed so much careful attention to practices such as Feng Shui which provide principles for arranging our physical spaces in a way that ameliorate our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. (You can read more about this here.)
This is why churches have been so careful about the way they arrange their sacred spaces. The way our sacred spaces allow light, movement, and breathing room often affects our ability to worship and connect with the Divine. (You can read more about this here).
This is one of my Quaker churches I attended growing up.
This is a stained glass window in the chapel in which my spiritual community meets now.
This is why open, green natural spaces can be so healing and therapeutic for human beings. (You can read more about this here.)
This is also why many urban and city planners are beginning to realize the importance of creating sacred, open spaces in cities. Tom Stone, a philanthropist who donates money to developing such spaces writes, “Certain spaces can transform you…certain places are sacred.” (You can read more about this here).
We need space—both literally and figuratively.
This is at an arboretum where I walk.
I realize that the most important thing my breathing practice did was help me rediscover space. This space was, at first, a mental and emotional space. It was the space of giving myself time in the day to sit, be quiet, and take ten deep breaths.
This space calmed my nervous system, helped me to nurture my spirit, and allowed me to be a kind and supportive friend to myself.
In the Quaker tradition, which is my spiritual tradition, the space of quietness is essential for listening to the inner light that each one of us possesses. From a religious perspective, this is the light of God in each of us. For folks who are not religious, this light is the light of our highest selves—our space of creativity, compassion, love, and wisdom.
My breathing practice has given me the space to connect with my light in all its aspects.
This is a nurturing space, and as I created this nurturing space, I was able to listen to my needs more clearly and lovingly.
I realized I needed more space in my life to move. (You can read how I discovered this here.)
I realized I needed more green space. And that is when I decided to start walking outdoors. (You can read how I discovered this here.)
And I realized that I needed more space in my house, and so I got rid of my couch. Currently I am figuring out what other furniture I can get rid of.
In Danger of Losing Space
It just so happens that this semester I am teaching environmental ethics at the college where I teach. My recent adventures in rediscovering space in my life as well as teaching this class have prompted me to think about our natural space.
If we don’t pay attention, we are always in danger of losing our natural spaces. The U.S. Forest Service writes that, “Each day, an estimated 6,000 acres of open space are converted to other uses. Expanding urban and suburban areas often result in a loss of forests, grasslands, and other natural areas. This loss is significant, as open spaces provide many benefits and ecosystem services. From clean water and natural flood control to wildlife habitat and biodiversity to recreation opportunities, there are many diverse benefits derived from open space that we must consider and manage sustainably.”
I took this picture on a walk at the arboretum the other night.
The threat to our environment and green space is real. The President recently signed a bill that would significantly reduce the natural land, forests, and habitats protected in state parks. You can read more about this here. The President also withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, an agreement which provides significant protection for our natural spaces and an agreement which almost every other nation on earth signed. (You can read more about this here.)
Just like we can forget to create space to breath, to listen to ourselves, to move, to exist clutter-free in our house, we can forget the importance of protecting and maintaining our natural spaces. When we lose any of these spaces, it eventually has an extremely detrimental effect on us.
When we lose our personal space of quiet and peace and the space in which we do nothing but be—what Italians call the La Dolce Far Niente (the sweetness of doing nothing)—it can increase stress, overload, lack of creativity, and can lead to burnout.
When we lose our natural spaces, it has a serious detriment on our physical and emotional well-being. In his award-winning book, Last Child in the Woods, journalist Richard Louv argues that the increased amount of time we (and especially children) are spending indoors can lead to what Louv has coined Nature-Deficit Disorder. This can cause problems like anxiety, depression, attention-deficit disorder, and a lack of creativity. (You can read more about this here.)
We cannot live without space. I have realized I cannot live without space.
The Space Destroyers
It is helpful to consider whether or not the same forces that lead to the destruction of personal space lead to the destruction of outdoor space.
The United States is a frenetic, busy, hyper-consuming culture that is much more concerned with what Eric Fromm would call the having mode of existence, rather that the being mode of existence.
As our culture currently stands, we measure our personal worth in terms of the things we possess and the money we make.
It is easy to see how this obsession with things and money erodes all of our space. It pushes us to be too busy, to skimp on rest, to skip vacations, and to work longer hours, to stuff our lives with things. These practices devour our personal space and destroy our peace of mind.
The same mindset pushes us to consume our natural spaces and to drill more, to destroy more forests, to develop more land, to make more money, to buy more things.
We, including me, don’t really seem to get that the destruction of our personal and ecological space has serious long-term consequences. As a student of mine in environmental ethics stated the other day, “If we keep destroying our environment, we will eventually destroy ourselves.”
I agree with him. It is a pretty obvious truth, but it is one I often forget. Perhaps it is one you forget, too.
And there is a corollary to this basic truth: perhaps the more we cherish all kinds of spaces in our life–inner space, home space, environmental space–the more we nourish and empower ourselves to be loving, wise, compassionate, and creative people.
The more I rediscover space in my life through breathing, through walking in nature, through creating new space in my house, the more I value it. I am also more aware of the danger of losing it.
But we don’t have to lose it. We can reclaim space in our own lives through practices like breathing, silence, simplicity, and honoring nature. We can reclaim space publicly by voting for policies and politicians that value being over having and that honor personal and natural spaces.
Other countries are currently doing this. We can, too. (You can read more about this here.)
Space is a gift. Keep breathing, Friend. (Stay tuned for month five of beautiful breathing coming in September.)
Question: What practices have brought more space into your life or have reacquainted you with space? What have you discovered in these spaces?
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You might also like to read this post:
This post describes the beginning of my breathing practice:
 Colleen Long. “The Art of Doing Nothing: Why Italians (but not Americans) Get This One Right.” Psychology Today. March 16, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-happiness-rx/201703/the-art-doing-nothing
 Ferris Jabr. Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. Scientific American. October 15, 2013. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/
 Fiona Hancock. “The Importance of Doing Nothing (and No, You’re Not Too Busy).” Tiny Budda: Simple Wisdom for Complex Lives. https://tinybuddha.com/blog/importance-of-doing-nothing-not-too-busy/
 He discusses these two modes at length in his book To Have or To Be?