Spaciousness vs. cramming in as much as possible
“I don’t wish you all sort of gifts.
I just wish you what most people don’t have:
I wish you the time to be happy and to laugh
and if you use it wisely, you can make something out of it. [...]" – Elli Michler
One of my burnout prevention "coaches" has been my grandmother, she never studied psychology, but she had something that is not so common: common sense. Years back as a birthday present I asked her if she could pay for a German course (I know, what was I thinking!). I would rush from my full morning schedule to my German class and then back to an afternoon packed with work. When my grandma found out about it, she told me: "I will not pay for your next course, it's not healthy to skip lunch". Back then it wasn't quite clear to me why she would have an issue with my busy timetable.
Over the years one of the most important changes that positively influenced my daily life, at work and beyond, was to stop squeezing appointments back to back. Recently I learned that there is a Japanese word for this, yutori, which means spaciousness, and here's how I came across this concept from the American-Palestinian poet Naomi Shihab Nye:
a girl [...] wrote me a note in Yokohama on the day that I was leaving her school [...]. She said, “Well, here in Japan, we have a concept called ‘yutori,’ and it is spaciousness. It’s a kind of living with spaciousness. For example, it’s leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you’re going to arrive early, so when you get there, you have time to look around.
So my grandma intuitively knew about yutori even though she was from Naples, not from Kyoto. Leaving time and space to land somewhere, to arrive and be present with presence, not stressed and out of breath. Not something that our cultures encourages. Take work for example, once I was due to run a series of burnout prevention courses in a politically charged and potentially violent place. The organisation that hired me scheduled my week like this:
Saturday: fly from Europe, arrival at midnight
Sunday: Pick up at 6am from the hotel drive to course location (2-hour drive plus military checkpoint). Start day 1 of the course
Monday: Full day course
Tuesday: Half day course. Travel back to capital city (again going through highly stressful military checkpoint)
Wednesday: Pick up at 6am from the hotel and drive to course location (2 hour drive plus military checkpoint). Full day course
Thursday: Full day course. Drive back to capital city (2 hour drive plus military checkpoint).
Friday: Fly back to Europe
I'm sure this sounds familiar and you may even be saying: "Sure, how else would you do it?!" Often we land in a place physically, but not mentally or emotionally. The idea that cramming in as much as possible equals effectiveness seems to me a flawed, western concept, a desperate attempt to prove that we are not wasting time, money and resources. Seeing the effect of operating in such a way made me understand what I couldn't comprehend when I signed up for my German course years before: that we need spaciousness, we need yutori. This is not about reinforcing a selfish narcissistic culture with its idea of "me time", rather it is about showing up for others with what seems lacking in our way of life: space, time, and presence, because they are part of the process of inner and outer transformation.
So next time someone tries to force a ridiculous superman/wonderwoman schedule on you, remember the lesson from my grandma, remember about yutori, and give yourself - and others - some space. Because space is like that pause in between words, it's like a moment of silence. It's essential.