The Reason We Avoid the Space Between

emotions

Photo Credit: EsqLdy (Bigstock)

I’m thirty-eight minutes into a forty-minute workout on the stationary bike, when the program switches to “cool down” mode and the resistance in the pedals fades away. Immediately, without thought or premeditation, I swing my leg over the bike to get off.

But I stop mid-dismount, suddenly aware of what I’m doing.

As I regain my balance, barely avoiding humankind’s first ever face-plant from a stationary bike, I wonder to myself, how long have I been skipping the cool down phase of my workouts?

More importantly, how long have I been skipping the cool down phases in my life?

It’s been eight days since the launch of my first book, and already I’m planning my next two blog posts and at least two brand new projects. I have not allowed myself a cool down phase. I have not allowed any space between what was and what will be.

Sometimes, we treat the finish line of one race like the starting line of the next.

For the next few days, I pay attention, and the truth is, though I have a lot going on, there is plenty of space between in my life. It is everywhere, intertwined through all things. The space between happens at the fuel pump and at the red light, in the line at the supermarket and in the line at the drive-thru. On long straight stretches of interstate and winding country roads. And when the kids are sent to their rooms so I can have a moment of silence.

Indeed, the space between is present in the space of a single breath.

But like the cool down phase on the bike, I skip it. Or more accurately, I fill it up. We all do. These days, we fill up the still, quiet spaces between the hard work of being alive with gigabytes. Data and Wi-Fi. Streaming and tweeting. News and noise. Instead of delving into the space between, we dive into our devices.

We do this for a reason.

As I drive home from the gym, I decide I’m going to give my life a cool down phase. Not a couple of minutes. A whole day. A day of space between the whirlwind of launching Loveable and whatever whirlwind may come next. Quickly, though, I’m reminded of why we compulsively fill up the space between with gigabytes.

Because if we don’t, the space between naturally fills up on its own. With feelings. The space between is sacred and, like all sacred spaces, it is full of our humanity—all of our pain and all of our peace.

As I resist my urge to check email, reply to texts, plan a podcast, check the news, scroll through Facebook, or do the dishes, feelings start to surface. Not just one. Lots of them. So many feelings I don’t know where to start or what to feel, and I’d rather just eat potato chips.

But I don’t dismount this particular stationary place.

Instead, I sit down and list the emotions that I feel. I literally list them. On paper. With a pen. The most dominant feeling is exhaustion. Is exhaustion a feeling? Yes, I can assure you, it is. When I think about what I’ve poured into my blog and my book over the last five years, I feel fatigue everywhere, from the center of my soul to the tips of my toes. And I cry tired tears. It turns out, like so many other emotions, sometimes exhaustion leaves the body through our tear ducts.

For a while, my space between is filled up with fatigue.

Then, gradually, the fatigue gives way to more pleasant feelings. I feel a strange but joyful mixture of relief and wonder, and a thought: “Wow, the dream you dared to dream actually came true.” I feel peace when I think about the people who have told me that Loveable has brought them comfort and clarity and healing. And, in the space between, I feel gratitude. I’m grateful for my people—my wife, my kids, my friends, and the worldwide community of readers who have supported me like family.

Then, I feel fatigued again.

I’m reminded that rest and restoration cannot happen completely in one little space between. Rest has to become a ritual. The space between has to be cherished and protected like the sacred space it is.

There must be a million ways to start protecting our space between. I begin by buying an alarm clock. Because in the space between my lying down and my falling sleep—and in the space between my waking and my rising—it is too tempting to flick through my phone. It needs to say outside of the bedroom, so I can feel what I need to feel during these sacred spaces in my daily rhythm.

May you, too, begin to reclaim the hallowed ground of your space between.

May you feel it.

May you rest.

And may you be restored, to the fullness of your humanity.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Loveable is available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Catherine Waiyaki

    I’ve never thought of that… But it’s so real. Just stopped in between tasks to feel, and I do now feel rejuvenated and ready for the next one with a clear mind….

    • It’s amazing how little space and feeling it takes to get our energy back, isn’t it, Catherine? Good for you!

  • Marie

    This is so true and right on time. I was on vacation last week, in a warm sunny place, and I was able to sit down and read your book. (It was so good!!!!!) It really inspired me to start writing again…to carve out time in the margins of my life for what really matters, instead of just filling up the cracks with junk.

    I also started keeping an art journal. I’m not an artist, but it has been so nourishing to my soul to spend ten or fifteen minutes finding images for what I’m feeling.

    Anyway, once again your words are right on time…meeting me right where I’m at. Thank you for putting yourself out there week after week.

    • Maria, I’m so glad you liked the book! And I LOVE the creativity of an art journal as a way to approach and delve into what you are feeling. Good for you!

  • You have touched a very tender trigger point which holds an enormous amount of exhaustion…and grief…and other avoided feelings-including unfelt joy for Life. Great post

    • Thank you, Carolyn, I’m glad this came when you are ready to attend to those things.

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    Despite the hundreds of ways we scream “Mine!” on things we really have the tiniest claim on, you’ve made a very insightful observation about how easily we relinquish our claim on the kind of time that truly is our own.
    I have a reclamation project to tackle.

    • Wonderful insight, Shel. Possessive of so much, and yet we give our most valuable time away to every marketer and click-baiter on the planet. A reclamation project, indeed.

  • Patricia

    You nailed it with this post! Discovering how to feel and accept our feelings is such a necesssry part of our human condition. I feel most of us struggle with it these days of endless techno bombardment; makes me wonder if people struggled with it be fire

  • Ginny

    Thank you for letting me know what I can do with my down time-I have plenty at this stage in my life… I actually was feeling this morning and surprised at the anger. Instead of pushing it away, I am naming and accepting it and letting myself feel it-something I am learning to do. We’ll see what happens next.

    • Ginny, I find that anger is so often the first thing we feel. If we can’t be present to it, we can’t get around to feeling anything else. Well done.

  • Mike Gates

    Happy Wednesday, Kelly.

    1st off, congratulations on your book. I really enjoyed it. Your post topic today is rather timely. Our daughter is set to graduate high school in May and she has expressed a desire to take some time off before jumping into college. Of course my middle-class midwestern there-isn’t-enough-so-you-gotta-keep-hustling-or-else old ideas are completely opposed. Doesn’t she know life is supposed to be hard; that you have to out-think, out-maneuver and out-perform in order to eke out a miserable existence in an unfriendly universe?

    *Sigh*. I have issues 😛

    So, I’ll talk with her Mom. Maybe, just maybe, the daughter is right. Maybe I don’t have to inflict my issues upon her…At least not anymore than I already have.

    As always, thanks for the different perspective.

    • Lorri Horn

      So hard! Your relationship with her over the years will be so much better if you support instead of fight her though. She will find her way back to college a more educated person and you and she will be related and connected instead of distant even when she’s close. 🙂

      • Good advice, Lorri, and Mike, I admire the heck out of you for letting yourself exist in the uncertainty of this. A good dad is one who knows he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. 😉

    • Joyce Slaughter

      Mike, If I may?

      Please let her take the time off.

      There is enough. More than enough.

      It will be harder for her if she tries to go be something “right now” instead of taking whatever time she needs for whatever she needs it for. I know this to be true. From experience.

      I also know that college will always be there. But time for exploring won’t. Allow the wonder. <3

  • Joyce Slaughter

    This has been a lesson I have been learning this past year, as well. Celebrate the successes, sit in quiet. Be at peace. Just Monday I was hurriedly walking a trail Instagraming image after image when I came across a quiet bench with an amazing view. I took a picture of it and began to walk on. But the quiet voice in my head said “no.” I took out my mala, removed my glasses, and sat on that bench until I lost track of time. In silence. Alone. It was heaven. I want more of that.

    • Joyce, this is a beautiful story. “It was heaven.” Maybe that’s what we ultimately find in the space between.

      • Joyce Slaughter

        I agree.

        Then I wonder why we are so afraid of heaven.

  • Doreen M Vitullo-Matheny

    Time is surely precious and fleeting. I think we have forgotten that we somehow survived before technology introduced all of these devices that seem to consume us. It’s as if we think we think they are some kind of life support system and it is sad. Especially to see how it has affected the next generation. They seriously can’t verbally communicate. I have been blessed with downtime around the same time every year..it just happens in my business and usually I welcome it but this year it felt like a curse that would never end. It has been both painful and enlightening to evaluate what has been happening in my life. Your book really was a big part of getting me through many days. We have to remind ourselves that the inner man needs food, water and space to breathe as much as our visible bodies. That is where we need to come alive first to thrive and it has it’s growing pains as well…

    • Doreen, that is beautifully said. The inner self needs to be nurtured as much as the physical self. I’m so glad Loveable could come alongside you in doing that!

  • Pingback: The Space in Between – marimiilove()

  • Eoin Brennan

    Its funny how when you realize something and then an article on that very realization pops up on your mail………..Im only seeing recently how I keep myself always on the move, bouncing from one thing to the next. So I decided to stop chasing my own tail and not be so busy. Honestly Im a little bit scared of what has come up, I feel like running away from it and never stopping again.

    • Eoin, I know the feeling. It takes a lot of courage not to run from it. It will change your life for the better if you don’t, though. Every time.

  • Brian Shimer

    Kelly. I opened and read this blog in a space. I turned to read. It was a good use of the space. I needed your vulnerability. Your honesty. Your amazing words. Yes I too find when I stop/pause to listen there are all kinds of emotions. Thank you for allowing me into your world again. Thank you for being you! Love you man. Brian

  • A. Julie

    Amen.

    Thank you for sharing this: you’re not alone in this revelation, and have written about it so as to provide a sense, in the reading, of the very in-between space you describe. (My inner phenomenological rejoices at this bit of performative writing; thank you!) My recent realization is similar – how much my focus outside of work has been on productivity. Checking the boxes of getting stuff done. It feels busy and it feels like burnout; I started to tear up in the (work) kitchen, reading you and feeling how heavy everything feels, in the background. Fatigue indeed.

    The phone – understand that too. When overtired, I look there for something I’m not going to find. Sometimes realize it and think, just a little more. Sometimes realize it’s not what I need right then (whether quality content or junk food for the mind) and set it down.

    So, how snazzy is your new alarm clock?

    My attempt to retrain the always-going is to remind myself to pursue joy rather than productivity. Via my to do list. (So I always see it when I’m looking to see what’s to be done… really… but the humor is sooooo not lost.) It is helping me remember, especially in in-between spaces, to slow down, do one thing, and be present to it.

    Which, this lunchtime, means giving my feelings permission to be there, and hopefully finding a little tenderness for them.

    Thank you again for your thoughts and this space.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, too, Julie! This is a wonderful reflection. How snazzy is my new alarm clock? Believe it or not, the darn thing has two ports to charge a phone in. They will have to go unused. 😊

      • A. Julie

        That’s great. My alarm clock is one of those wake-up lights since I struggle to get up in the dark (blast that time change). Pricey and worth it.

        Related: quote from this morning:

        And then there crept a little noiseless noise among the leaves,
        Born of the very sigh that silence heaves.
        – John Keats

  • Beverley Croft

    The space between is a very precious time, but so often we run away from feeling that space and do our utmost to fill it up with other doings. If we use that time letting ourselves feel our feelings, just experience them, note them and let them go, we are getting to gradually know just who we are. Otherwise we have no idea who we are, we are living on automatic reactions. If we connect deeply to that beautiful space, we can come to the point when we realise and deeply know the divinity that we are and truly come from. I must admit that at times I still run away from that space, still fill in with stuff that stops me feeling it. How crazy we are as human beings that we do that. We need these stop moments in our lives, should treasure them, or we will in the end by given a stop by our bodies which may not be so pleasant.

    • This is such a wise observation, Beverley. Our feelings are our best connection to who we are, and our only connection to others. What do we lose then when we don’t feel them, right?

      • Beverley Croft

        The big thing is that we don’t get to know who we are unless we connect deeply to ourselves, feel the deep love we are all when we do, and discover that we are all equally Sons of God. It is huge when one gets to really know that, changes our lives and all our interactions with others when we get to feel the equality that we are in our essence.

  • Erica D.

    This resonates right now as I fill space because I can’t afford the time to feel. This is my daughter’s last 6 weeks of high school and I’m excited, and proud, and afraid. I’ll have a completely empty nest soon and nothing can prepare me for it so I stay busy (with work and her sports), but sometimes the tears come seeping through because I know the busyness will subside and the empty nest will be.

  • Marilyn

    Thank you for these thoughts. One of the benefits of my meditation practice is increased awareness of these spaces and relishing them. Of course, sometimes I fill ’em with inconsequential distractions, but the appeal of rest–especially when in a waiting mode–calls my name. Opportunities to quiet my mind and welcome self-compassion as an antidote to the clamor in my head are welcomed! And, thank you for your talk in Dixon tonight. Hearing the wisdom from you that I’d read in your wonderful book was a treat!

  • Bridget Kaumeheiwa Velasco

    I just started allowing myself to randomly dance or sing when I am alone cooking in the kitchen and the radio music moves me. Im sure it sounds and looks ridiculous, but taking just a few minutes (even though dinner needs to get on the table) to really get out of my head seems pretty therapeutic. At least its fun. Im thinking this could be a way to celebrate that space between you so beautifully describe.

  • JC

    Kelly,

    I sit and fume over how I’m waiting for some new gem from your blog every day. ‘Why can’t that guy just send me something every morning so I have stuff to reflect on’, I think to myself sometimes. Then, finally, I read your stuff, even a day later, and I start thinking. I start researching more into other resources I use to inspire my thinking and as my reflections deepen I end up sitting here in my cubicle trying not to let exhaustion leave my body through my tear ducts. Ugh!

    I still resent that there is pain inside my silence. I still want to avoid it. But, I learned something today. I have been cruel to my children. I didn’t hit them or abuse them in any way, I have even conscientiously made efforts to show love and support them, but I have still been cruel. It struck a major pain point in my heart to realize it. Without going into unnecessary detail I have basically allowed contention to take up residence in my home, being a major culprit for inviting the nasty bugger in and then feeding the little beast. To partially quote Lynn G Robbinson, I have allowed this to “dissociate anger from agency, making [me] believe that [I am a victim] of an emotion that [I] cannot control.” https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1998/04/agency-and-anger?lang=eng

    Thank you for the help to find a path to yet another personal revelation.

  • Heather Dutcher

    Last week I retired from my 30 year career as a CPA. When I was in 9th grade and set myself on that path it never occurred to me to ask God if that is what He wanted me to do with my life. At 43 I started asking and over the next two years I gained clarity to that path. So I fired fear and leap into the space of in between; that space between being a CPA and something else. God has only shown me a path, not my destination so there is still a journey ahead until I reach my something else. I have taken this week though to catch-up on your Untangled posts, to read, to relax – and the whole time i have battled guilt that I have not been more purposeful in fervently marching forward to discover my next pursuit. So thank you Kelly for this blog post, I needed the reminder that soul work can happen in the space between if we give ourselves to it.

    -Heather

  • Meg Lamm

    Hi Kelly!
    I enjoyed this, and so many of your other posts about finding worthiness and acceptance within ourselves…. for it is ok this space that we are ever TRULY sarisfied.

    I am ordering your book, and excited to begin on this part of my journey. I’m wondering if there is a place that I can purchase the companion guide for “Loveable.” I don’t see a link to it when I’m “shopping.” Was this only an option if i pre-ordered? I think the guide accompanied by the book would be extremely beneficial for me. Is there any way you can point me in the direction of how I might go about purchasing it, along with the book?

    I am so appreciative of your willingness to share your stories with the world.

  • mauricienne

    Beautifully said…. So many of us fill every “free” moment with our phones nowadays! For me, I know what I am running from- my problems and questions, which fill my thoughts as soon as I stop “doing”, and then fill me with feelings that I would rather not feel (uncertainty, worry, and loneliness in facing those problems…). So I guard myself by filling my “spaces between” in public and only allowing myself time to think and feel when I am in private and can confront my thoughts and feelings. I think time and place matter for allowing our feelings to bubble to the surface. When those are right, it is much easier to face them squarely and get to the bottom of them. But yes, we MUST face our feelings, allow them to express themselves, and work through them. Our very sanity depends on that!

  • Marie Greaves

    I’m going to buy an alarm clock right now – I have been putting this off for ages because I never seem to have the money but really it’s my Facebook addiction. 🙂

  • Jen

    I recently read a devotion by Walter Brueggemann. He talks about how the voice of God asks us to imagine the possibility of a different reality. He suggests that God asks us, can you imagine? “Not: can you implement it, can you plan it, can you achieve it?–only: can you entrust possibilities to God that go beyond your own capacity for control and fabrication?” (A Way other than Our Own: Devotions for Lent) I think the space inbetween that you talk about is where we do some of our best imagining.