Lao Tzu’s poetic text ‘Tao Te Ching’ is built around the concept of ‘spaciousness’. One of the example that he uses is that of the space within the pot – we do not actually use the clay of the pot, rather the clay creates a useable space in which we can put what we like. Similar is the case of a house. We do not live in the materials that that the house is constructed with (walls, door etc) but rather we live in the space created by the materials. This spaciousness is what allows for everything in existence to be possible.
Our true self is this birthless, deathless, timeless, limitless, eternal spaciousness. It’s been said that the mind is like a pond. When the concentration is on one object, it is as if one throws a single stone into the water and you observe beautiful rings expanding out from one point on a smooth surface. When there are a multitude of thoughts, it is like many stones hitting the surface of the lake, and ripples are going all over, running into each other, making any sort of clear reflection off the surface of the water impossible. Similarly, when the mind is full of thoughts it is impossible for any deep awareness to manifest, or any deeper reflection about oneself to take place. And this is the way the mind exists most of the time. In that condition, all we can do is attend to one thought before another breaks through, whether we like it or not. Thus, we are continuously forced to deal with the constant agitation of the mind, as if it is pulled by our senses, desires, goals, dreams, attachments, aversions, or attempts to serve the demands of others. In such a situation there is hardly any peace nor can we experience our true self. Not only can multiple demands on our life lead to a sense of stress and overwhelm us physically, but it can also feel unsustainable and hopeless emotionally.
What is often helpful is to seek the larger landscape which can hold one’s experience. A spacious mindfulness practice can benefit a sense of larger perspective, a bigger picture, an openness that often can soothe the mind and calm the heart. And even if the practice does not completely do this every single time, it may do it enough so that we can be present one more moment, one more hour, one more day — to allow the boundless qualities of Life to arise and remind us that a clear mind and open heart are possible even in the most difficult circumstances.
One of the classic images used to express this is a storming bull that is caught in the confines of a very small barn. What happens as the animal rages and bucks against the narrow walls of its prison? Likely, it will both destroy the barn and deeply injure itself. However, place the bull in the space of an open field with no obstacles or boundaries; its energies will surely be vented, and its forces also will also exhaust and calm themselves over time. Our minds and hearts are similar. Placing our minds and hearts within a larger landscape allows whatever to arise to be held with mindfulness. The broader the picture we have of our life, the more space we have to maneuver any difficulties that arise and to tend and care for all of the multiple joys and sorrows that come our way. This kind of spacious open awareness does not repress, deny, or change the experience of the mind. It simply gives the mind room to breathe, relax and come into its fullest potential — to be kind, clear and free and at perfect peace.