I am increasingly fascinated by the subject of space. A quick search on my blog has revealed lots of posts on the subject, from one angle or another. From our obsessive need to build walls around us to keep strangers at bay (perhaps those stranger danger messages when we were kids have hit home), to the large collection of electronic devices filling our every spare moment (plus many moments that weren’t spare and didn’t need filling). Sorting through them, it struck me that we seem to have got our attitude to space all upside down. Keep people out. Keep noise in.
I remember a sign that I saw years ago that said “There are no strangers here, only friends we haven’t met.” Everyone starts out as a stranger. Chance conversations in the supermarket queue, or on the bus, can lead to lifelong friendships – or just a momentary smile.
When was the last time you made an attempt to contact the author of a book, or an article, (or a blog!) that you particularly liked? Or complimented a barrista on a particularly good cup of coffee? We have a choice, in getting through the day. We can slide through the water of life making as few ripples as possible, or we can surge through making waves as positively or as negatively as we choose. Someone once told me that his ideal life was to avoid impacting on anyone – because it was a huge responsibility to have an effect on someone’s life. Better to refrain. A no-score win. A blank slate, from start to finish. Ugh!
How much more positive to reach out to people. To smile encouragingly at the parent with a screaming child, and say “Hang in there, you’re doing great! “, or just “Oh, I know that tune!” instead of shuffling your feet and looking away. We all have moments when strangers make us smile, or feel that flash of recognition – that “oh, I’ve been there” moment. But how often do we share them?
Of course, it’s hard to share anything through the noise that permeates our lives. The constant nagging of texts, phone calls and email. The compulsive logging of our lives to facebook. The headphones that protect us from the world we are in and fill our heads with noise. Don’t get me wrong, I love music. I need music. But there is a music to the world that we miss entirely when we walk through it plugged in. The tree outside my study window just played host to a collection of Rosellas with a particularly sweet and melodious call. With headphones on I’d have missed them – the music of their voices and the vivid poetry of their flight.
I think the ability to connect with people arises from a core of stillness and calm that we rarely make space for in our lives these days. We don’t have time to talk to the cashier, because we are making and receiving important phone calls while we buy our bread. Even walking the dog, more and more people are using those precious moments to return phone calls and prepare the next few hours of chaos. Call a friend to organise an impromptu dinner? Can’t do that – we’re booked up 6 weeks in advance!
All this constant contact winds up the springs that power our stress. It’s a deafening barrage of noise that demands our immediate attention and response like a fretful 2 year old. There is no time to complete a sentence or finish a thought. No time to let our minds wander and our spirits regroup.
I don’t want to be permanently plugged in and tuned out. I want breathing space – the ability to take a deep breath, absorb the music of the world and communicate with the people around me. So don’t take offence if I don’t answer my phone or my email straight away. Every electronic stimulus is starting to feel like an electric shock. I’m working on letting people in, and shutting the noise out.