What does it mean to “make space?” I use this expression often and as I contemplate it, many ideas and understandings unfold for me. Space: I think of this as something that is both within and without. I often say that I “hold space” for people to come home to their self. I can feel the yoga practice literally make space in the nooks and crannies of my body, and in doing so, feel that there is greater availability for breath, emotion, and thought to move in a more spacious container. I’ve been tightly snuggled into the small space of our original yoga studio for more than 10 years and now feel the wide spacious expansion of having grown into the whole building. Walking into the Mellow building now, I sense that I can breathe more fully and wonder if students, too, will feel this as they enter. Space is so often something I’ve struggled to make for myself in the world–a sense of a place where I belong fully, where I can be vulnerable and real and still accepted. Space to be as I am and to allow others to come and be as they are.
I came to intimately know this need for a space to be exactly as I was over the summer while struggling to hold all of the emotion in my grief-stricken heart. There wasn’t enough space within me for the heaviness of it all, and so I walked with a leaden feeling that I was sure might take me down at any moment. There wasn’t a physical space I felt I could go to either–not wanting to ask for anyone else to bear the burden of my grief, I stayed away from the studios, my beloved homes away from home. Truly, these spaces of yoga have always felt like the kind of container where I could come with all of myself, show up completely, and hold space for others to come and lay down their own burdens for long enough that they might exhale into the space, find room inside themselves to open up and receive breath, compassion, and unity. But I think pride had me mostly showing up with the strongest parts of myself, as if building some space was entirely up to me.
Community is important to me–the kind of community that doesn’t ask of anyone to conform in any way to another but to come together in separateness to discover where our likenesses intersects. Over the years, I have watched and felt as that kind of space has unfolded in not one, but three locations we call Jala Yoga. Somehow, though, I didn’t think this was the space for me when my heart was most wounded. Maybe for a little while it just wasn’t. When I finally allowed myself to reenter the studios as a wounded and grieving teacher, what I discovered felt like nothing short of a miracle. The space I thought I had to hold for others was holding me. In my contracted state of grieving, I was able to expand into vulnerability and allow myself to be held by the community of practitioners literally filling a space with generous and tireless love, so that I was able to come back to myself more fully with room to be exactly as I was at that time. The space around my heart expanded; leaden grief started to let go just a bit. The space outside of me had literally become a living organism made of the incredible compassionate love of all of the community members–teachers and students alike–who have created the feeling of unity and connection that fills this space.
In re-imagining the space of Jala Yoga, now called “A Space for CommUNITY, A Space for You,” I spent much time contemplating with some trusted companions what Jala has grown into over the years and what I envision it evolving toward. The idea of “space,” something we make within ourselves and something that is held in a physical arena, kept coming to me as an image in which every unique visible person was somehow linked together, unified by one great system of love, not visible but deeply felt beneath the surface. This image for me is much like that of a great “trembling giant” called Pando, a colony of aspen in Utah, separate only above the surface, but connected by one great root system beneath. In her book Searching for Sunday, I read of Rachel Held Evans’ description of this great system. She writes, “One of the oldest living things in the world is a clonal colony of quaking aspen in Fish Lake, Utah, called Pando. Estimated to be around eighty thousand years old…Pando is a favorite October entry for wall calendars, as no photographer can resist those stark white trunks and shimmering golden leaves set against the shocking sapphire of a cloudless autumn sky. But Pando can be deceptive, for as aritst Rachel Sussman puts it, ‘what looks like a forest is, in a sense, a single tree.’ In truth, Pando comprises a massive underground root system and each of its forty-seven thousand trees are but stems springing from that system, making Pando one enormous, genetically identical organism…nicknamed the Trembling Giant.” Evans goes on to to use this as a metaphor for the many separate but intimately linked and woven branches of Christianity. But I think the metaphor applies to every imagination I have for this space and people of Jala Yoga. Above the surface, we bring our separateness perhaps–the wounds and joys and life stories mapping themselves out as separate and perhaps even divisive lines on our unique faces. Down below, though, perhaps all that is separate is melded together, refined away into some incredibly connective grace that is the deepest unity of all. As Evans writes, “when we check our pride long enough to pay attention…we catch glimpses of a [love] that defies our categories and expectations.” This is certainly what happened for me. When I checked my pride long enough–a pride that had me believing that somehow I had to be the “strong” one holding space for others–I caught quite more than just a glimpse of this kind of love that unified me with the deep root system of an incredibly supportive community.
I imagine we need this kind of understanding of space more than ever. I know I do. A space where there can be challenging feelings and light breezy ones, too. A space where we can discover just how linked we all are and not turn our faces away from each other out of fear or shame. William James wrote, “Our lives are like islands in the sea or like trees in a forest. The maple and the pine may whisper to each other with their leaves…But the trees also commingle their roots in the darkness underground, and the islands also hang together through the oceans’ bottom. Just so, there is a continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a mother-sea or reservoir.” I envision that Jala Yoga has already evolved into this in many ways, and imagine that it will continue to do so as we discover more and more that there is enough space within ourselves to hold both our individuality and the great unified likeness that ever is. As Evans writes, “Our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace. We are both a forest and a single tree–one big Trembling Giant, stirred by an invisible breeze.”