The Space Element
Space: it’s a strange and different element. It’s just there. We can’t see it, we can’t touch it, we can’t say how far it extends. We can’t even say what, if anything, it’s made of.
According to Einstein it expands and contracts depending on what velocity we’re moving at, and it gets bent out of shape by the presence of solid matter. That’s all very hard for me to get my brain — conditioned as it is to think in a paltry three dimensions — around. But there is one thing that my deluded mind “knows” about Space, which is that there’s Space that’s “me” and there’s Space that’s “not me.”
Cue Einstein, in one of his less mathematical and more religious moments:
A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe” —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This very basic distinction — or delusion — of there being an inner world and an outer world is so fundamental that we rarely question it. This stage of the Six Element practice gives us an opportunity to question that assumption.
So first of all, as we’re sitting with our eyes closed in meditation, can we feel any sharp division between “me space” and “not-me space”? I’ve noticed that without the “optical delusion” of there being a delineation between inner and outer the body loses its sense of having fixed boundaries. The hands no longer have five fingers, and have become just a mass of interwoven sensations — tingling, warmth, pressure. The whole body becomes a fuzzy ball of energy. That passing car I hear: is the sound inside me or outside? The sound waves are happening in the air outside, but all hearing takes place in the brain, which is inside. The assumptions begin to show cracks.
Anyway, even if the boundaries of my space are fuzzy, I at least still have some space I can claim as my own, right? Well, maybe not. Even when I’m sitting absolutely still I’m moving. The planet is spinning on its axis and revolving around the sun, the whole solar system is swinging around the galactic core, and the galaxy itself is rushing away from every other galaxy at an incomprehensible velocity. So although I think there’s a “me space,” I’m never actually in the same space for two consecutive moments.
Space isn’t really divided into “me space” and “not-me space.” It’s all one space, and it flows through us. Space is just borrowed. We can’t own it. (Note to so-called “self”: try to remember this next time someone steals “your” parking space.)