It can be hard to realize what space each of us takes up. We live in finite spaces, grow accustomed to the shape of our clothes on our bodies, the way we fill a chair, how we sleep (with a cat curled into the side of my face, and one arm under the pillow, fingers clutching at the covers), and the way we move through familiar spaces day after day. This is my kitchen, this is my office, this is my city. There is not much mindfulness here, when you mutter at someone who knocks you on the shoulder by accident, trying to get by, when a wet umbrella that does not belong to you brushes against your thin tights. But then there are moments when our space catches up with us, and we feel especially big or small. In a tai chi workshop a few weeks ago, pushed into the center of a circle, I felt like I was moving wrongly and blushing furiously. In these moments, my space seems too small for me, or more than what I thought I possessed.
Even harder for me to realize is the way I take up space in a conversation. How my opinions fly from my mouth and before I know it, I’ve said something that might be construed as offensive, rude, wrong to have said. Or worse, I don’t realize it at all, and wonder afterward, sometimes much later, if I’d said something hurtful, if my own words, carelessly chosen in a conversation, are as dangerous as the ones I choose so painstakingly when I write. More than once, I’ve wanted to throw a hand over my mouth, hold it there. Speak through it, feel the muffled nothing vibrating against my hand. Realize that speaking is more than it feels like, more than it seemed a moment ago, before I said that.
When I’m talking, it’s easy to get flummoxed, to have to start over, to say, “you know what I mean?” When I don’t know at all what I mean anyway. Recently, I’ve forced myself to stop talking at these moments, simply to regroup, think my thoughts, and then speak. Contemplative speaking – maybe an unconscious result of my meditation practice, maybe its own meditation practice, maybe both. And yet, although it is not natural for me, when I take the time, the results are so gratifying. “Think before you speak,” but really, really think. It’s not easy, not at all, especially in a place where everything moves so fast. To slow myself down in the flesh, to realize the space I fill, is a demanding task, but seeing it through feels like that first moment in spring when you feel the warmth of the sun after a long absence.