“When the space element is balanced in us, there is room for life;
whatever arises can be accommodated.”
THE CONSTANT HAMMERING at the construction site every day for the past two months was annoying enough, but when the old busted-up ice cream van would come and park in the middle of it all and blast the most horrible noises, it was more than I could bear.
The tune wasn’t anything I recognized, a cross between John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain, with car horns, whistles and hand claps thrown in, repeating in an infinite loop. And between each repeat, the recorded voice of a woman saying HELLO. Then the tune would start from the beginning again. Of all the noises —the hammers, the nail guns, the power saws, the beeping sounds the big trucks made when they went in reverse, the whistles, the car horns, the hand claps — it was that single spoken HELLO that sent me over the edge.
Of the five elements — earth, air, fire, water, space — space is the most fundamental, for it contains within it all the other elements. Space is everywhere always. Space is all-accommodating. But the thing is, because it’s everywhere always, we rarely notice it. People notice space like fish notice water. Space disappears. So we have to work a little harder to tune in to it, to feel it. Space isn’t as hot as fire, it’s way more subtle than air, and it’s easy to develop a kind of deafness or numbness to its presence, or to believe that it’s not even there.
The shaman learns to harness the five elements, harmonizing with his environment. Through force of ritual he taps into the energies of each element. He feels them, absorbs them, becomes them. He warms his heart with the fire of the sun and becomes the sun. He feels the earth again and again and becomes the earth. He breathes air and he becomes it. He swallows water and is fluid. But what is space? How does he touch it? How does he become it?
When you’re spacious, you let life happen. You’re not so intent on trying to shape it to suit your needs. You’re the one who does the bending. You rise above the particulars of a situation. Things happen, and you accommodate them. When you’re spacious, you expand. There’s always plenty of room.
When you’re not spacious, you pound on the horn as soon as the light turns green and not one millisecond later, or you pull out a smartphone at every red light to cram something into that moment. You’re quick to assume every comment is an insult. You become every bump in the road.
Easier said than done, of course. After a long day at work and a long drive home, the last thing I wanted to see when I turned onto our street was that stupid old busted-up ice cream van. It was parked in the middle of the street, and the driver was selling ice cream to the construction workers, and the street was so packed with machinery I couldn’t squeeze past. If he’d have pulled up another twenty feet he could have parked along the curb. Didn’t he realize how selfish he was being? And that stupid song was blasting on repeat. JOHN JACOB JINGLEHEIMER SCHMIDT TOOT TOOT TOOT — with that damn HELLO between each repeat. I confess, I wasn’t feeling very spacious. I wanted to scream and pound on my horn. But I didn’t.
I just sat back in my seat. I let the whole thing happen and savored the spectacle. It was so ridiculous — the childish van, the childish tune, not a child in sight. Only one middle-aged van driver and four mustachioed construction workers. Who could blame them? Who could blame an exhausted laborer for desiring an icy confection, especially in the middle of Houston on the hottest day of the year? Who could blame an earnest salesman for trying to make a buck?
A weight slipped from my shoulder. I felt space, and I became it. And the construction workers morphed into four smiling children. Hungry for ice cream, I put the car in park.