One of the great philosophical questions I’ve always been enamored by is: Why is there something rather than nothing?
It could be otherwise. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist?
This question fills me with wonder and curiosity. And even though I know I’ll never find the answer, I love to meditate on the question. And the first place my mind always goes is to the great big void of space.
And I’m not alone; the writer of Genesis started here too. The first two verses of Genesis tell us:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
This creation story doesn’t tell us why there is something rather than nothing. But it’s clear that the something, came from a formless void.
And according to Sankhya, the ancient philosophical system underpinning both yoga and ayurveda, the world as we know it came into being when purusha (pure consciousness) and prakriti (primal nature) collided. We could call this moment the big bang. According to this cosmology, the moment purusha and prakriti banged into each other, a great energy rolled forth creating everything in the known world.
Again, we find no answers to the question of why there is something rather than nothing. But I get goose bumps and even a little teary eyed when I try to imagine a wind sweeping over the watery void or the big bang of pure consciousness colliding with primal nature. I know I don’t have the science right here, but I have these ancient stories. I have these ancient humans trying to answer big questions about creation and existence.
And when I come alongside these ancient humans and the wonders of their imagining, I stand in awe of the great void from which everything came.
The pancha mahabhuta(s) or the five great elements begin with space. Which makes sense to me because it’s the only element with virtually no material quality. When I think of the space element, I think of a container—the empty space ready to hold something. But in the face of all existence, I realize it’s a container with no edges. The container of space reaches far beyond anything I can conceptualize.
The morning prayers I’ve written for myself begin with this idea. Every morning I reach my arms into the sky and say:
Here I am, standing in the spaciousness of this place. The sacred space that holds all things.
It’s a pretty grand acknowledgment… all things. The sacred space that holds all things.
There are no edges in this prayer. Or at least there are no edges that I can imagine. The element of space is vast. As I try to ponder it, I’m left with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for the great mystery of Being.
When I asked members of the Yoga Church Community Hub what they think of when they think of the space element, one member shared that she thinks of the space between atoms. I loved this response because it’s the opposite of vastness. It’s indescribably small. As I hold the ever expanding space of the universe in relationship with the infinitesimal space between atoms, I’m reminded of the importance of perspective. Can we look in two directions at once? Can we hold two truths at the same time?
I think it’s better when we do. It keeps us from sliding into fundamentalism. What happens when we remember that space is vast and that space is infinitesimal. When we hold both these truths at once, we’re able to more easily hold the absolute and the relative. We can remember the absolute truth of our oneness. And we can remember that on a relative level, the level of our everyday life, oneness is not our experience. When we hold multiple truths at once, we can remember the small action of today. And we can remember the long arc of history.
An open perspective is a gift from the element of space. Spaciousness is the opposite of constriction. Think of the difference between standing under a wide open sky vs a low hanging shelf of smog. Think about the difference between a deep breath and an anxiety attack.
The space element is the beginning. When we take action from the starting point of spaciousness, we move forward with ease and clarity. When we take action from the starting point of constriction, we move forward with attachment and fear. But there’s no reason to have fear in response to this truth. Because space is always and already part of who we are. All we have to do is remember it.
As one of my favorite verses from the Chandogya Upanishad tells us:
As great as the infinite space beyond is the space within the lotus of the heart. Both heaven and earth are contained in that inner space, both fire and air, sun and moon, lightening and stars. Whether we know it in this world or know it not, everything is contained in that inner space.
Space is vast. And space is indescribably small. Spaciousness is within us. Spaciousness is around us. Spaciousness is the container that holds us.
With your next inhale, feel your breath as it fills the space of your nasal cavity and moves down into the space of your lungs. With your next exhale, feel the action of your breath moving out into the space around your body. Space within and space without. Let your attention drop down into the space of your heart. In your mind’s eye, visualize the center point of your inner heart and then let that point begin to expand outward, encompassing your whole body, and then continuing to expand out into the totality of the universe. Rest a moment in this vastness. Your true nature is the vastness of infinite space. Unbounded consciousness. … Continue to hold this wide vision as you let your attention slowly return to the center point of your inner heart. Remember: this inner point is as vast as the totality. You are spacious.
Hear it again: You are spacious.
Say it to yourself and contemplate what it means. Search out the element of space in your daily life. Let spaciousness become your starting point. And whenever you feel the binding quality of constriction squeezing in, pause, reach your arms out into the space around you, and remember, you are spacious.