Sometimes, you don’t know you are preparing yourself. This was not the case when I took a weekend intensive. The class was aiming for being ready to engage in a very intimate conversation. The kind of encounter that can happen at any time and in any place, which goes a lot better the more you have awareness and boundaries. No, I am not going to say what the class was specifically for. You can go take the class yourself. Any class. Pay your teachers.
I want to talk about my personal feelings, observations, and thoughts around one exercise that was part of the class.
The idea was, if I got it right, to practice aware control of occupation of personal space. All the words I tried to find to talk about the end points of personal space came with a lot of connotations. Expansion and contraction. Big and small. Fluff and squeeze. Elaborate and summarize. Occupied and … unoccupied. Whatever the language used, we were invited to try doing one, and then the other, repeated a few times. And to feel and notice ourselves as we were cycling through.
It was really difficult for me to move my sense of space, for lack of any better word, without an outside situation defining how much of me I could bring. I was already in a receptive and humble (for me) headspace by being a student. It was kind of challenging to be asked to make much of myself in a crowded room full of other people being asked to make much of themselves. I can see why the teachers had, at least at one point, part of the class doing the opposite so not everyone was big all at the same time.
There I was, switching back and forth from big to small and back again. Which was a little bit sickening. Maybe if I wasn’t having to remember other times I felt that way, like being polite on mass transit, or trying to get the wait staff to bring me the check, and only did the exercise by pure intent and will power I wouldn’t have gotten so woozy. But I didn’t, and I did.
It was really difficult to get small peacefully and just to be contained. I kept bringing along hyper-vigilance, like I had to keep track of every single other person in the room to make sure I kept out of their way. It was less difficult to be big, but I still could not do it purely by and for myself. I kept looking around for who might need help while I was feeling so empowered, like I could only take up that much space if I was using the space for others. Which will have a ton of people who know me nodding their heads about now. I’ve gotten better with age, but I was someone who was so shy that I didn’t even sign up to be a judge at a beauty pageant because … because. But I would sign up to be a judge’s helper. Ah, past me. Poor thing.
We all talked about it afterward. Almost all of us had complicated experiences. For the group being big had a lot of anger, arrogance, judgement, hubris, drama, etc. Very few people felt it to be a productive and positive place where they could be kind. I was one of the exceptions there although not the only one. I found it to be an even easier mindset to be compassionate and generous, as I felt infinite and infinity divided is still infinite. For the group being small had a lot of again anger, fear, doubt, regression, resentment, trauma, etc. We all, to use the cliché, had baggage.
Which is not something anyone should be blamed for. Of course we are going to be in the habit of having expectations and emotions connected to states of being, because that is how we usually visit those states. I commute 10 times a week. My job can include being a gatekeeper. We all, except the hermits reading this from their cloisters (Hi hermits! Love you!), have to negotiate shared space and personal space. It is, now that I have been made to practice it, to be expected that being small will have a habit of remote demureness from my commute. That I am most often asked to be big when I am defending my workplace in an audit, or a row of seats at a movie theater. I don’t organically have simple experiences with being.
Simplicity can be practiced. I can contract, and then notice what else was invoked so I can choose if I want that involved. If I am on stage with a microphone, I am going to want to bring along charisma and authority. If I am cuddling a crying toddler, I am going to want to bring along stillness and peace. I want it to be my choice; my will.
If you have read this far, please consider trying to get big or get small and see what each invokes in you. Learn yourself in this way. There are likely a huge number of situations where having that awareness, and hopefully skill, can make you a better pagan. A better listener. A better observer. A better celebrant. And in my case, I was able to do something everyone had told me for 20 years should come naturally to me, but never had before.