Novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco said (as quoted on The Writer’s Almanac by Garrison Keillor) noted that atoms are mostly space. He pointed out one of my favorite and fascinating facts. If you could somehow remove all the space in atoms, the universe would collapse to the size of a bowling ball. What we take to be the world around us, the solid objects, are mostly space.

Eco said, “Our lives are full of interstices. […] I can work in the water closet, in the train. While swimming, I produce a lot of things, especially in the sea. Less so in the bathtub, but there too.”

I am interested in these interstices — these places in between. It seems that we live much of our lives in these in between places, moving from activity to activity, action to action, in breath to out breath. We may be more prone to go to sleep in these transitions. I like the way Eco makes use of these moments for creative process. We can always use them for mindfulness practice.

This notion of space between things reminds me of some folk wisdom I heard recently. You may have seen the following circulating around the Internet. It’s a good image, a good metaphor

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly.mThe pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’ The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed. ‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided,

‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.The sand is everything else—the small stuff. ‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness …

Yet, the jar with the golf balls, pebbles, sand, and beer still contains infinite space, for all practical purposes. What will you put in there? Mindfulness, I might suggest. Only mindfulness of now can fill up this moment. We can put attention into moments and this will fill in the spaces further.

 

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