Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Good Space is Good ("sacred")

As we move ahead in this week's theme of balancing the formality of religion, which can become barriers, with the informality of spirituality, which can become empty habits,  I want to mention the context of our spiritual experience: physical spaces. 

You probably already know something about how spaces affect you. Florescent offices might make you bored, doctors' offices with their smell and small hallways might make you feel nervous. There is a fairly robust science behind how various shapes, colors, balances, and geometries affect our brain's chemical production, and in turn our emotions. It's called architecture.

Check out this story from OnBeing, for example - there was a measurable difference in patient outcomes from patients who had windows onto trees and patients who had the exact same treatment but who did not have a good view. 

Those of you who know me well know that I've always been bothered by short attention span and hyperactivity. When I was a tutor I taught kids the same tricks that helped me in school and college, and that I still use (I'm using these tricks right now). 

The Advice: 
I'd help the students create spaces that they could pop into every day and compete their work without distraction. So instead of using the kitchen table or the bedroom desk, which you might assume would be a good place to work, I'd force them to work at a table in an otherwise under-used room, like a dining room table or a guest bedroom desk. And they were only allowed to do homework at that space: if they wanted to get a snack or talk on the cell or read comics online, they had to do it in another room. 

I'm still that way. But instead of walling off rooms in my tiny apartment, I use sounds. So if I'm listening to Brahms, I'm editing. If I'm listening to Kanye, I'm writing. When I lose focus and pull towards Buzzfeed or AV Club, I have to pull out the headphones or switch songs.  

And it works. With good habits, I create spaces that do things to my brain, things that make my brain at focusing. But I can make my brain better at a lot of things, and so can you! 

Beautiful Spaces, for example, can help us consider big topics. We teach our brains how to stop thinking about shopping lists and oil changes and consider BIG PICTURE topics. And,  if we are good at doing this and make it a habit, these BIG PICTURE topics become part of our daily lives, just like being more studious or being a better writer became part of my life. 

That was the point of Churches, after all. By creating a very particular space, people who entered the building would be better at appreciating things like God, the lives of saints, mortality, and the oppressive moral and hierarchical rule. 

This was my space for about six months: things to stare at, quiet,
near me, and had a bench to sit on.
But even the most successful church spaces don't work for everyone. And today, I think that fewer and fewer people feel so moved by church spaces. If I played Startrek while listening to Brahms, Brahms would be ruined. Likewise, when un-sacred topics like politics, money, and abuse enter a church building, you have to find another space. 

Please, find your space. It very likely won't be in traditional, "sacred" spaces. But you really must find a space that you can dedicate to having  clear head space, pull yourself out of your daily complaints and gossips, and face yourself, your world, with a sense of distance and reflection. These spaces don't just happen, you have to work for the habits that make good spaces into your space.  

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