As first defined by William Davies of LRB, the term reaction economy best fits the lives we all navigate. To quote Davies, “Each of us becomes a junction box in a vast, complex network, receiving, processing, and emitting information in a semiautomatic fashion, and in real-time.”

Reactive Spaces

Davies focused on reactions such as facial expressions, gestures, or emojis, which have become an influential currency of the digital public sphere. Nonetheless, his term describes a reactiveness that has splintered our attention and fragmented our awareness.

Getting through the events that make up our day can drain us, and fending off those who fill our capacity with clutter can be overwhelming. This much we can recognize.

Managing our schedules can become so impossible that it is easier to react to events: we apologize for slights, wing it on calls, and feign preparation at meetings.

Over the past two decades, we have discovered three significant “contexts” and practices—1) Empty space, 2) Prep time, and 3) Fallout —that can enliven your participation in activities and expand possibilities.

This blog will first distinguish Empty space to uncollapse compressed spaces. Empty spaces develop the conditions for Prep time and Fallout that reveal our flow of life. These spaces may seem like additions to your schedule, but they reveal a deeper truth. We require space to show up as co-creators who cultivate the quality, care, and insights to navigate this reaction economy.

So Many Events

Consider the many events we experience in a day. Eating, writing, responding to emails, working out, meetings, researching, reading, meditating, calls, tasks, shopping, Yoga, and traveling to events, to name a few. Notice how these events often run together; by 3 p.m., we are FULL. We lack the space to prepare or recover.

In this process, an “Event” is defined as an “instance” or occasion in which we show up to participate. Any “happening” we choose to attend or engage or any concern we wish to fulfill is an Event.

These instances might include grocery shopping, practices, traveling to work, meetings, calls, lunch, workouts, Yoga, school/study, entertainment, games, etc.

Events take up most of our lives and reveal what we care about. Yet when stacked together, they can become compressed into a stream of stress.

For some events, such as grocery shopping or workouts, we have a set routine that prepares us. We examine cupboards and the fridge to make a list before shopping. We grab our exercise shoes, shorts, and bottled water before heading to the gym.

We arrive at some events prepared and ready to participate, yet we wing it at others.

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Empty Space: for reflecting, remembering, restoring

Much like the compression of time, our information overload and hyper-interconnectivity have compressed space. Personal, professional, downtime, daydreaming, family, and reflective spaces are merged into “on time.” Bells, dings, haptics, notifications, buzzers, emojis, and so forth are akin to Pavlov’s experiments.

We no longer experience sacred spaces to process, prepare, or restore ourselves.

We must develop practices to “decompress the spaces” we’ve been conditioned into by our culture of “speed and urgency.”

1- No Space for Wholeness

Thirty years ago, phones, TVs, and games occupied different spaces. We could focus on a designated activity in a subway, car, park, beach, or bathroom. Today, the phone can access excess connections, information, and consumption to shop, entertain, chat, and work anywhere, anytime, for anything—all at once.

Blurred boundaries confuse our views, communications, structures, and agreements. We careen from one event to another, accumulating unresolved items. We feel drained, uneasy, and anxious.

The impact of compressed space fractures our attention and fragments our awareness. We lack the capacity: to be present to experience our being, to remember our priorities, or recognize our wisdom.

Consider the meaning of mindfulnesssati” (Pali) or “smrti” (Sanskrit) is “bare attention” or “to remember.” Remembering is an underappreciated condition in which life has shattered.

As a practice, dedicated, reflective spaces are necessary to cultivate the capacity for discerning insights and remembering (recenter) our wholeness.

  1. What fills up our space?
  2. How can we bring discoveries of space into our everyday lives?
  3. Which of our practices allows space to loosen our fixed views?

To ponder these questions, I explore reflective spaces and then pausing as a practice to create space.

2- Reflective Space

It is important not to conflate space with time.

Reflective space is empty and taps into our awareness of being to reveal what’s arising. For instance, just scheduling 15 minutes after a tense, mentally draining meeting may not support creativity or reflection. We also need a practice for clearing spaces. We might take a walk to dissolve concerns or restore energy.

Becoming aware of the spaces in our lives involves recognizing what fills our spaces and then understanding how to restore them.

FILLING SPACE

The axiom space abhors a vacuum is truer today than ever. We fill any space on our calendar or in our lives. Our conditioning toward speed, urgency, and productivity cannot stand wasted space or time. Guilt wrenches us back to load up any space with tasks.

Even when we create intentional space, concerns from previous events fill our space with distractions, expectations, and fixations (DEF).

  1. Distractions involve the objects that draw our attention to lose our focus.
  2. Expectations involve anticipating experiences. Whether we know it or not, many of our upsets and disappointments come from unfulfilled expectations.
  3. Fixations involve any attachment, obsessive energy on, or identification with an experience or object. Here, we attempt to hold onto or control something we cannot control.

These items fill our mind with concerns that weigh us down.

Empty space clears our mind of these concerns. When we recognize expectations or attachments, pausing creates the space between our experiences. We can detangle our impulses and let go of and let items be to move freely.

Buddhist teacher and editor Judy Lief speaks of different spaces:

Notice the quality of space within you and around you. Pay attention to the boundaries of your physical body and the space in front, behind, and on each side of you. Also, pay attention to the mental–emotional space that accommodates the comings and goings of sensations, thoughts, moods, and emotional upheavals. Whatever arises on an outer or inner level, notice the space in which both you and your perception rest.

RESTORING SPACE

Our understanding of space is limited and often collapsed or ignored. Recognizing physical, mental, and emotional spaces supports restoration to cultivate wholeness.

  1. Physical space includes forms with clutter that can slow us down. Restoring this space might involve clearing a surface, walking around the house, strolling in nature, walking your dog, or stretching.
  2. Mental space involves self-talk, confusion, or distraction that drains energy. You feel sluggish. Clearing this space might involve silence, turning off visual distractions and sound for a minute, breathing deeply, a short meditation, or drinking water. Journaling your experience or listening to uplifting music can work. You can also access a physical space (above) or focus on a small physical task, such as emptying the dishwasher, watering plants, or washing your face.
  3. Emotional space involves stress that creates exhaustion. Balance might also include accessing a physical space, deep breathing, or meditation. To calm or soothe oneself might involve visualizing a calming image, lighting incense or a scented candle, or pausing to drink calming tea, coffee, cocoa, warm cider, or cool water.

Creating a norm and practice to place space between events to become clear allows us to experience the arising and emergence of being. We experience sensations and receive facts, patterns, meaning, and intentions that offer insights and direction.

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3- Pausing

The experience of “space” can appear in many forms. Our ability to create, recognize, and appreciate space depends on pausing, as follows:

  • Pausing to experience and identify thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.
  • Slowing the rate of interpretation and reactions to calm your mind.
  • Reflecting on your experiences, thoughts, and feelings to uncover wisdom.

Pausing slows our rate of interpretation and reflexive listening. It includes 1) stopping habitual energies, 2) calming the breath, and 3) resting into the moment. Two applications of pausing include pausing before speaking and pausing between events.

Pausing before speaking allows us to experience what was just said and witness our response.

Placing “space in between” any event completes the previous event. We are now ready to enter the next event, clear and restored. If any preoccupations or distractions remain, capture these for later self-reflection.

We can practice creating space multiple times a day:

  • Bringing an extra minute to rising anger can add perspective.
  • Letting go of any agenda as you listen can invite openness and connection.
  • Removing clutter from your bedroom or desk can relax you.
  • Breathing deeply during a tense situation can ground you.
  • Placing 15 minutes between appointments on your calendar can center you.

In addition to these practices to clear space, two constant and sacred spaces—Prep time and Fallout—accompany our flow of life. Together, they reveal a whole view of our actions and activities.

These spaces may seem invisible. We may notice their absence through patterns and signs. Winging it no longer works, quick fixes miss patterns, reacting is counterproductive, missteps are more frequent, or we become oblivious to important cues at a meeting or event.

Cultivating empty space for Prep time and Fallout expands our awareness to support co-creation.

Prep Time: the context for participation

Prep time expands awareness. We tune into our attention and intention: who we are as co-creators and what we are co-creating. It offers a context for participation.

Without the intention rooted in preparation, your participation will be reactive. Prep time offers the space to consider how and why you participate: Why do you care enough to show up, and how do you wish to contribute?

Creating the space for prep time on your calendar supports “designing” your events and involves three levels of reflection: framing, support, and scoping.

1- Framing

Context is critical to our participation. This isn’t always obvious. Framing events as part of our commitment, purpose, or values will support our preparation and participation.

For instance, why did I sign up for a coaching webinar on my calendar? Was this to support a practice, expand learning, develop my professional identity, or connect with other like-minded people?

Remembering the meaning of scheduling any event can impact our participation. Events and activities matter. Why they matter is often lost, and we feel disconnected. Every event on our calendar—even arduous tasks—matters to us somehow. A moment of reflection can discern what matters most.

Some prompts that support framing include: What am I responsible for bringing to the event/meeting? What is my intention for this meeting? What are my expectations? Why was I invited? Which of my values, commitments, or practices might this event support?

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2- Support

In this context, support might include research, material, logistics, practices, details, timelines, and other resources or people. Support ensures we have what is required to frame and scope each event.

Depending on what is required, we may schedule several prep events. For instance, if you are invited to a meeting to manage a new project, you might require budget figures, logistics, and a list of team members and expertise. This would require a few emails before a meeting and some time to crunch numbers and perhaps check in with others.

Support involves space for the following:

  • Research: Investigating, processing, and evaluating material.
  • Resources: Details, information, funds, energy, and additional people.
  • Coordinating action: Collaborating, checking in, and monitoring progress.
  • Practices: Any routine that grounds or centers us.
  • Structures: Any tool, template, platform, or system that organizes information, counts variables, or supports consistent processes, such as managing details, planning, and scheduling. (“Structures” requires its own blog.)

Support is often concealed inside beliefs that we can “do it all ourselves!” This is unnecessary. We attend more meetings than necessary, pressure ourselves, add stress, and become isolated. Be clear about what’s expected before the event or meeting to determine the type of support.

3- Scoping

Scoping ensures that you have the capacity and are aware of your limitations. When practiced, scoping reduces the unnecessary pressure that causes stress. Once we’ve framed an event and considered the support, we can scope out an occasion by placing a series of prep events on the calendar.

Prep events might include allotting time for research or collaboration. It might also be just 15 minutes before the event to breathe, become present, and gather your notes. Using prep events helps scope out projects.

We need to discover our time and space and whether we need to renegotiate any items. Not all time is equal. Some prep events must happen long before a scheduled occasion to absorb ideas, request info, or coordinate action with others. In most cases, some prep time right before an event supports framing the event or centering ourselves.

To be clear, scoping is not a management or strategic-only exercise. Scoping shapes our being. Our actions reveal our care.

Details matter. Our attention to detail speaks to our judgment, credibility, the quality of our performance, and our follow-through on commitments. Moreover, discerning action offers the space to adjust and adapt to change and avoid unnecessary missteps, often costing more time, energy, and resources.

Finally, these three reflections—framing, support, and scoping—may include a single event or multiple events scheduled before your actual occasion (call, meeting, workout, practice, or task). They create a context for your presence, participation, and contribution. Without prep time, our participation is left to chance, not choice.

Once we create space for prep time and enhance our participation, sparks will fly. We’ll see that reflecting on these events and activities also requires a sacred reflective space for Fallout.

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Fallout: the context for possibilities

Although prep time expands the awareness for our participation, fallout recognizes awareness and cultivates insights because of our participation. When we participate, we co-create. This disrupts patterns, invents possibilities, and invites openings.

Fallout is a way to sort out any emergence from our co-creation. It completes our participation and offers a context for possibility. Key to fallout is tuning into the reflective spaces developed earlier.

There is no reason to notice or develop possibility except for it being the genesis of discovery, where ideas, the unpredictable, and innovation emerge.

Creating the space for fallout time involves two levels of reflection: Follow-up and Possibility.

1- Follow-up

Most people understand following up on details or actions as fundamental after all events and activities.

Typically, we follow up on our promises, requests, agreements made, offers to consider, or commitments to clarify. Follow-up may require clarifying the details, logistics, timelines, or other relevant background information.

Finally, following up creates completion. Resolving loose ends and lingering concerns frees our mind to be present and available.

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2- Possibility

This aspect of fallout is often unknown or underappreciated.

Possibility is a special space of emergence where we experience a-ha moments by connecting dots, integrating experiences, and realizing potential. Creating space in your day to reflect on fallout cultivates discovery, acknowledges possibility, and creates completion.

Any emergence or discovery is subtle and arises ONLY because of our participation. For example, somebody mentions a book, you discover a pattern, a connection emerges, and signs or signals point to a special moment that moves you.

In these a-ha moments, you learn something, see something, and connect to something. Remarkably, you would not have even realized these ideas or discoveries if you didn’t have space for fallout. Imagine how much we miss?

Later, reflecting on the event, you recall a book that you purchase, connect with someone that cultivates a future relationship, reflect on an idea that alters your thinking or discover a technique that optimizes a practice.

Not creating the space to reflect on fallout reduces the nature of our being—our discovery and creativity that results from our participation—to simple transactions. This “self-reduction” minimizes our efforts, participation, potential, and possible fulfillment.

Any reflective practice, such as “completing your day” or our grounding practice, will create the space to come back, reflect, remember, and restore wholeness.

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A Way of Being

Empty space, Prep time, and Fallout expand our awareness and deepen insights to enhance participation and expand possibilities. We no longer need to be the victims of the reaction economy.

The recognition and opening of these compressed spaces support seeing and experiencing the action-life-cycle via the impact of prep time and fallout on our lives.

  • Recognizing the natural dynamic of the flow of action reveals a view of wholeness.
  • The experience of prep time and fallout supports our dignity by cultivating quality participation and expanding possibilities in our life.

Our health, vitality, and aliveness are a function of participation. Participation is attractive, even magnetic. Prep time enhances our participation to create connections and invite openings.

Creating space will help “design” your life to consider all your needs, scope out the required action, and arrange the necessary resources. Ultimately, we can appreciate the fullness and wisdom of what is occurring and emerging.

Meta-Note: This blog has three sections: Empty space (1116 words), Prep time (722), and Fallout (387). The focus on empty space reveals its importance. Often concealed or overlooked, empty space discloses much and supports developing quality space for prep time. This blog — as in life — focuses on empty space and prep time. Both require attention as the necessary conditions for the natural emergence of fallout.

Reading Time: 10 min. Digest Time: 13 min.


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Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group, which serves coaches, educators, and learning professionals and executives.

As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, Tony’s work explores the human side of change by bringing wisdom to learning. His focus includes ontological inquiry, Integral meta-theory, and Buddhist psychology to sustain contemplative practice.