No, not outer space.
Inner space, actually.
As a Taurus, I’ve always been particularly tuned in to the quality of earthiness.
As a Pitta, I’ve always been very aware of the quality of fire.
Growing up on a major lake made me aware of the quality of water, although it never really played a major role in my life.
When I went to school in Colorado, air became more evident at the higher altitudes.
It wasn’t until I started learning about yoga that ether, or space, was introduced to me as the fifth element.
Space is the container
This element is perhaps the most important and most often overlooked.
Earth, Wind, and Fire, can’t exist without space (and water :)).
In the Taittreya Upanishad, the elements are introduced in this passage:
“From Brahman came space; from space, air; from air, fire; from fire, water; from water, Earth; from earth, plants; from plants, food; and from food, the human body, head, arms, legs, and heart.”
Brahman is another word for God. You can call it anything you want. Whatever you believe is the source is where space came from, according to the yoga tradition.
Space contains all that exists. If there is no container there is nothing. The Earth is the container for everything we know as human beings, our galaxy is the container for life as we know it, and the universe itself is the container for all potential.
Once we define the container, then air can fill it. With oxygen we create fire. Water balances out the fire, and from the combination of air, fire, and water, we get Earth.
Practices for the elements
These elements exist in many different frameworks. In the chakra model, Earth holds the quality of grounding energy and is associated with the legs and feet — the part of the body literally touching and connected to the ground. Water, ever flowing, is associated with the hips and our ability to move. We can’t walk upright without the hip joint! Fire is associated with the metabolic power of the core and governs our willpower to take action. Air is associated with the heart and lungs — we need air to breathe and fuel the functioning of our soul! Space is reserved for the head, the esoteric mind, and our sense of an inner self that is, indeed, infinite.
There are many practices that can influence these different parts of the body and their associated energies.
Walking in nature is a wonderful grounding practice as are standing postures that allow you to embody your feet.
Movement-based practices like Vinyasa flow are wonderful for stimulating the water element, as is swimming.
Twists and crunches are great for the fiery core, not just so that you can look good but also so that you can feel good. Practices that require stability, like weight-lifting (the name power lifting may not be so coincidental, eh?) and balance are great core practices as well.
Singing and breath-based practices (pranayama) are wonderful for the heart, lungs, and throat. Physically, backbends or “heart-openers,” are wonderful metaphoric ways to access more air and cultivate compassionate, open, inviting energy.
Which leaves us with practices that help us access the element of space. These are the practices that appear boring. They are subtle and require doing nothing. These are our meditative practices. Practices of contemplation and reflection. Quiet practices done alone. If you’ve ever gazed upon the Grand Canyon, you understand the awe-inspiring, peaceful power of open space.
The loss of space
It is exactly this element that Western society despises. It is this element that is diminishing from our lives.
From the time man inhabited Earth, the idea of space was intriguing. Invade other civilizations to get more space. Sail to the New World to find new space. Expand to the Western Frontier — and wow, look at all that space!
When we ran out of space, everyone started moving in, but in the wrong direction. People started moving into cities — crowded, high-rise apartment buildings. Our space cramped.
We looked to the sky – the epitome of wide, open space. The gateway to outer space.
We craved more space, and that turned into the need to own more space. We saw the birth of the McMansion. But even that has now started to backfire. It’s not about how much space we own. It’s how we use the space we have. For some, all that space is scary. It’s easy to get lost.
So we crowd the space we do have with lots of stuff. Isn’t it ironic that to organize our space we need more stuff to put the stuff we already have in? We are desperate for more containers to organize the vast space that we already occupy. We are flailing around in space, utterly at a loss for what to do with it all.
We are lost in our own space.
Boring is good
We look to the external world to legitimize our existence. We look to others to tell us what to do. We stare into screens oblivious to the physical space around us and it’s incredible wonder, persuaded instead to signify our emotions and feelings with digital emojis to fill a void.
That void is space. We have all this space, and yet we still feel empty. Like it needs to be filled with things. Really, it just needs some space to be.
Way back when before there were cell phones (I was, indeed, alive during this time, albeit very young), people got bored.
People are always daydreaming in old-time stories. That was a super important activity! That was time to think and reflect and integrate information and ideas.
We don’t give ourselves that space anymore. We give it away to our phones and the voices that scream the loudest on screens.
We have lost our sense of space, and with that we are losing our tenuous grasp on our sense of Self as a society.
The beginning of the end
Not to sound all doomsday, but I think the diminishing of this element is a very bad thing. Without space, there can be no air. Then we choke. That’s really the end right there, but if we were to survive that then…
Without air, there can be no fire. Then we stop digesting.
Without fire, there can be no water. Then we stop moving, we shrivel up, we dry out.
Without water, there can be no Earth. Then we have no home, not that there would be any of around to enjoy it anyway.
Without Earth, there can be no human beings, at least as far as we know. So far, outer space is inhospitable for human life.
There’s nowhere left to go but in.
Please take some time today to make some space for your soul. Do nothing, power off the phone, shut the computer, put down the book. Take a walk, sans cellphone. Look around you. Think. Be. Appreciate. Love.
These very simple practices may be the antidote to your suffering.
May you have plenty of space to explore and may your wanderings be interesting 🙂