Breathing Space

This week it got cold enough here in Maryland to have a fire in the fireplace.  The first fire of the season.  Marking a turning toward winter.  And for us, a chance to begin to make good use of the wood from the 100 year old oak that was felled by a sudden storm 18 months ago.  So this first fire was a ritual of sorts.  And also a reminder to me of the importance of creating spaciousness in our lives.


I think for many of us it takes intention to preserve spaciousness--especially over the holidays.   Sometimes we forget what is possible when we leave "breathing space."  A group of physicians I recently worked with called that spaciousness "margin".  Wayne Mueller writing in Sabbath calls it "rest." 

My own contribution to our collective dialogue on the value of spaciousness is the poem "Fire" which popped out of my head and onto my journal page years ago, as I sat in front of a stone fireplace, watching a blazing fire, and reflected on the depth of my struggle with overload, overwork and over-commitment.  Too much of a good thing on all fronts. 

The poem "Fire", dictated to me by my inner voice, has been full of surprises for me. The first is the recognition that it is above all a recipe for building a fire.  A simple, straight-forward set of directions. The second is the many places the poem has seemed to serve--poetry collections, prayer books across a range of spiritual traditions, meditations--and the many places around the world. But the third is the way it continues to help me, and perhaps many of us, through times when we tend to pile on too much in the belief that the world requires us to assemble, and carry, that load.  And the holidays are prime time for that.

And finally, it reminds me, as I write this, that it isn't always something new, something we've not done before, or thought before, or written before, that is needed.  Sometimes it's just taking out what we already have, and offering it.  The simple decorations from last year.  The simple tried and true recipe.  The old familiar Fiesta dishes that were my mothers.  The poem "Fire" itself.   Creating spaciousness by making use of what we already have. 

Wishing you a spacious spirit in the weeks to come!





What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.

So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned

to pile on the logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and absence of the fuel

together, that make fire possible

We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire


simply because the space is there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.

    Judy Brown


(You can find the poem "Fire"  in three of my booksThe Sea Accepts All RiversA Leader's Guide to Reflective Practice and The Art and Spirit of Leadership.