I have this memory of being in a yoga class with a teacher I wish I remembered more clearly. I can't see her face, but I remember her energy and passion in class. She would put us in these deep, powerful hip opening postures and say, "As you breathe in, create space in your hip; as you breathe out, take up that space, rest in that space."
It's taken me a long time to understand what she was saying. At the time, all I could think about was the sensation in my butt: it was loud and bright, and softening into it, resting in it, seemed impossible only because it felt so big I wasn't sure there was room for both of us.
This idea--that there isn't enough room--comes up in my life a lot. I'm big, there is nothing small about me: I have a big body, big feet, a big mouth, and a big voice; I have a big personality, big feelings, a big heart, big anger, big generosity: it's all BIG. My whole life, since I was about 12, people have been telling me to be less, be smaller, to tone it down, quiet down. I'd never attract a man with an attitude so big. I intimidate people with a personality so big. I'm too much, there's too much, there's just not enough room for all of me.
I believed it for a while, and I tried really hard to shrink. I softened my voice, slapped a plastic smile on my face, sublimated the fringes of my bigger, less desirable feelings into more accommodating, agreeable ones, and tried to deny the reality that I wasn't living as my true self. It took a lot of effort, and it cost me a lot.
I don't try so hard to shrink anymore. I'm as big as I need to be, and I'm much more comfortable apologizing for it than trying to be small. The trade off, though, is I'm often concerned that there isn't enough room for me. On the el, at the lunch table, even in the studio, I'm afraid of being squeezed out.
I feel a lot of pressure in my world to accommodate, to create space for others. I identify as a woman, I like (most) people, I'm conciliatory and affectionate, and so I'll make room for you. On top of which, I've been socialized to be a "good girl", to accommodate, to acquiesce; even when it's not easy, my programming encourages me to sacrifice for others. But it bugs me when people assume that. When they're out of room, and so I have to move me and mine, or get squeezed out, in order to accommodate them. I am particularly not a fan of the manspreading. As someone who's on public transit at least once a week, I have dealt with my fair share of dudes and their giant balls taking up space on the train. It bugs me, and I'm not above sitting down beside someone and spreading right back. Once, I moved someone to another seat--he was manspreading into my seat, on his left, and had his gym bag in the seat to his right--with the power of my inhale. I squared my shoulders up to his, and expanded my ribcage with every breath in, and after about five breaths, he got up and moved! Now, it isn't that I wanted the space all to myself, because I didn't. I'm okay to share: but share is important there. He wasn't sharing, and so I felt I had to take what I was owed.
I see this aversion, and anxiety, about space all around me. At the yoga studio, on social media, in line at the ATM or coffee shop: we're, none of us, sure that there are enough resources, that we can get what what we need (more often just want) and so we squeeze into each other's space, we take up too much space, we steal space. At one end of the spectrum is the person who takes up an extra seat for her purse and her fried chicken on the red line during rush hour, or the lurker peering over your shoulder as you get cash at the ATM. At the other end is the person who violates another's autonomy and personhood by using power and force to assault* others.
Right now I feel mired in this anxiety of there not being enough for me. My partner and I are trying to move. This move has been especially difficult: demoralizing, dehumanizing, and incredibly stressful. All of us in the process have been reduced to our roles--the "buyers", the "seller", "listing agent", "buyers' attorney"--and we aren't dealing with each other as people. Each of us is trying to get as much as we can, at the expense of others.
We talk a lot about giving, about taking, but seldom do we talk about sharing. When someone asks me to share space, I am often happy to, and here's the difference: there's a kind of mutual witnessing and acknowledgement of one another in that process. Each of us knows that since we're sharing a resource--money, space, food, education, safety, the surface of the earth--that to be good to someone else is to be good to ourselves. What's yours is mine; mi casa es su casa.
What if, rather than pushing and shoving, rather than feeling threatened by everyone all the time, we were able to view others as a part of us. Even those who seem anathema to all you are, care about and work toward? What if the mere existence of others wasn't quite such a threat to you, to me, to us? What if we didn't have to antagonize, to provoke, to annihilate one another? What if we could all share?
Naive? Maybe. But this is my work, and I think it makes the world an easier place to live. So next time you see me in the studio, don't ask me to move over; ask to share practice space with me. It'll be better for both of us.
*It's easy for us to intellectualize about why people do violent, terrifying, deplorable things. It's just as easy to dismiss them as batshit mad. I don't pretend to understand or explain. But I think it's better for all of us if we do the work to try to see a glimmer of humanity, of something we can relate to, even in those who feel the furthest from who we are. When we rob others of their humanity, we become a little less human.