I was out walking the other morning- incidentally the best possible way to start an early summer's day- and paused at the top of a hill, to both catch my breath and to drink in the still cool air that smelt of dawn. Beneath me was a patchwork of fields, their cultivated rows already blurred by all the growth. And surrounding each field were bands of wildflowers, stripes of merging pinks and yellows and whites, like green paintings in coloured frames. The picture is the product of increasingly common farming practice whereby farmers leave channels of land uncultivated - meadow margins as they are called- to encourage biodiversity. As well as rendering a pretty order to the landscape, it felt reassuringly like nature had been given some breathing space, with room around the edges of everything. And it struck me that we too might need a similar mandate.
I have often thought that the litmus test of whether my life is in balance is how much space I have left ( or have been able to leave) around my commitments. Whether there is any room to pause, to be by unhurried and to daydream, to be spontaneous or to linger. The Japanese apparently have a word for this state of being- Yutori -which is said to mean ‘a sense of ease’. The poet Naomi Shihab Nye said it was described to her by a student once as meaning the state of living with spaciousness. ‘It is leaving enough time to get somewhere,’ her student elaborated, ‘so you know you are going to arrive early, so when you get there you have time to look around.'
The thought alone seems to provoke an exhale.
How often do we live in exact opposition to that? Commitments, even all the good ones, nudged up against each other so tightly that we feel perpetually rushed, looking ahead and plotting the next thing before we have even left the current one. So much to do that we feel in a state of n overwhelm. So busy thinking onwards that we fail to actually be where we already are.
It is hard to carve out time, to leave things undone, to say no, to stop. But our need for some space- especially as we enter the undoubted delight of summer’s silly season- is as great as the natural world’s. Because it is only by carving out tracts of time and leaving a little room around the edges of things, that we, just like nature, might properly thrive.
Words by Nicole Croft. Image by Willow Crossley.
Nicole Croft is a yoga teacher and a writer whose work is dedicated to the art of living well. For both her writing and her teaching she draws on the natural world, Eastern mysticism and Western philosophy to explore how we might seek to live in better balance with the rhythms of nature and of ourselves. She teaches popular weekly classes, both local to where she lives and on Zoom and runs several sell-out retreats a year in beautiful locations.