Whenever there is any grasping or aversion towards something, indeed whenever any hindrances are present, the mind is, to some degree or other, in a contracted state. It has, so to speak, been sucked in to some perception, some object of consciousness, has shrunk and tightened around it. Generally we experience this contraction in the mind as an unpleasant state of suffering. We can notice this contraction, this constriction of the mental space, in relation to both internal and external phenomena. It will be evident, for instance, with regard to some unpleasant sensation in the body, like tiredness, or a difficult emotion, such as fear. And we may also detect it sometimes in social situations, if a certain relationship is charged.
The clinging mind contracts around some experience, and then, because the mind space is shrunken, the object of that grasping or aversion takes up proportionately more of the space in the mind. It thus seems somehow larger, and also more solid – its size and seeming solidity both corresponding to the degree of contraction in the mind. With the object appearing then bigger and more solid, and the experience of contraction being painful to some degree, the mind without insight in that moment will usually react unskilfully. It will unconsciously try to escape the situation by increasing the grasping or aversion, in a way that only keeps it stuck or even makes things worse. For unfortunately this further grasping keeps the mind space contracted, or contracts it even more. This makes the issue, the perception, still larger and more solid, setting up a vicious circle in which the mind is trapped.
It can be very helpful, when the awareness is unwisely sucked in in this way, to pay attention deliberately to a sense of space. This can be done in a number of ways: by opening the awareness to the totality of sounds that are coming and going; by opening up the field of vision; by intentionally noticing the space around and between objects, and the space in any room or situation. Noticing space opens up the perception, and can begin to dissolve the vicious circle. Even attention to external physical space can help to open and ease the constriction of the mind, and can create a sense of space around an internal experience such as bodily discomfort or a difficult emotion.
Space is not emptiness, and emptiness is not a space of any kind. Rather, our investigation here is simply into how the mind gives solidity to experience and fabricates sufferings through the very ways we relate to, see, and conceive of things. We gradually learn to untangle the tangle of suffering. And again, like all deliberate shifts in the way of looking, the more we do it, the more accessible it becomes. The more we practice inclining the mind to notice space, the easier it becomes to actually open up some space in the perception and experience some relief.
Rob Burbea (1965-2020) was a medication teacher and author. Excerpt above from the book 'Seeing That Frees'.