The Gift of Space

Ajahn Yatiko • September 2012

It’s a challenge to encourage people to grow in Dhamma. It’s not a matter of simply telling people what to do or asking people to conform to a set of rules. We have to encourage and inspire people to dig deep within themselves to respond to situations in ways that are skillful. That often involves going against the grain. It’s tempting to tell people what to do and to lay down a rule, but that’s not the point.

If we see anger arise in other people, one way to quell the anger is to get really angry back and basically squash them with our words. That may shut them up, but there isn’t much—if any—Dhamma present in that response. Another method is to manipulate them into stopping their anger by using subtle, temporary tactics, but that also doesn’t help them grow in Dhamma. What helps is meeting their negative energy with space and loving acceptance. If we give them the space to reflect on their own anger, they might realize that anger is a form of suffering.

Sometimes we give space but sense that no investigation has come from it. If we give people space and they don’t investigate their anger and irritation, there’s nothing we can do about that. There’s no guarantee that giving space to negative energy will resolve the situation, but it does give the other person the chance to work with it. And if we don’t give space, if we respond to negativity with negativity, it’s almost a guarantee that nothing profound will take place. Giving space is one of the best things we can do for people. It’s noble. We don’t condone what they’re doing at the moment, but by giving them space, we encourage them to grow and gain insight into their own mental processes.

So this is a gift that we can give to others, a gift that others can give to us, and a gift we can give to ourselves as well. Whenever we receive this noble gift, we should use it as much as possible to lovingly look into the mind and see what actions cause suffering for ourselves and suffering for others.