The Gift of Giving Space

Ajahn Yatiko

The Gift of Giving Space

It’s a challenge to encourage people to grow in Dhamma. It’s not easy because it’s not a matter of simply telling people what to do or asking people to conform to a set of rules. You 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.

For example, if you see anger arise in another person, one way to quell the anger is to get really angry back and basically squash them. That will shut them up. Or, you could convince them using subtle tactics to give up, but that doesn’t help them grow in Dhamma. What helps is meeting that negative energy with space and loving acceptance. You give them the space to reflect on their own anger and, hopefully, they can realize that anger is actually suffering. Sometimes you give space but you sense that no investigation happens. If you give them space and they don’t investigate their anger and irritation, there’s nothing you can do about that. Giving space is noble. There’s no guarantee that giving space to negative energy will resolve the situation, but it gives the other person the chance to work with it.

If you don’t give space, if you respond to negativity with negativity, it’s almost a guarantee that nothing profound will take place. The profound soul-searching that has to take place for a person to overcome their defilements requires a spacious mental state. Giving space is one of the best things we can do for people. We don’t condone everything that they do, think, or say but we encourage them to grow and to gain insight into their own mental processes.

Buddhism is about learning about ourselves, investigating our motives and behavior to see the connection between self-centered, lazy, selfish mental states and suffering. We can only encourage others to do this and give them space. If you lay down the rules really well, like a nicely oiled machine that is really efficient and effective, it might work well, but space may not be there for people to look at their own mind states.

This is a gift that we can give others, and we should also recognize when this gift is offered to us. We should use this gift as much as is possible to lovingly look into our own minds and see what actions cause suffering for ourselves and suffering for others. That’s very important work.