Zen Thing #5: Put Space Between Things (Day 117)

(photo credit: Swinging friends by Emily Hill on flickr.com. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.)

In thinking about number 5 on the list of Zen Things, I turned to something written by Leo Babauta, the creator of zenhabits.org.

Regarding the “Put space between things” item on the zen things list, he writes: “. . . it’s a way of managing your schedule so that you always have time to complete each task. Don’t schedule things close together — instead, leave room between things on your schedule. . .”

Pretty basic explanation, so why did it make all the hairs stand up on my arms? Why did it make me want to pick up my laptop and throw it across the room?

Here’s something you may not know about me: I am uncomfortable with rules. With being told what to do and being expected to do it, whatever it is. Even if I find the rules or suggestions to make sense in the given situation.

I know that this makes me a little bit crazy and probably not in a good way. But I am who I am.

I don’t know why rules make me want to rebel, but they do. It’s probably why I’m a writer/freelancer and not an employee of somebody else. When given explicit directions, instead of taking them as an attack on my competence, which deep down I always did in an office job situation, I ponder the instructions and create my own plan, which may be exactly like the one I was given but which psychologically feels like I’m in charge of what I do, not somebody else. Sounds ridiculous but it works for me.

What triggered me in Babauta’s explanation were the words, “Don’t schedule.”

Again, not exactly sure why those words provoked me, but am thinking it has to be the directness of what not to do. I haven’t felt bad about the Do this, do that nature of the other items on the Zen Things list, but the positive word, “do,” opens up possibilities and the negative word, “don’t,” shuts down possibilities. You can do something in a way that fits your style, personality, etc. but if you don’t do something there is only one way to not do it, and that is to not do it.


I know. Mental case. But if you tell me “don’t operate this way,” I will hear something closer to “I am in charge of you so follow me or suffer.” The “don’t” will force me to rebel against your wishes, even though I, too, wish that my sanity was a little bit more intact.

I also reacted to the word “schedule.” I’m sensitive to words and what they mean. A schedule is a set timetable, a series of things to be done or events to occur during a specific time period.

Now, I’ll write stuff down about how I’m going to go about my day, but I never call it a schedule. That word makes me feel like somebody blindfolded me, stuffed me in a windowless cell, shut and locked the door, and swallowed the key.

Now I’m beginning to sound like maybe I should be locked up in a room. Something padded.

When it comes down to it, I love the idea of putting space between things.

But for me, it means something more like this: after completing a task or activity, take a few minutes (or hours) to be instead of do. That might mean taking a walk or wandering aimlessly, it may mean lying on the ground with my dog and watching squirrels, it may mean dancing around or listening to music or being completely still. The space is full of possibilities that aren’t “scheduled” and that do not have any defined purpose, other than to be free of rules or jobs or expectations.

That in-between time is when our creative juices flow, when our bodies and mind find equilibrium, when our ego gets a rest. That in-between space replenishes the energy reserves that have been drained during directed work or activity.

[This is the fifth post in a short series about Zen Things. If you’d like to see the list of Zen Things or read the first post, “Do One Thing At A Time,” click here. If you’d like to read “Do It Slowly and Deliberately,” the second post, click here. If you’d like to read the third post, “Do it Completely,” click here. If you’d like to read the fourth post, “Do Less,” click here.]





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8 thoughts on “Zen Thing #5: Put Space Between Things (Day 117)

  1. I’ve had phases in my life where I felt like I had to literally RUN through my house to get everything done. Thank God those days are over. I also tend to balk to rules, but I do like the idea of leaving space. I guess I’m like a kid with selective hearing – only attending to the bits that make sense.

  2. Thank you Sara. Love your posts. Yes! more being and less doing. We are human beings not human doings. Even A few minutes of unscheduled time can make all the difference!

  3. Odd, how he put it in the negative. “Don’t schedule things close together” could as easily be “Leave spaces between your activities.”
    It’s hard to understand a negative. Tell someone “Don’t Fall” and all they hear is “Fall”.

    I remember someone advising me to pull back from involvement in other’s problems. She said “Don’t worry about other people’s problems.” I wanted to be able to hear that so I changed it to “The people around me take good care of themselves.” That has been useful for me. And also for the people I was attempting to help. 😉

So what do you think?