Taking Up Space
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Several weeks ago, a dear friend mentioned she was struggling with taking up space.
And it got me thinking:
What exactly does it mean to take up space?
Why are there some of us who feel unable to do so? Why does it feel like some take up more than their fair share?
What does it mean to take up space with your body? With your voice? With your presence? With your stories?
And what IS space? What is behind this word we all seem to understand but have trouble defining? How does our individual understanding of this space influence how we use it?
Yeah, that’s a lot of thinking. Let’s break it down.
So what is space? “Space” is existence. Anything that exists, exists within space. Anything that exists also IS space.
Certain things that hold space (i.e. exist) can be visually perceived: a body, a chair, the earth.
Most of the time, though, space consists of the invisible. Thoughts, atoms, emotions, air…they all take up space in one way or another, but they can’t be seen as you go about your everyday doings. Of course, they still exist. They influence and are influenced by other things that exist.
They are strings in this web we call life. Pull on one thing that you can’t see and it will influence something that you can.
So basically, everything takes up space and everything is space.
A deep thought. Stick with me.
When you “take up space” with your body, your presence, your voice, and/or your stories, you are defining YOU.
You are declaring, “this is me (my body, my perspectives, my emotions, my experiences, my space, my beliefs)”.
You do this by default and unconsciously (taking up space simply by existing) and consciously (through your actions and creations in the world).
Trouble in paradise arises when exploration of this space is denied.
This can happen on an individual level:
One person believes, for whatever reason, that they are not worthy or deserving of space.
For example, when someone feels that their stories aren’t glamorous enough, polished enough, of enough importance, or that they don’t fit within the boundaries of what “should be”, they keep them inside. They shrink down and try to be less noticeable, less of a presence.
A woman who doesn’t speak her mind for fear of appearing unkind or uncaring is trying to take up less space.
A man who doesn’t cry when he is emotionally hurt for fear of being teased or seen as weak is trying to take up less space.
Someone who doesn’t feel or express their sexuality in healthy ways is trying to take up less space.
Someone who constantly pushes away uncomfortable thoughts is trying to take up less space.
Someone who constantly tries to lose weight and cover “flaws” in order to look somehow other than the way she is is trying to take up less space.
A person who doesn’t share* their stories of heartache over caring for an aging mother and vibrant children, or their stories of exhaustion over a soul-crushing job, or their dreams of pursuing a secret hobby, …who pushes on day after day because “this is just the way things are”, is trying to take up less space.
(Sharing doesn’t have to be a public declaration. It means allowing that story to be fully known to someone else OR fully known to just yourself, and letting that story be part of your presence in the world.)
AND / OR
This trouble can also happen on a relational / societal level:
When we deny someone else their space….when someone declares that someone else is not worthy of whatever space they are taking (denying someone’s worthiness to exist, someone’s worthiness to have a voice, etc.).
Racism, sexism, various kinds of discrimination - there are countless examples of this denial of space throughout history (and sadly, in present-day).
Over the years, each of us has formulated beliefs around how much space it is acceptable for us to take up.
Our beliefs form based off our upbringing, our own response to what we are told, and the pressures / lessons of our society.
Men are typically given more space than women. In America (and many other places), those with lighter skin are typically given more space than those with darker skin. Those with money are typically given more space than those without. I could go on.
Remember: space is existence. The more space someone is permitted to have, the more they are given permission to exist. The more space someone feels they are allowed to inhabit, the more they feel free to fully exist.
Let that sink in.
Your definition of space and how much you feel you are permitted to have defines how constricted or free you feel to exist.
Does it make sense now why this concept of taking up space is so important?
How are you feeling as you read this? What thoughts are coming to mind? I encourage you to take just a few minutes to write them down. (Jot it down on a post-it close by if needed.) Your thoughts may be empowering or they may feel uncomfortable. Whatever the case, they are worth remembering, feeling, and understanding.
They are part of your story, your space.
Try answering these prompts:
How much space do you feel that you have? How much are you allowed to say before you feel that you need to be quiet (or before you will be silenced)? How much shape is your body allowed to have before it is too wide / big / filling? How much room do you feel your thoughts (dreams, memories, creative ideas) have to expand before you run into a gremlin that says, “nope - don’t even go there.”?
How much space would you like to have? How much would you like to say - to yourself, to someone else, or out in the world? How much space would you like to be permitted to take up with your body … no, how much space would you like to be encouraged to take up with your body? How much room would you like to have for your imagination, your memories, your creative ideas?
If there are gaps between your responses, here are a few ideas for exploring taking up more space in your everyday life. (These are meant to be fairly easy ones to kickstart your practice. There are many more to explore … but start simple.)
Release your belly. Relax your shoulders and your jaw. Breathe fully into every crevice of your body. Let your physical self fully expand.
Scream. Scream into a pillow, head out into deep woods, find a moment alone in your own home. Open your throat and let it all out.
Sing. If screaming seems a bit much, roll up the windows in your car, find a back road, turn on your favorite song, and start singing at the top of your lungs. Sing in your kitchen. Practice finding your voice in a comfortable and joyful way.
Women in particular, hold your tongue before saying, “I’m sorry”. (You can literally bite down on your tongue.) Take a deep breath, and try replacing it with “thank you”. For example, instead of “I’m sorry I’m running a couple of minutes late”, try “Thank you for being patient with me as I juggle this busy schedule”.
Again, women in particular, uncross your legs while sitting.
Get a pad of post-its. On several, make a tiny sketch or write (in fancy letters) an empowering word or favorite quote. These don’t have to look “good” - they just need to be YOU. Put those post-its all over your home and car. Remind yourself of how you are defining you and your space.
BREATHE. Again and again, fully take air in throughout your body and release it all on the exhale.
Breathe fully. Expand into your space.