I’ve been thinking about the concept of “personal space” lately… How it’s not just a physical thing—how we can also experience personal space in an emotional and mental way, too…. I’ve come to realize how important it is to my well being that I get hefty doses of all three varieties. When I’m getting “enough personal space,” I feel comfortable and at ease.
And when I don’t get enough of it—I feel edgy. Suffocated. Compressed. Panicky.
I’m a tall woman (6’0 to be precise). So, I’ve always been acutely aware of my personal space in the physical sense—especially not having enough of it….My pants and shirts are often too short, and the beds I sleep in—never long enough; cars rarely have enough leg room for me; tables are often too short to cross my legs underneath…. And the list goes on.
I grew up in the middle of the woods in rural NH, where I played in the vast expanse of woods behind our house. I had ample personal space back then….I could run around in every direction—with nothing but birch and pine trees in my path. The forest was dense. But it felt like an endless expanse. I never felt constricted.
Inside my home was another story, though… Sure, the house I lived in with my mom and dad was amply sized…. But, a palace wouldn’t have provided enough space for me to comfortably sit with the tension that hung between my parents most days. Looking back on it now, it’s no wonder I spent most of my time outside in those woods.
When I left home for college, I ended up in NYC, where I continued to live for the next 16 years. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I’d inadvertently swapped one sensorially claustrophobic environment for another—this one bombarding me from the outside.
Around the 14 year mark of living in that city, I remember thinking to myself…
I’m a ball of anxiety—neurotic beyond belief. But, I don’t think this is who I am at my core. I don’t think this is ME…
I saw how I’d become a product of my environment. The city became a part of me because I never gave myself any space from it, and my nervous system just couldn’t take it any longer. I needed to be somewhere where I didn’t hear, see, smell, touch—or sense anyone else. I needed “personal space.” In every sense of the word.
So I moved to Los Angeles.
Yes, I’m aware this might not seem like the anecdote to sensory overload…. But LA seemed like the equivalent of moving back to “the country” at the time.
Reflecting on it now, it makes perfect sense that mindfulness would end up resonating so loudly with me. One of the core elements of the practice is about intentionally creating (and gently holding) emotional and mental space for ourselves.
When I sit down to meditate every day, I’m giving myself the amount of space I need to “be.”
When I sit down to meditate, I’m giving myself the personal space I need to be ME.