Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
August 2007 - Volume 07, No. 5
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The Empty Spaces

Just as I was publishing my July Newsletter, I learned that my great website team, Dale and Dean, had suddenly lost their wife and mother, Mary Jo, to a heart attack. It is to them that I dedicate this edition of my Newsletter.

We all have experience of those in-between spaces in nature - that can feel so special. There’s the beach or shoreline - that place where the land meets the water. There’s dusk or dawn, between the day and the night. For two people, with that special space of love between them, to walk the beach at dusk - is triply wonderful!

There’s that place of interface between the water and the air, which it is the true sailor’s art to navigate (or perish). There’s the space between the years - which we celebrate as New Year’s Eve - as other cultures celebrate their annual transitions. For the old Celts, it was Halloween - that “thin space” at their new year, when it was feared the spirits who had passed on had opportunity to come close, and perhaps with still unresolved business to attend with us. Our ‘costumes’ were designed to disguise us or scare them off. It was the Celts who give us the term “thin space” to designate these special (positive and negative) times and places. Another example is the crossroads - which those who have traveled in Europe still find frequently marked by a religious shrine - representing the sacred nature of such a decision point. Such “thin spaces” exist in various forms in all spiritual traditions.

One of the common patterns of life is that oscillating rhythm of fullness and emptiness. The fullness, untempered by a discipline of thankfulness or gratitude, can become an opportunity for lethargy and avarice. It is a primary nature of religion or spiritual practice to cultivate in us the habit of gratitude - as an effective parent teaches the child all about “please and thank you.”

At the other end of this rhythm, the emptiness, untempered by a mature trust in providence and hard work, can become an occasion for despair. It is that of which I speak further now. And I will dare to speak that in each empty space there is, for the discerning, the possibility of blessing.

Frequently what brings individuals and couples to my practice is an experience of loss. In a relationship it can be the loss of joy, or trust, or companionship, or of the relationship itself. Individually, it can be the loss of happiness, of hope, of social place, of a vital function, or a pervasive loss of the meaning of life itself. And, implicit in those who come to me, is a hope (although sometimes very faint) that this “empty space” can be somehow “fixed” - that the psychic pain can find relief.

It is the nature of my work and craft to seek hope for my clients within these empty spaces. If I couldn’t do this, it would be cruel of me to even work with them. And I’ll tell them that. But beyond that, there’s not only hope, there’s a gift implicitly hidden in the empty spaces. That’s what I mean when I speak of them as also places of blessing. I’ll often refer to my office as a place “separate from the rest of the world.” It is itself a “thin space” where the loss or pain or emptiness of the “rest of the world” can become a sacred openness to something other, something new, something deeper and richer, to transformation.

What this means is that all of these “in-between” places are not just empty, but also places of hope, and even of more-than-hope - the source of special gifts and energy for us. Much of the art of life is to open ourselves to this.

But I must also speak of those empty spaces, where there seems no end in sight. Such is the experience of the critically depressed, or suicidal, of those who have lost a deeply loved one, or of the soldier in battle, where all that exists is an ongoing perpetuation of the very bowels of hell. In such places it is often only the heroic and purposeful depth of our humanity that allows us to continue standing.

Or, perhaps it’s the knowledge that somebody else truly cares.

Pay Attention!

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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