Making Space for Presence

This post explores the science of emotions, the research on social aspects of teaching, as well as the work of embodiment and how it can support us in moments of difficulty or overwhelm. At the end you’ll find an offering to create space for empathy & compassion for yourself & others.

Dr. Eve Ekman is a contemplative social scientist and teacher in the field of emotional awareness and burnout prevention.  She defines emotion as “a process that is triggered in 1/25 of a second, lasts only about 30 – 90 seconds, and helps us respond to important challenges.”  Emotions get our attention and remind us of our values.  Being aware of our emotions allows us to acknowledge them without criticism and make wise choices about our role in what comes next.


Community spaces are filled with people, and as such are filled with emotions, as well as lots of triggers!  This is just as true for digital interactive spaces as it is for in-person events.  Whether you’re a leader, participant, student, teacher, parent, child, or all of these and more, spending hours each day in social environments creates an opportunity for emotional exhaustion

Research in education shows that practicing mindful awareness can help decrease burnout and increase an overall sense of well-being.  Because this is true in K-12 learning environments, we can reasonably extend these findings to include a variety of other group settings, such as professional and corporate offices, fitness centers, child care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, and community events – basically, anywhere there are facilitators and participants, anywhere there are people(!)     

Practicing Presence
is the
Seed of Empathy.

Practicing Presence within community requires a certain amount of non-reactivity.  Being able to notice and observe our own emotions allows for a space between what activates us (or triggers us) and our next thought, word, or action. The space allows us to respond skillfully rather than react choicelessly.  It also creates pathways to take care of our own needs in the moment.  This practicing awareness of our emotional process gives us insight into the experience of others, precisely because all of us are human. Happily, that new information we gain inside that moment of presence increases the likelihood that we can, and will, envision ourselves in someone else’s situation. 

These are the seeds of empathy.


Empathy leads to another key aspect of mindful awareness, the active partner of non-judgement:  compassion.  What’s great about compassion is that it’s for everyone, including yourself, and it can really help guide challenging conversations and all manner of interactions. 

Compassion allows us to see our life-partner, who is “letting the housework go” and seemingly choosing to not asking us about our day or our needs, as a beautiful human being who is fatigued and out of resources – not just someone who doesn’t care.  Compassion also allows us to see the student melting down in front of us as another human, just like us, in need of support.   Compassion can even bring us to a new perspective on the behaviors of our co-workers, family and community members, as well as complete strangers (and even people we might classify as the manifestation of enmity and animus – our enemy). 

Everyone is a human being – just like us. This fact is an excellent reminder that, perhaps most amazingly, self-compassion allows us to see our own selves as deserving of gentleness, acceptance, and encouragement, too ~the hallmarks of empathy.  

We experience emotions on a broad spectrum.  There’s a wide range of ways we can know anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and enjoyment.  And knowing that the initial emotional reaction only lasts 30 -90 seconds, it benefits us to wait it out, seeing if it subsides or changes before we say the thing we really want to say (that thing we feel absolutely justified in saying).  The magic in this moment is patience. And one support for practicing patience is to go ahead do something.


Here’s an embodiment practice for that. I call it SPACE because I love talking about, thinking about, and accessing spaciousness as a pathway to loving and being loved.  It’s a way of being present in my body that allows me both to notice and observe my emotions, as well as wait for them to change or subside before I choose my next thought, word, or action.

  • S – settle
  • P – pause
  • A – abide
  • C – center
  • E – expand

Basically, SPACE creates space.  And space allows for compassion. 

First, I settle into my body by feeling my feet and noticing gravity. 
I pause and breathe. 
I abide in the present moment. (Rest.)
I find my center.
And then I expand from there – breathing in and growing my ribcage in all directions. 

By expanding, I’m creating physical space inside my body, bringing about sensations associated with happiness, freedom, and joy.  I’m also creating intangible space between what is said and done, and what is understood and experienced.  No one knows I’m doing this.  I can settle, pause, abide, center, and expand while I am listening to another person speak or while I’m experiencing their actions.  This embodied work allows me to feel grounded and gives me the space to choose what I will say and do, as well as what I will not say and what I won’t do.  



Continue practicing awareness. 
Keep non-reactively observing. 
Carry on with feeling your body and making space. 

If nothing else, the next time you notice a strong emotional reaction, let that be your cue to press and settle into your feet and expand from your center.  The breath will happen.  You will pause and abide, and you just might find yourself and others surrounded by the spaciousness of compassion. 

Your Practice

While you are moving through your unique morning ritual, practicing asana, concentration, or meditation, consider practicing spaciousness:

  • Settle into your body by feeling your feet and noticing gravity
  • Pause and breathe
  • Abide in the present moment
  • Center yourself
  • Expand and grow your spacious heart

Then, take this wisdom with you, out of your practice space and into the world!

(You don’t have to have a ritual that seems fancy or mysterious. Rituals can be practical! You can practice SPACE quite effectively, and beautifully, while you are brushing your teeth or enjoying a shower.)

With Love, Empathy, Compassion, & All Things Spacious


Universal Yogi

Photo by Diego Madrigal on

Photos credits: Photo by Maria Lindsey Content Creator on, Photo by Pixabay on, Photo by Kevin Blanzy on

There’s a Transformation Happening. (Not Just Right Now. Always.)

An Announcement

There’s a transformation happening over here. It was in the works long before this moment (as transformations always are), and I know the pandemic has hastened its arrival. I’m thankful for this. This strange year gave me time. To sit, to feel, to wait, to think; to let go, hold on, cry, decide.

That long pause in the writing was reasonable; the tentative and shaky entrance into Advent, appropriate. Signing my recent posts with “The Universal Yogi,” necessary.

A few months ago I asked a friend and fellow seeker if she’d consider taking over The Catholic Yogi. It was the only way forward I could see, and I could not think of a better person to steward the mission of this online space. She said Yes. With enthusiasm! A few weeks later I texted another friend to share this life-changing news, the only person outside of my immediate family to know, and her response totally surprised me. She said she thought it was amazing that I was taking this “step towards healing.” This was crazy to me – I had no idea I was in need of healing until she said it.

There will be much more to come regarding the transition, which won’t be complete until July or August, 2021. In the meantime, Incarnation!

Photo by ATC Comm Photo on

Being in a Body

The Christian feast of Christmas is a celebration of the birth of divinity in a human body. I love this. What a sweet joy to know our sacredness in this way. I am divine because Jesus Christ is, and so are you. And so is every last one of us. The problem is that I forget this a lot. This is why even though it is always Christmas (God is always coming to us in a body) it’s helpful to celebrate it with intention.

December 25th doesn’t matter, of course. We can intentionally celebrate our embodiment any time we want. Every time we dance, bow, run, cook, build, carve, paint, sweep. Every time we perform surgery or a piano solo. Every time we collect the trash, address an envelop, hit send on an email, fill out a form. Every time we bring our attention to the sacredness of our being here, now, as part of the whole environment that surrounds us, it’s a chance to celebrate Christmas.

For Practice

The next time you decide to celebrate the sacredness of your humanity, try any of these suggestions for practicing embodiment:

  • Stand close to someone side by side and notice the energy of your own body. Then notice the energy of their body. If you like, hover your open hands close to each other without touching. If no energetic sensation is noticeable, each person can rub their own hands together vigorously creating some heat and then experiment again. My kids love this.
  • Do something that will truly help someone else (cook dinner and drop it off, spend and share time connecting on the phone, through text, zoom, or in person?). Notice how it feels in your body to do all that is involved.
  • Teach someone else how to do something for themselves (knit, bake, start the laundry, write a poem, practice yoga?). Notice how your body feels when teaching, listening, and learning.
  • Rest quietly and feel your breath coming in and going out. Let your hands rest on your body where the movement of your breath is the most obvious.
  • Think of something you do and then do it as a celebration of embodiment(!)

Practicing embodiment can feel like a transformation, like an “Oh! This is what it feels like to be alive. But transformation is a tricky word. Sometimes I think I actually mean an uncovering of what was always there, of what was becoming, what was waiting to be born, waiting to crack through the shell or to split open the chrysalis.

Wishing you many moments, happy or something else, of noticing that you are alive, being in a body. And not just today, but all the days. There’s a way of thinking of God as the Eternal Now, or, one of my absolute favorites, The Everlasting Instant. Implicit in these names is the concept of always. They scoop up every moment that ever was and every moment that ever will be and places them here, now.

Keep transforming,
Keep uncovering,


The Universal Yogi

For further reading, visit the Center for Christogenesis and the article by Diarmuid O’Murchu, Incarnation as Embodiment of Spirit.