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


Just last week I decided the word Unfolding would be my guide. Throughout the next 12 months or so I figured I would discover some wisdom looking through this lens, but I didn’t expect to find so much so soon.

Being & Doing

If you read the clock post (Hurry Up & Rest), you know I’ve been wrestling time and working with control, productivity, and rest for as long as I’ve been a mother (17 years). My perspective began turning a corner by noticing ease and feeling what it feels like to allow. Adding this third practice has given me new eyes.

Ease was something I did, and allowing was something I decided, which also has that sense of doing. But unfolding? This is like allowing times TEN. This isn’t me doing anything. It’s me being undone. And not in a bad, scary way, but in a fascinating, journeying kind of way.

It’s almost like waiting. I’m peeling off the layers of doing and kinda hangin’ back, watching what’s moving where, and who’s doing what, and how things are shaking out. And myself, too; I’m watching how I respond to what’s being revealed, or sometimes what’s being lived in front of me. It is a great work in balancing the being & the doing, the participating & the observing.

So what’s next? Maybe a lot less forcing and a bit more receiving? I don’t know. I’m sort of ready for the moment to come to me rather than always moving into the moment. I’m often saying, Hello, moment. Here I am. I wonder what would happen if I didn’t speak. What would all the moments say to me?

Photo by faaiq ackmerd on

Feeling You

My beautiful and kind teacher often asks us, “How does it feel to be you, right now, in this moment?” I remember the first time I received this inquiry. It was in an iRest Yoga Nidra class, and I was totally snuggled in and supported with bolsters and blankets beneath, beside, and around me. I was so surprised I smiled out loud (not just in my mind) feeling my face move into happiness. What is this sweet thing? Who in the world is asking me what it feels like to be me?

Of course I knew who was guiding our meditation, but this question felt like it was coming from the deep, from somewhere beyond us ~ what does it feel like to be me? Perhaps it’s the moment that is asking me this question, inviting me to see and be seen. Maybe when I’m silent, and allow the moment to speak to me, this is what it offers – an opportunity to see and be seen, which is really to love and be loved.

Photo by Lachlan Ross on

To Explore

There is much to explore here. Choose one of the suggestions below that seems interesting or supportive and try it out. Or, make up your own experiment and let me know how it goes.

  • Unfolding – what does it feel like to allow a moment to unfold in front of you? During simple daily interactions or activities, notice any impulse to intervene, lead, follow, speak, or act. Pause to notice if the impulse fades, and watch what’s happening around you. Decide to act on the impulse, adjust it, or let it pass. Continue to notice what’s happening around you, as well as what sensations are present within you.
  • Feeling You – How does it feel to be you, right now in this moment? Take a few minutes to settle into stillness, breathe deeply, and feel sensations in your body. Instead of thinking about how you feel, experiment with feeling how you feel. Journal or sketch your discoveries.
  • Being & Doing – Choose a block of time (an hour, a half day, a full day, a week) and notice how often you sense that you are engaged in doing, and how often you are engaged in being. Both of these ways of living are necessary and one is not valued over the other. We have to do things in order to live, such as plan, gather food, cook, study, work, and so on. These aren’t only necessary, but can be good and fun! What’s interesting to notice might be how much time we spend being alive, rather than doing life. Being alive might feel like rest or being “in the zone” or “in the flow.” “Being” doesn’t mean you are sitting still on a meditation cushion, though that is certainly one of the choices. In fact, you might not realize you are/were engaged in being until you are not.

Remember there’s no wrong or right way to explore these practices. I encourage you to make it fun. 🙂

Happy Exploring!


The Universal Yogi

Advent Doesn’t Matter.

Yes, I admit it! I could give this post a million different titles, and I choose this one. I’m hoping somebody somewhere wants to read the next line:

Unless it does.

Truly Advent doesn’t matter. And truly it does. It depends.

It’s the circumstances and the details of our lives that decide it. I’ve written about Advent in the past, as have countless others over the centuries, because it’s such a valuable practice. It has a great capacity to hold us, nurture us, remind us, and strengthen us. It gives us guidance and rhythms just like Lent, and my personal favorite, Ordinary Time.

I’m admitting another thing now – I’ve been wanting to write and post for the last five months, and I didn’t . I felt like I couldn’t. I even had ideas and inspiration, notes, and time! And still, nothing. I wanted to write abut my favorite liturgical season and how it wasn’t in any way – by any stretch of the imagination – ordinary. Indeed, it had become extraordinary. And I was keenly aware of this, checking in with the calendar, marking the days – how many do I have left before Advent? How many days…??? And then it was Thanksgiving and I knew my time was up. The kids wanted “the tree!” and “the lights!” And I…I just wanted a little… more… “ordinary time…”. Ya know?

But, since I had discovered the advent wreath and acquired the appropriately colored candles, squished them into the holders with tin foil and found a church sanctioned guide, I stepped into Advent anyway, begrudgingly, unwillingly, miffed that I hadn’t the energy to put as much thought and visual aides into it for the kids as I had in past years. How will they practice if I don’t have a practice-thing set up for them?? I worried. You know, a practice-thing, like something tangible, something they can put their hands on, move around, something that is a touchable representation of how they are readying their hearts for the Christ child. (If you’re a teacher, you’re thinking, or shouting out, “Manipulative! You mean, manipulative!“)

Yes, a manipulative. But I went with memories instead. It’s all I had. So I sat at the table and lit the first candle, forgot to open that church sanctioned book and asked the kids, “Remember when we used to put the stars on the heart? At the old house?”

“Do you mean the ornaments on the tree?” the little one suggested.

“Oh, we’ve done that, too, here at this house, with a poster on our wall under the crucifix. But I was thinking about how we decorated our hearts for Jesus. Every time we did something kind we glued a gold star on the big heart by the kitchen. Remember?” (For your visualization, these are all cut out of 20-year-old-faded construction paper.)

Blank stares.

I patted myself on the back at this point for not dropping into despair about how all my efforts were for not. I comforted myself with the knowledge that seeds had been planted, and started talking with them about love, faith, peace, joy, and how lots of people think of the candles and the weeks of Advent in a variety of ways.

Amid answering questions like “Why purple? Why’s only one pink? What’s Gaudete?” I asked them, “What would you like the theme of this week, the first week, to be?”

In the gap, my husband called out, “Hope. Hope.”

And so it was. We talked about ways we can be hopeful, which is hard, and we came around to creating a bit of positivity. We’re in the house together a lot now and sometimes things get pretty grim, so practicing a positive attitude seemed hopeful.

No need to wonder how it went because I can’t even remember last week. However, this week is Peace and it occurred to me to send two of my bickering children to “The Peace Stairs” and find peacefulness together. (This is one of the many gems I received from our short years in Montessori school.) It was successful.

Personally, I struggled with some pretty difficult emotions the last three days and instead of fighting them, ignoring them, or diving into them, I chose to let them be. Yeah, I gave those emotions some peace from my judgment and shame. I allowed them to be there, and I stopped telling myself I shouldn’t have them. Instead, I acknowledged that these challenging emotions were present, and I spoke these observations out loud to three other people, my husband and two oldest children, who noted that some days feel heavy and some light. There was a great peacefulness in this experience of being seen and seeing others. So, some more success.

I’m not sure, of course, how the rest of the week will play out, or the following weeks either. But it doesn’t matter. The whole aim of liturgical seasons like Lent and Advent is to develop positive habits that continue after the season has ended. There can be a lot of pressure wrapped up in figuring out what one is going to do or not do for times like these, but I’ve thankfully worked in room for transition time and ease and not really caring about what day we start on and when (or if!) we finish. We just keep trying, keeping pressing on, keep practicing. These positive habits are a Life Thing, not an Advent thing.

And beyond all of this, both can be true at the same time – Advent does, and does not matter, which is why I love Ordinary Time so much. We practice these things in ordinary time, too: Hope on Tuesday? Yep! Peace on Thursday night? You know it. Faith, Love, Patience? Wednesday at 4:16pm. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fail, and the failures are successes when we look at then in the right light. So turn on the light!

For Practice

  1. Contemplate what you enjoy or appreciate about Advent, and also what you don’t.
  2. Create your own Advent practices that resonate with your truest self or express your inner light – something that you want to stay with you throughout the year.
  3. Drop the stuff that creates negative energy, which might be a particular perspective, not necessarily a tangible thing.
  4. Remember that Advent is here to serve you. You are not here to serve Advent.

Happy Advent-ing!

(Or Not!)

(Or A Little!)


The Universal Yogi