July 26, 2018

Necessary Gaps

We all experience ‘gaps’ in our lives; those in between times where we are not forging ahead with a strong sense of direction, where we feel a little lost, where we are in limbo. Gaps present as periods of ‘not-knowing’ large and small: the voids and upset we periodically experience as we move through life. These are the uncomfortable in-between spaces: old habits no longer serve, all momentum is gone, all certainty of what to do next evaporates. It’s like the too-long pause in a conversation—uncomfortable!! The impulse is to fill the gap, either by pushing too hard to get beyond it, or by falling back on what was once comfortable. We live in a culture that values certainty over all else, so there are external as well as internal pressures to move out of this space as quickly as possible.

Anyone familiar with the process of creating understands these ‘gaps’ are where real opportunity lies. Also referred to as ‘liminal spaces’, defined as ‘relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process; a threshold’; the gaps are where secrets are revealed. It is only here where new information can enter, where something that has never existed before, that which is necessary and in alignment with the truth of the moment, can come into being. We are speaking about a form of creative intelligence here. ‘Intelligence’, from the Latin ‘inter’ and ‘legere’, which mean ‘to gather between.’

The formula for creativity I so often refer to supports this. The ‘incubation’ stage is essentially a gap: an easing off from the effortful knowledge acquisition or ‘saturation’ stage so as to allow the subconscious brain to process and make new connections. Our Eureka! moments come to us in gap spaces—on walks, in the shower, when resting or playing. Artists and creators know how to get comfortable with the gaps and times of uncertainty because they know both are essential aspects of creative process.

Famed change theorist William Bridges also sees the Gap, or ‘neutral zone’ as he refers to it, as necessary to any healthy life transition be it personal, collective, or corporate.  The uncertainty is always uncomfortable, but an essential aspect of the process of personal evolution and change. After studying creative process, then encountering his formula which has been informing transitions for the business world for decades, the parallels blew me away. I highly recommend his pivotal book, Transitions, voted one of the 50 all time best in self-help and personal development.

And finally, in Zen Buddhism, the Enso (“Zen circle”) in brush painting is often drawn as an incomplete circle, symbolizing the imperfection that is an essential part of existence.

So let’s all get more comfortable with the gaps that present in our lives, see them as opportunities rather than something to be avoided and filled up, learn what they have to teach us, and allow the magic to happen.

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