Hi there. My Japanese readers might understand this headline, but those elsewhere who aren’t into design or finding their Zen probably think this post is about Mother’s Day. It’s not😊. But Happy Mother’s Day to those of you in the States who are soon to celebrate! Let the family spoil you this weekend.
Stick with me and you’ll soon know what ma is—and why I think we’re all steeped in it right now.
Isn’t it funny how we are creatures of habit? We humans get our brains and bodies trained in a groove and we just want it to continue. So we know what to expect. So we can plan ahead. So things are “normal.”
Right now, when things are still anything but normal during the pandemic, many people are chomping at the bit to return to life as they knew it, their habits, their routines.
And you know where I fall on the spectrum there, based on my previous blogs. I am all for social distancing to help protect us collectively. I think this is a “we” moment, not a “me” moment.
Today, it was brought home to me just how much we go on autopilot sometimes. My youngest and I were masking up to head to our local bike store so he could choose a bike that fit his growing frame. (And yes—they only allowed us in the store. No other customers simultaneously. And yes—we were all masked.) I told him to text his brother to see if he could meet us there with his truck, so he could get the bike home for us.
He did so, only to receive this reply: “Hmmm . . . if only there were a way to move a bike . . . like a pedal system.” Texted in true Big Bro fashion, dripping with sarcasm but causing us to burst out in peals of laughter. Book nerds that we are—and also as two people used to being short on time with somewhere else to go—we hadn’t even considered him actually RIDING the bike home. A solution fit for purpose, no? Especially during a quarantine in which there really isn’t anywhere else to go.
We are still so programmed for our previous life—pre-pandemic—that we just weren’t thinking.
And now you can guess where I’m headed. Here we go.
Stressful events that change our lives significantly are never fun. I became a bit of a specialist in these about a decade ago when my marriage ended, my parents died, my sister had cancer . . . I won’t go on. I really wanted things back to normal—and fast. But normal was gone. And as I look back, while “normal” had its high points, it really wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.
I was not in my “old life” but not quite in my “new life” yet either, at the time. The Japanese have a word for this: ma. It means the space in between. In design, it could mean the space between two structural parts. And in life, it means not things, but the space in between them. Look at the image that comes with this blog. Do you see two faces? An urn? Or do you see the play of contrast and space?
I believe we’re all in ma right now. It’s just not all of us are comfortable with it.
I see all of these people who have decided their foray into civil disobedience will be protesting that they can’t get their hair colored or that they can’t have a party. They’re holding up horrific signs that say things like: “Sacrifice the weak. Open up Tennessee.” And I’ll not elaborate on my opinions there because you can guess them. I’m not handing them a crying towel, that’s for sure.
Ma requires us to sit in a space that is not filled with all of our old comforts. And I have little patience with those who immediately jump up, unable to sit with whatever comes up inside of them. Sometimes ma helps us decide what we are. But first, it usually helps us decide what we are not—generally because we realize what we can live without, what doesn’t work for us, what was just filling a void instead of moving us to the next level of our life. Ma points to the ersatz corners of our life, and gives us a chance–if we sit with the discomfort–to choose something more genuine, more fulfilling.
Ma could be a huge blessing. I don’t know about you, but my life is usually pretty hectic. I often joke that I don’t feel I have time to brush my hair. I’m still very busy with work, but much of the noise in life has lessened. I’m not rushing to be 50 different places at the same time. I’m tuning out the non-essentials. And that leaves me room for–??? Something else. Something better than those non-essentials. Something with more light, more ease, more gravitas—pick your passion.
I am not comparing my very personal trials and tribulations a decade ago to a pandemic. But perhaps my life experience being “in between” has helped me see that if you are very wise and dig for the good at the heart of you, ma can be transformative in a really beautiful way.
Maybe we don’t need to go back to our weekend shopping habit or the friends whose values have proven to be so very different than ours. Maybe reading a good book would feed our soul in a way mindless TV doesn’t. Maybe the flurry of activity every weekend is masking something we just don’t want to face. Or maybe it’s as simple as putting down our electronic devices to have more real conversations.
There’s a lot of good in occasional asceticism. And this is coming from a woman who’s an admitted hedonist (read: good craft cocktails, good parties, good food, good sheets, good shoes—oh, I could go on but I won’t). It’s only when we pare back what we think we need—or it’s taken from us—that we have the opportunity to determine the essential, joy-bearing gifts in life from whatever we were filling life with because it was easy/there/popular/fill in the blank.
So I’m choosing to celebrate ma. I’m enjoying small moments as I can and preparing for the next chapter, whenever it arrives. I am just brave enough to face ma without flinching—and believe me, that is hard-earned. But maybe this is your inauguration into it. Take it from me—embrace it. Put your little ‘ole arms around ma and welcome it into your life.
It cleans house like nobody’s business. And when it’s done, if you take the time to slow tango with it, you may not recognize yourself. In the very best way.