Experiencing The Gap: The Space Between Thoughts

In the most popular sense of the word, Gap is the label of an all American clothes brand with stores worldwide. Over in London, the term “Mind the Gap” is an announcement often heard at its Underground railway system when a train arrives at a station. Passengers are told to look out for and to avoid the significant gap between the train door and the station platform. In economics, “Gap analysis” refers to a business resource assessment tool.

(Photo credit: Alicepopkorn on Flickr)

Of lesser known, is the concept of Gap from a meditative perspective. Spiritual teachers and meditation masters tell us to not only recognise the Gap but Be in It. They recommended that much benefits can be derived when we do this. Admittedly, the Gap is a profound concept, which in its simplicity, not quite as easy to grasp especially if we have not been conscious about it. Yes, it is possible that you have experienced it at one time or another, as you go about your hectic life.

What is The Gap?

The Gap is the silent space between thoughts. It is the space where the mind stands still. No thoughts exist in this space. Hence, it is in the Gap that you can experience present moment awareness. From cultivating present moment awareness, inner wisdom and joy arises.

Can a Gap truly exist?

I had my doubts initially: How can a space be possible if the mind is caught in a constant stream of inner chatter? Thoughts fill your head. They come one after another. Sometimes, they come all at once. Before you have ceased in one thought, another one has already risen. It is a busy mind that all of us have.

Recognizing The Gap: The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

In the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, he says that the space between thoughts probably arise sporadicially. Why we have not been aware about these spaces is because our consciousness had been so mersmerized by experienced and conditioned to identify with form that it does not become aware of inner space. You may be tempted to look for the Gap. However, you will not be able to seek for space; it just arises.

“Discover inner space by creating gaps in the stream of thinking. Without those gaps, your thinking becomes repetitive, uninspired, devoid of any creative spark, which is how it still is for most people on the planet.” — A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle suggests breath meditation to help bring space into our lives. When we become conscious of our own breath, we are absolutely present. Conscious breathing stops the process of thinking. But we are not asleep in this state. We are fully awake. Meditation offers the arising of space consciousness.

Silent Present Moment Awareness by Ajahn Brahm

Ajahn Brahm shared about the Gap during the Happiness Retreat that I attended in Khao Lak, Thailand. He suggested that we develop inner silence, because we can give up the burden of our thoughts. There is much power to Being in the Silence. Only in Silence, can wisdom arise.

“Silence is so much more productive of wisdom and clarity in thinking.” — Quote by Ajahn Brahm in Happiness Through Meditation.

To develop silence is to not have an inner commentary. It is to make observations without judgement. Sometimes, we think we know the world through the inner commentary that goes on in our heads.

“However, it is the inner speech that spins the delusions that cause suffering. Inner speech causes us to be angry with our enemies and to form dangerous attachments to our loved ones. Inner speech causes all of life’s problems. It constructs fear and guilt, anxiety and depression.”
— Ajahn Brahm in Happiness Through Meditation

Thoughts of worry and fear add unnecessary burden to our minds. When we cultivate present moment awareness, there is no space for inner speech. We are completely taken by the Presence of the moment. One way of developing inner silence is to recognise the space between thoughts.

“Attend closely with sharp mindfulness when one thought ends and before another thought begins there! That is silent awareness! It may be momentary at first, but as you recognise the fleeting silence you become accustomed to it. And as you become accustomed to it, the silenced lasts longer. You begin to enjoy the silence, once you found it at last and that is why it grows. But remember, silence is shy. If silence hears you talking about her, she vanishes immediately.”

The Gap For Putting In Your Intention By Deepak Chopra

My first encounter with The Gap was when I read Deepak Chopra’s book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. He talked about the Gap under the Law of Intention and Desire. Deepak shared that intention has an infinite organizing power. “Intention lays the groundwork for the effortless, spontaneous, frictionless flow of pure potentiality seeking expression from the unmanifest to the manifest.”

He then went on to outline the steps for manifesting our desires and getting them fulfilled in 5 steps. Here is the exact excerpt, making up the steps for 1 & 2:

(1) Slip into the gap. This means to center yourself in that silent space between thoughts, to go into the silence – that level of Being which is your essential state.

(2) Establish in that state of Being, release your intentions and desires. When you are actually in the gap, there’s no thought, there’s no intention, but as you come out of the gap at the junction between the gap and a thought, you introduce intention. If you have a series of goals, you can write them down and have your intention focused on them before you go into the gap. If you want a successful career, for example, you go into the gap with that intention, and the intention will already be there as a faint flicker in your awareness. Releasing your intentions and desires in the gap means planting them in the fertile ground of pure potentiality, and expecting them to bloom when the season is right. You do not want to dig up the seeds of your desires to see if they are growing, or get rigidly attached to the way in which they unfold. You simply want to release them.

When I first read Deepak’s book, I had no understanding of the paragraphs mentioned above in getting to the gap. I felt that it was important to learn about The Gap; how else could I place my intention to the Universe?

I set about to investigate for myself if a Gap really existed. Surely, the spiritual teachers knew what they were talking about. Gradually, with an increased awareness while I meditate, I experienced the Gap every now and then. I now realise that there is no way for deeper understanding other than through experiential learning. You need to be watchful when you meditate. When you notice the thought-between-thought space, you follow the steps outlined above by Deepak, to place your intentions. Of course, you also need to have an understanding of his 6 other Spiritual Laws of Success for your manifestations to become a reality.

Growing The Gap

“You don’t need to be concerned with the duration of those gaps. A few seconds is good enough. Gradually, they will lengthen themselves, without any effort on your part. More importantly than their length is to bring them in frequently so that your daily activities and your stream of thinking become interspersed with space.”
— Quote taken from A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

I don’t experience a Gap every time I meditate. I also observed that there are times I have been able to experience longer Gaps than others. My practice now is to be more aware when one should arise and Be in It as long as possible.

I also wouldn’t declare that I’ve gotten wiser from having experienced a space between thoughts. I still consider myself a beginner meditator; having only tasted the beginning fruits of inner bliss from a few of my sessions.

What I can vouch, at least for now, is this: The peace arising from inner space is delightful. There is perfect stillness. I am clear of all thoughts whatsoever. I am free!

I had not thought about writing on this topic but an experience with the Gap came up last week while I was in Thailand. Fresh from listening to Ajahn Brahm’s talks during the retreat, I was aware of one when it happened.

The Gap Experienced

I wanted to be alone. I decided to meditate on the beach on the last afternoon of my meditation retreat in Khao Lak, Thailand. I chose a deck chair, with no one near and under the shade of a huge umbrella. The day was cool; the weather perfect.

It was quiet all around. Except for the sounds of the waves washing the ocean shore. I watched as the waves gave way to white foam, before rippling off and disappearing into the sands. The beach was beautiful and pristine.

I closed my eyes. My mind quietened. Soon I found myself drifting in and out of consciousness. I was aware of the occasional thought that came in. But recalling what I was taught, I simply brought my mind back to the present moment.

In meditation, I watched my breath. In and out. In and out. In and out.

I began to tune into the sounds with the ebb and flow of the tidal waves on the shore. It is almost like having a sense surround system. The sounds echoed loudly in my ears; I experienced the vastness of the ocean with them.

For a while, I became One with the Waves.

And then, it happened.

I had tuned into the sound of a tide that was receding and had expected another sound to overlap or follow suit almost immediately.

Instead, there was a momentary silence.

I held my breath.

Time stood still.

No thoughts – I just waited.

Not for long.

The sound of the next tide came. And it was over.

Inner knowing arose. I had just experienced Space.

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