Space: the final frontier. Familiar words if you’re into your sci-fi. That would be my husband, rather than me. In lock-down we’re currently building our compromise muscles. I get to put on Killing Eve. He gets to watch Star Trek — the 1960s version of course.
If you’ve never heard of it (where have you been?), then Star Trek is set in the future (the natural home of sci-fi). Captain James T Kirk is at the helm of the Starship Enterprise, leading his crew around the galaxy, exploring new worlds and discovering new people. Mostly leaving them in better shape. But not always.
I don’t pay attention in every episode. My mind drifts when the set wobbles or the monster is clearly Larry in a latex suit. And during my meanderings I sometimes wonder whether space really is the final frontier.
It’s certainly big enough — the universe is around 100 billion light years across and still expanding. It’s also fairly final, as we won’t live long enough to explore it all.
Astronomers think there are a billion trillion stars in the observable universe. Neuroscientists say there are 86 billion cells in our brains, each with 10,000 connections — giving us trillions of synapses. So we each house a cosmos in our heads — every cell a tethered star in our own private universe.
But in the way that space is full of…. well… space, so are we. Each atom is 1,000,000 times bigger than the nucleus at its centre. A peanut-sized core in a stadium sized particle. Ergo we are more nothing than we are something. Collapse the spaces down and we’d each fit into a particle of dust.
Despite mostly being made up of space, we’re not good at finding it in our lives. Headspace, the mindfulness app, is well named. It’s also aspirational. We are too busy to find the space for ourselves. We don’t have the time to calmly figure things out.
Claire was one of my Spoon by Spoon interviewees who went through a divorce, was made redundant and relocated 300 miles to the coast, all in quick succession. She wanted space to process it but fell, “straight into list-making, networking, planning, plotting. I felt I had to be productive and my brain was firing in so many directions. I had quite a lot of sleepless nights, lying awake, with my brain going crazy.”
Our brains make up 2% of our weight, but consume 20% of our energy. So we’re worn out by too much thinking.
Nick wants to be more chilled about the future, but is impatient. “I want to take action. I want to roll my sleeves up and make things happen. If you say ‘well it’ll eventually happen in its own sweet time’, I’ll be gritting my teeth and saying, ‘yes but what can I do?’”
Sarah knows Pilates is good for her, but doesn’t give herself enough space. “I’m always rushing to get to classes and then thinking about what I’m going to cook for dinner. This is my opportunity to chill for an hour and get that energy back. I’m wasting it by lying there thinking, looking at the clock.”
Exercise, deep breathing and resting can increase alpha waves in the brain, leading to feelings of calm and relaxation, plus reductions in stress, anxiety and pain.
However, some of my Spoon by Spoon interviewees have found ways to get more time and space. Andrew goes travelling for a mind-set shift. “I feel a lot more optimistic about things… I have such a different, more positive attitude. And it’s how I am able to deal with things a lot easier.”
The frequency of alpha waves increases when we’re daydreaming, closing our eyes, taking a bath or having a massage.
Smita’s life was really stressful but said, “I was just so happy to come back home to my baby and just indulge in giving her a bath or giving her a massage or just playing with her. So I think that kind of put me at peace.”
Gunther gets his space on the open road. “Motorcycling is one of my biggest therapies because I’m on my own. I’m transfixed by it and I’m completely zoning out of everything else. I don’t worry about anything for those miles.”
Painting, drawing and mind wandering all increase alpha waves. Academic studies have found this increase improves memory and creativity.
Pete wanted to write children’s books and busied himself with lots of post-it notes on plot and character backstories. But he just wasn’t in flow so took time out to write a poem instead: why dinosaurs are naked in museums. “All of a sudden, it was an avalanche of creativity. I just couldn’t stop. And it led into writing a book, collaborating with an illustrator, then I collaborated with another illustrator in Liverpool and we wrote another book.”
Lucy started reading again after she quit her job. “I’m an avid reader, but I didn’t read books for three years. I remember feeling so much enjoyment and relaxation from reading fiction again. Being able to lose myself in a different world. I didn’t watch TV for a whole month and just read books.”
Alpha waves in the brain can be increased by meditating, visualising and breathing.
Drew’s mother was into mindfulness years before the rest of us caught on. “So very early on, aged nine or ten, I was into breathing techniques, visualisation and meditation.” This gives Drew the space to succeed. “Those moments when other people might panic I just step away, take a deep breath, visualise what it would feel like to be awarded the business… that’s really helpful at 11.30 the night before, when you’ve got another three hours of work.”
We may not all be on a career shift or going through a transition. But each of us is journeying through life. We’re exploring new ways of working, seeking out new people or new places, trying to be bold. Ultimately, we’re on a mission to find more time and space to enjoy our lives.
And in a way that makes us all Trekkies. Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Our continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before.
This is part of a series called Spoon by Spoon — a project I’m running interviewing 100 people going through career, relationship and wider life changes. Each week I’ll share the themes — how they are getting back on track and the wisdom they are developing as they work their way through.
Photos copyright of Charlotte Sheridan