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Experiencing The Gap: The Space Between Thoughts

by Evelyn on June 19, 2008

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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{ 31 comments }

Hunter Nuttall June 19, 2008 at 11:28 am

Very interesting. They mention the gap in the new Indiana Jones movie, but I think this is something different!

I just started experimenting with meditation last week, and so far I’m not doing very well. I find it hard just to keep my eyes closed, let alone turn off my thoughts. I guess that’s normal though. I’m going to keep trying, and hopefully experience the gap before too long.

Vered June 19, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Wow. I’m the worst kind of skeptic. Cynical, sarcastic, completely non-spiritual. But your account of experiencing the Gap while meditating is so powerful! You have just inspired me to start researching meditation. Thank you.

SaiF June 19, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Hey Evelyn!

I always go into the Gap as you call it when I need answers.

It might take 20 to 30 minutes to reach there but the few seconds of reaching that state and sometimes minutes for me mean all the difference.

If you’ve read my blog lately, you’d know that my million dollar plan was revealed to me when I was in the Gap or The Silence as I like to call it.

Vered, read The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel – he’s the guy who taught me how to do this and it’s been a wonderful experience ever since!

Sincerely,

SaiF
The World’s First Teen
Personal Development Video Blogger

Lorraine Cohen June 19, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Great post Evelyn

Personally I find myself drifting quite a bit when I become still. Several years ago I had the opportunity to be in the room with Eckhart Tolle right after he wrote the Power of Now. There were about 600 people in attendance when he entered the room. For the entire time he spoke, there was almost (with a second or two of chatter) total silence in my mind. He projects that into the room when he speaks. It was an extraordinary experience to be present with potential of quiet. Since then, it’s still been pretty chatty.

Blessings,
Lorraine

http://www.powerfull-living.biz/blog

Dr James D Swann June 19, 2008 at 4:10 pm

Yes, my dear Evelyn, the “Gap” is where it’s at. It is those precious few moments when ego and self talk are not at all important and only then will answers come to you. Great article, Evelyn. Tell us more of your retreat to Thailand and of Ajahn Brahm, please.
Blessing, love and light, James

rouj June 19, 2008 at 5:44 pm

I just stumbled to this site. It caught my attention directly since I experience it a lot. I feel blankness, silence absolute emptiness. I always thought it was a waste of time, time i could use thinking and solving my problems. I always fought it.Now that i read this, I am thinking of trying to be in the gap. Nice article, I enjoyed reading it and i think i am going to do some research on this subject

Meditating helps with decisions June 20, 2008 at 6:54 am

I meditate the same way you stated above, i would also like to contribute somethings to the blog.
You can meditate by listening to any kind of soft repititive sound like sound of a fan ,A.C, or waves of the oceans. Meditation done by hearing your breathing is very soothing and bit more difficult.
Meditating just before bed is most beneficial as it clears your mind and lets you have a sound sleep. It is difficult to medidate while laying down but it improves your cocentration and helps you relax better than when done sitting errect.
In my opinion, try meditation lying on bed waiting for sleep. Just lay your body absolutely relaxed till you start feeling like you have no control over your muscles now. This way you can achieve maximum benefits of meditation. It also helps you build your intuition, better understanding and decision making.

Evelyn June 19, 2008 at 8:21 pm

@Hunter and Vered, I experienced difficulties in my first attempts some years back. It was just impossible to shut out thoughts. I gave up.

However, some time last year, I decided to try again. Amazingly, it got better and better.

I’ve experienced huge lapses in consciousness. I’m not sure if these can be called gaps as well, because I don’t consciously note down what I go through for each session. But the experiences when they occur, are surreal-like. My whole body shuts down and seem to have completely disappeared.

I guess the thing is to sit for meditation; don’t force your mind too hard to be still. I was also taught that if thoughts do arise and they do for a start, to just bring your mind back to your breath (or whatever meditation object you are using). Don’t attach guilt if your thoughts do run away.

All the best,
Evelyn

Evelyn June 19, 2008 at 8:24 pm

@SaiF, good for you. I’m in the midst of reading The Master Key myself, slowly digesting the book as suggested by Charles F. Haanel. I’ve haven’t gotten to the chapter on meditation in going to the gap yet and will be looking forward to it!

Evelyn June 19, 2008 at 8:28 pm

@Lorraine, how lucky you are to have a most wonderful experience in the presence of Eckhart Tolle. Hope he reads this post and comes down to Singapore….LOL! He has a fan here and I’m sure many others too from my part of the world.

Evelyn June 19, 2008 at 8:37 pm

@Dr James, I’ve been so bombarded with inner chatter all my life that it has been absolute relief to be free from thoughts. I hope to be more conscious about answers when they should arrive. I’ve been told that some answers are already there…but my “block” is that I have not enough trust that they are the answers that I am seeking for.

Evelyn June 19, 2008 at 8:43 pm

@rouj, it’s nice of you to visit my site. I also used to think it is a waste of time meditating. What’s the point in having that spaced out time when I can be doing something more productive?

However, I now think differently: setting aside time to meditate is an investment in clarity. It’s far better to be clear in what we are doing than to channel our energies and emotions in activities that are not in alignment with our true calling.

All the best in your meditation,
Evelyn

Daniel Richard | WE June 19, 2008 at 9:33 pm

It’s definitely good to find space that have no clutter of thoughts and no traffic of insanity that goes on in our lives. Helps get one thinking positively once again. :)

Evelyn June 20, 2008 at 8:58 am

Hi, thanks for contributing your ideas. I meditate that way sometimes too – lying on the bed. This works only if I am not too sleepy. Otherwise I will just move off into dreamland, with no chance of going into meditation.

Shilpan | successsoul.com June 20, 2008 at 9:07 am

Evelyn,

This is a beautiful, poetic article. I love this quote, “Silence is so much more productive of wisdom and clarity in thinking” — With silence comes awareness and mindfulness. We can see the shiny truth without any bias, It’s an amazing experience. I’ve dugged and stumbled it.

Tom Volkar / Delightful Work June 20, 2008 at 10:04 am

Thanks for such a beautifully written reminder of such a powerfully pleasant space. I love Tolle because he makes his concepts so accessible by encouraging total non-judgment of the degrees of the experience.

website design June 20, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Eckhart Tolle is an awesome spiritual teacher.

Clara June 20, 2008 at 10:47 pm

I heard a sermon about this concept some time ago. Basically, the message was that God sustains us from nanosecond to nanosecond — the gap between breaths.

Evelyn June 21, 2008 at 12:51 am

@Shilpan, you are a true friend :-)

@Tom, it seems like we share similar likings for Tolle’s ideas.

@Clara, I find that the teachings from spiritual teachers, whether in a sermon or a Buddhist talk, all have pretty similar ideas. I can understand why it is mentioned that way in the sermon you heard: the peace in the gaps is really a beautiful experience; it feels as if we are being sustained spiritually in between the breaths. Thank you so much for sharing what you’ve learnt.

SaiF June 23, 2008 at 4:15 am

Evelyn!

Hi! I was just wondering…

The Master Key’s first chapter starts with meditation, does n’t it?

I mean the first exercise prepares you to go into the Silence by “silencing” your body.

Isn’t that already the start of meditation?

I’m going to re-read the Master Key System soon! =)

Sincerely,

SaiF

Evelyn June 23, 2008 at 5:54 am

Hi SaiF, there are different ways to meditate. Admittedly, I didn’t follow the exercises as recommended in The Master Key System book; since I practise vipassana meditation. Still, you are right to say that meditation starts with the relaxation of the physical body.

Thanks for the reminder though! I need to pick up from where I left off in the book.

Cheers,
Evelyn

Charlie Gilkey | Productive Flourishing June 24, 2008 at 10:20 am

This is a beautiful article, Evelyn. The last section took me there with you – I think I was in a little mini-trance. Such captivating writing.

I found meditating hard when I did it trying to achieve stillness. When I look away from stillness, I find it. Introducing the anticipation creates a tension and sub-awareness that you can’t shake.

Vin Andella June 25, 2008 at 11:20 am

The Secret movie was an awesome example of how the law of attraction can summon the universal powers to manifest people situations and material things into your life.

All of the presenters had compelling stories that described in detail how their lives changed once they applied the secret principals.

I watched the movie several times only to discover the secret was never revealed nor did they explain how to actually make the law of attraction work in your favor.

I searched for a year and finally discovered exactly how the secret law of attraction works.

Anybody can put the principals to work for them and change their life dramatically in a short period of time.

It’s true, they are laws and they work all the time but its your choice to make them work for you and not against you.

Ariel August 25, 2008 at 10:08 pm

“But remember, silence is shy. If silence hears you talking about her, she vanishes immediately.”

lol, great quote!

This was a wonderful post, Evelyn. Thank you for sharing your experiences with abiding in silence. :)

Much Love.

Taariq August 30, 2008 at 4:19 am

Eckhart Tolle’s earlier work, The Power of Now, gives a ver simple example of how to experience that gap right now.
It doesn’t matter how good a meditator you are, if you have some awereness which unfortunately you can’t train, it’s a side effect of training mindfulness, you’ll experience the gap quite easily. PS these are not his words, but to the best of my memory.

Close your eyes, not until you’re done reading silly.
Now stay alert and watch closely what happens when you say to yourself, “I wonder what I’ll think of next”.

That’s it, this alertness and awareness of the present ongoings in the mind halts all thought, similar to being in a life-threatening situation where your mind doesn’t bother rambling on about the days events you’re just being, only this is on a much smaller scale and the level of mindfulness isn’t nearly what you’ll hope to have in a life-threatening situation, but it’s a gap between thoughts arising.

This should be possible in any meditation session, even for beginners like us. I’m not looking for blissful peace or anything, though the gap may be described as such, to me it’s simply being mindful of my having attached myself to a thought and gently bringing myself back to the present, then watching the breath or whatever support aware that a thought my arise at any moment, when it does I again check if it’s past or future and gently come back again to the present. Rinse and repeat for 5 minutes longer than you’re comfortable with, the gap grows as gaps tend to do, as you enjoy the silence.

ghanesh September 1, 2008 at 4:18 am

Thanks for sharing the gap. I learnt this SPACE BETWEEN THOUGHT is was a measurement scale used in ancient india and in modern spritual india. its called ksana or Second.

Do you hear your heart beat at that silence? I just hear my heart beat alone. Just wondering…. what does that mean?

Evelyn September 1, 2008 at 8:33 am

@Ariel, thank you for your feedback! I’m glad that you enjoyed the post.

@Taariq, thanks for sharing how to go into the Silence. It’s great that more and more of us are finding the gaps and enjoying the peace that comes from within.

@ghanesh, thanks for introducing a new word to me – ksana. I’m going to find out what it means! No, I don’t hear my heart in that split second. It is as if time stood still.

Ernie / Taso in Greek September 15, 2008 at 2:31 am

Evelyn,

I just subscribed to your web-site and it is absolutely great. A lot of information and sharing and so many different positive and informative articles.

I, personally, really need to slow down my chatter and become more attuned to my inner mindfulness/peace/quiet or I guess my “NOW” as Tolle would say. I’m reading Tolle’s first book now (almost done) and have read Chopra’s “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” many times including very recently. It all just takes practice, believe me, and loving patience and not giving up on yourself like anything else in life. I’m still so much the novice. However, I’m evolving (I hope), at my own pace, and I guess that’s the way it has to be, it can’t be any other way.

Part of the problem, as has been noted earlier, is that SILENCE (to me) can seem like a waste of time when it really is your BEST USE OF TIME (when you are in the Now). Reading all of these comments and other materials, books etc. helps to imprint these new(er) ways and life changing ideas and helps me to grasp things better so that they come to me more NATURALLY, more by SECOND NATURE. HOPEFULLY, IT JUST HAPPENS MORE NATURALLY, I’M IN THE FLOW, SO TO SPEAK. I want to get away from thinking, worrying and concentrating too much about all this stuff and to just evolve into it as naturally and as quietly as possible and, of course, to accept what happens or doesn’t happen and not to be judgemental about myself or anything. Easier said than done, but hey you just keep working at it.

Not trying to be judgmental, but I hope I made some sense and was not too verbose.

Thanks
Ernie/Taso (Nickname) (One in the Same)

Grace September 16, 2008 at 2:34 pm

So finely written! I love the gap, too. My favorite quote is from T.S. Eliot: “At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is. G.

Outsourcing Software Development January 20, 2009 at 9:09 pm

I don’t think any one would have explained the meaning of GAP better than this.. M really very impressed by the way the article has been written.

GENE WOO March 13, 2009 at 10:13 am

Evelyn, I really enjoy reading your blog. Ever since having read Depak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Ekhart Tolle’s books, I’ve been trying to be aware of the gap during meditation and staying in the present moment by focusing on the breath movement. It is a challenge to stay in the present moment, in the course of the day, because my mind takes over my thoughts. I have noticed that certain daily experiences remind me of past experiences and my mind jumps from past to future and back while missing out on the present moment. I am working on it to improve the length of the present moment by being conscience and aware of my thoughts. Good luck to all on your path to awareness. Gene

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