Spacemaker by Daniel Sih

Did you know most people would rather receive an electric shock than be alone with their thoughts for half an hour?

True story.

We struggle to sit still and not have something to fiddle with or look at.

I have just finished reading Daniel Sih’s book Spacemaker, where he writes of how we can have spacious, full and joyful lives by reflecting on our current patterns of living, taking stock, and then taking action to move towards a healthier and more invigorating life.

Dan is a long time friend and associate from days with Forge Australia, so when we visited he and Kylie in Tasmania this year he happily flicked me a free copy of his book. As is often the case a PDF can sit on a computer for a long time without being opened and with so much reading already scheduled Dan’s book took a back seat.

But when I opened it I literally guzzled it down in two days. It is a really valuable, genuinely interesting, but also personally challenging read. One of the big themes that pervades each section of the book is the impact of technology on our ability to live whole, joyful lives. Most of us know the lure of devices and screens and for many of us life is now incomprehensible without a screen nearby. Dan doesn’t suggest we abandon technology and pursue Luddite like ways, but rather he alerts us to the reality that what technology promises (greater productivity and space in life) it can actually end up removing if we aren’t careful. The law of diminishing returns seems to apply as we end up achieving less with more tech.

Dan has written a thoughtful, but also thoroughly practical book. It is divided into 3 sections:

Paradigms – the thinking and logic that undergirds ‘spacemaking’

Principles – the ways we can frame life to create space

Practices – the things we actually need to do to see space become a reality rather than a nice idea

The goal of the book is to help us live more productive and peaceful lives – to learn to be content – to rest – to do one thing well rather than many things poorly.

If you find yourself feeling too busy, like life is out of control and frustrated that you are not the person you want to be then I can definitely recommend Dan’s book. It presses on some nerves, so it will challenge you, but at every turn it recognises that it is better to make small gains than feel the need to upend our world and start over. Most of us have complex lives, so a complete makeover may be out of the question, but what Dan offers is some very helpful strategies (I found myself journalling as I was reading) for planning and framing both our days and our years.

After a dark history of workaholism, I have moved to a much more even keeled and gentle paced life – so much so that my physio recently introduced me to a work experience student by saying ‘this is Andrew – he’s semi retired.’ I didn’t know that… but perhaps my life gives off that vibe… When people ask me my philosophy on life it is to live a ‘spacious life’, rather than a cramped and cluttered existence so I resonated with Dan’s language. I want to be able to give both people and tasks my full attention, so I have chosen to keep my days under-loaded rather than over-loaded. It means there is always time to stop for a chat when my neighbour is outside. There is time to take a random phone call from a friend or just to hop in the hammock and enjoy the view of the ocean and the afternoon seabreeze.

Dan’s book is less written for those of us who have chosen to live life slowly, but is more written for those who live busy lives either because that is what is required of them, or by force of habit. As well as challenging us to consider our use of technology a recurrent theme is that of rest – of living from a place of rest rather than working in order to rest. Read it and try it. It really does work.

The practices Dan suggests are helpful and I found myself beginning to consider how I may better organise my life to be someone who is both spacious in living, but also productive. I know I have sacrificed some of my productivity for space in recent years and some days it feels like it could blur into laziness – not a place I want to live either.

Dan’s book has a distinct spiritual basis and yet it is not likely to be offensive to anyone who doesn’t share his worldview. He draws on wisdom from various spiritual traditions as well as his own Christian faith.

Oh and those people who got the electric shocks?… It was to show that most of us would rather experience pain that be alone with our thoughts for an extended period of time. We would rather just do ‘stuff’ – even if it is mundane unproductive stuff than be still. Bizarre hey?…

I’m one of those people deeply connected and perhaps even addicted to devices, so my pondering has been around how I can shape a less device oriented life. It isn’t just that I need devices for business. I like what they do and how they do it so I will need to do some ‘screen fasts’ and digital detoxes as Dan suggests… Even thinking about it is uncomfortable, which I guess tells you something…

If I didn’t know Dan personally I’d probably write a generous review of a very good book, but knowing him it feels like I want to point to it and say ‘hey this is good and my mate wrote it! You should read it!’

Because you really should…

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