The space between the platform and the train has an attribution all of its own. The London Underground station address system reminds us with a regularity (that has the danger of becoming too familiar) to mind the gap.
What happens in that moment when we do mind the gap? When we contemplate what the gap is all about between being stationary to being on the move? Or from being on the move to being stationary? What is there to mind?
Mind – a place of contemplation, thought, attention
The – definitive article
Gap – a space where we can fall, be injured, disappear, tear apart.
Can I thoughtfully pay attention to a definitive identified space so that I won’t be seduced or captured by it? By definition if I do mind the gap, then, my mindfulness will lead me safely to my next destination.
Like many a pilgrim I haven’t always obeyed the instruction to mind the gap. I have sometime been seduced and fallen into the space, or danced dangerously close to the edge teetering on the immoveable platform playfully testing both the gap and the platform to see where I might fall. I have also landed heavily in the gap while jumping off a train, scurrying to get a steady foothold so the gap would not claim me.
The gap holds its own secrets of darkness. The automated digital voice brings a comfort all of its own and when I hear it when I am London I often treat it like the bell for mediation calling us to stillness and back to mindfulness.
Thich Nhat Hanh first encouraged me to look for the signs in everyday life to bring me to mindfulness. One recording of his on driving in traffic is still a practice, and that is to treat the stop sign as an invitation to breathe and the sound of a bell on a train or a tram as the bell to call us back to mindfulness. So too is the message and the announcement to mind the gap. Be mindful of falling into the abyss between being still and moving – alight the train to the next station in life with care and definition. Stand attentive to make the move and not be distracted by the gap in time and space that one might have to traverse to get to the station or back on the train. Mind the gap could well be a mantra all of its own for the modern city pilgrim commuter!
The break in the continuity of the journey is what the gap announces – there will be a break in transmission is what happens when you are in the gap. The pause gives a moment of respite and has its own value and with it perhaps a practice. A practice to honour the gap that we cross over from stillness to motion and back again – a continuous call and response of its own.
I reflect on the gaps I cross and the bridges I make when I step over gaps uniting in a single step two sides of a single journey. The generation gap is one that I find myself trying to bridge on a daily basis. The gap between the rich and poor, housed and homeless, fed and hungry, settled and seeking refuge – there are so many gaps that I feel called to be attentive too, even if I don’t have the capacity to bridge them, I hope I will be able to mind the gap and bring them to my attention.
I do want to mind the gap and to be mindful of the gaps I just jump over each day with ease; often with scant attention, just jumping on the next train, to the next station barely taking time to be still on the platform.
What if we had no gaps to mind ? Hildegard I think the most ancient of baptismal rites provides some instruction here – in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, woman or man no more. In this scenario there is a world of equality and unity, where there is no gap to mind because the void has been filled. A reflection on that conundrum might be something for another time!
For now, I invoke the mind the gap mantra and in doing so, reflect on the relationship between action and contemplation.