The space element, or akasha, is the subtlest of the five elements, serving as the foundation for all creation.
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Delving into the mysteries of nature reveals the profound significance of the space element, or akasha, as the ethereal foundation of all existence.
The five elements of nature —earth element, water element, fire element, air element, and space element (or ether) are the basic building blocks of all creation. Everything in nature, including our bodies and minds, is formed of the elements.
The elements are progressively dense as they manifest.
The space element (akasha in Sanskrit, meaning not visible, space, or sky) is the most subtle of the five. Space gives rise to the other elements—air, fire, water, and earth. It is space that makes everything possible. All things arise in it and return to it. We can think of space as expressing in three different but interconnected ways: the infinite, unbounded space of Spirit; the space of individual consciousness defined within the endless field of Spirit; and physical space—which we perceive in our bodies and environment. The main attribute of space is its all-pervasiveness and freedom from obstruction.
"We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable."
Everything in nature, including our bodies and minds, is formed of the five elements--earth, water, fire, air, and ether or space. Focused contemplation of any element can be an opening into the heart of reality. We can experience oneness with all life and the delight that accompanies realizing our innate wholeness.
The element of space or ether is the most subtle element, an invisible field that is an opening for possibility on all levels. Space can be physical, mental, or spiritual. It has the attribute of all-pervasiveness. It allows the other four elements to arise. All things arise from and return to space. It makes everything possible, like the space between notes that makes music possible.
I recently went on a private retreat at a place right on the ocean with an expansive view of the sea and horizon. While there, I was contemplating the elements, thinking about creation—how all Life has its origin and essence in Spirit, in Supreme Consciousness. I reflected on how that invisible essence takes on a visible form and expresses for a short time.
Each day I watched the seashore. Early in the morning, people would start to arrive, many with dogs. Pairs of lovers, groups of friends, or families would walk by or set up camp, build fires, run, kiss, play, read, or rest.
Like the tide flowing in and out, the beach would start to clear at sunset. By the end of the day, it was empty. The next morning, the parade of people would begin again. Coming and going, appearing, disappearing.
I recalled a chant sung by Paramahansa Yogananda called "When My Dream's Dream Is Done." The song begins with soulful wondering. "Whence do they come here? Whither do they flit away?" It is a poignant reflection on the brevity of our time here and the seeming mystery of our journey.
Space allows all the other elements to arise. It is the most subtle, invisible field—an opening for possibility on all levels, physical, mental, and spiritual. Our need for space is fundamental, it allows us to accommodate all that arises and passes away. To be spacious is to be open to what is without undue attachment or aversion. In that space, is the soul’s joy.
The disciplines of yoga are designed as a way of "subtilization" of our attention and awareness. It's a method that helps us see, perceive, discern, and experience what is not visible. We study the elements and inquire—what is beyond, what is the origin of all I see?
In the Chandogya Upanishad, Svetaketu asks his father about this. What is the divine Self? His father tells him to bring him the fruit from the nyagrodha tree. He instructs him to break open the fruit and asks what he sees. Svetaketu reports that he sees many, many tiny seeds. His father tells him to split one of those seeds open and tell him what he seeds. When he does that, Svetaketu responds that he sees nothing at all. What you do not see, instructs his father, is the hidden essence that brings forth all of life, all that is. You, yourself, are that.
A selection from that Upanishad reads:
Those who depart from this world without knowing who they are or what they truly desire have no freedom here or hereafter. But those who leave here knowing who they are and what they truly desire have freedom everywhere, both in this world and in the next. 
All of the nature changes (including space). What is beyond change and phenomena? Through our discernment, our intuition, and our direct experience in superconscious meditation, we come to know I Am. I am That which is beyond change. I am birthless, deathless Spirit that takes on a viewpoint and a form for a short while and then returns to its origin.
Like Jesus touching the ground at a moment of discernment, like Buddha touching the earth as his witness and support, we arrive, full circle with the elements in time and space. Here, here, here.
We acknowledge that what we really want is here, now. Like the Zen saying, If you don't find enlightenment here, where will you find it? If we don't find peace here, healing here, inspiration here, delight here, freedom here, where will we find it?
The possibility arises, discernment arises, and grace appears as we create a spiritual space by becoming present.
A poem from Rumi:
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.
—Translated by Coleman Barks 
 Chandogya Upanishad VIII.1.6, from The Upanishads, Introduced and Translated by Eknath Easwaran, (Nilgiri Press, Tomales, CA 1982, 2007) 119.
 Rumi, “The Breeze at Dawn”, translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi (Harper: San Francisco, 1995) 36.
© 2023 Ellen Grace O’Brian