Essay: Personal Space

Nov 1, 2019

In my yoga class, I watch fellow students as they lay their mats out on the floor.  Most are courteous and respectful of neighbors but others unfurl their mats with authority, taking up twice as much room as they need. 

And I think about the idea of personal space, how much is enough.  I prefer the corner by the window in my yoga studio and if someone else gets there first, I’m vaguely offended.  That’s mine, I think, knowing it’s not.

Then I remember a short story I read in college by Leo Tolstoy called, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”  Tolstoy describes the life of a peasant who boasts that if he had plenty of land, he would not fear the Devil himself.  The Devil considers this a challenge and gradually tempts the man to acquire more and more land.

Finally, the peasant meets a landowner who agrees to sell him all the land he can walk around in one day for a thousand rubles.  The peasant runs himself to death and Tolstoy’s last sentence is, “Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”

When I find myself wanting more for the sake of more—more space, more money, more love—I  remember that peasant.  I remember how much is enough.