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  • Writer's pictureDr Kalanit Ben-Ari

Embracing the Japanese Concept of 'Ma'

Finding Balance and Mindful Living


Have you ever come across the captivating concept of 'Ma' in Japanese culture?

It's truly extraordinary!


Ma is a foundational aesthetic and philosophical principle that encompasses various aspects of Japanese culture, including art, design, architecture, music, and even interpersonal relationships. In this blog, we will explore the essence of Ma and discover how we can incorporate its principles into our daily lives to find balance, harmony, and mindfulness.


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'Ma' is translated as 'gap,' 'pause,' 'interval,' or 'space,' Ma embodies a profound essence. At its core, Ma symbolises the space or interval between objects, elements, or moments. It encompasses the emptiness, silence, or void that exists within and around things.


Yet, don't mistake it for mere absence!

Ma is a dynamic concept that brings meaning to our experiences.


Ma aligns closely with the ideals of balance, harmony, and mindfulness. It highlights the importance of allowing sufficient space for things to breathe, be appreciated, and establish a relationship with their surroundings. Whether it's the pause between musical notes, the silence in a heartfelt conversation, the space between physical objects, or the gap between thoughts, it's within these moments that the essence of Ma holds significance.

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Creating Space for 'Ma' in Daily Life


In the hustle and bustle of our modern lives, we often neglect the importance of 'Ma' and the significance it holds for our relationships and personal well-being. Just like the pause between musical notes or the silence within a heartfelt conversation, 'Ma' thrives on the spaces between our thoughts, actions, and connections.


Also, when we allow 'Ma' to permeate our relationships, we create an environment where understanding, empathy, and authentic connections can flourish. Imagine truly listening to someone, giving their words the time and space to settle and wisdom to unfold. It's in these moments that 'Ma' reveals its silent symphony, enriching our interactions and deepening our bonds.


Finding 'Ma' within Ourselves


Beyond relationships, 'Ma' also offers a path to self-discovery and personal growth. By embracing 'Ma' and allowing ourselves ample space to breathe, we invite a sense of calmness and presence into our lives. Think of those moments of inspiration that arise when we give ourselves permission to simply be.


In Japan, when individuals are considered too anxious or overly consumed by their thoughts, they are often said to lack 'Ma' (rather than saying they have too many thoughts). They yearn for stillness, calmness, and the meaningful presence found in the spaces between. Ma is the space that breathes life into our experiences, offering a peaceful sanctuary from the chaos of our thoughts.


My experience working with CEOs, founders and leaders as taught me that they often might lack Ma. Ma emphasises the significance of allowing space for ideas and processes to breathe. Ma manifests as the pause between strategic moves, or the intentional space between making tough decisions that holds immense significance.


But it is even more than that. When you allow more time for Ma, your unconscious mind figures out problems from a whole different level of consciousness. Are you familiar with the experience of pondering on a problem only to find the best solution when you are in the shower? Showers and baths (hoping you don't take your phones there as well) are great moments for Ma. More often than not, it's when creativity unfolds.


Reflecting on my own experience during a ten-day silent retreat in February, I witnessed the remarkable benefits of Ma firsthand. However, as time passed and life got busier, I noticed myself slipping back into old patterns—too many commitments, too much multitasking, and not enough Ma. So, I decided to seize the opportunity of this May Bank holiday and devoted it to Ma—embracing stillness and simplicity with a profound sense of presence.


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Practical Tips for Embracing 'Ma'


Here are five simple practices of 'Ma' I have incorporated this week into my daily life. You might want to try them and by doing so to cultivate a sense of balance, mindfulness, and heartfelt connection:


1. Mindful Dog Walks: I take the dog for a walk without the phone. If you do not have a dog just Take a stroll in nature without distractions, allowing yourself to be fully present and appreciate the beauty around you, immerse yourself in the present moment, observing the sights, sounds, and smells around you.


2. Tending to Flowers Mindfully: I water my garden flowers mindfully, turning it into a meditative act. Focus on each drop of water as it nourishes the plants, appreciating their beauty and the process of growth. Allow this simple act to connect you with the wonders of nature and cultivate a sense of gratitude.


3. Mindful Moments in the Garden: Set aside time to sit in your garden or nearby park and be present. Engage your senses fully, noticing the movements of leaves, the fragrance of flowers, and the gentle breeze on your skin. Embrace the beauty of nature unfolding before your eyes, finding solace and peace in the harmony of the moment.


4. Morning Meditation: I like to start my day with reflection and mindful intention for the upcoming day. Start your day with a practice of morning meditation. Find a quiet spot, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. Let go of distractions and thoughts, simply being with the sensation of breathing. This practice sets a mindful tone for the day ahead, fostering clarity and presence.


5. Embrace Mindful Showers: Transform your daily shower into a mindful experience. Appreciate the comfortable temperature of the water, inhale deeply through your nose, and allow the qualities of water to envelop your senses. As you exhale from your mouth, visualise negativity and worries washing away, leaving you refreshed and renewed.


In conclusion, incorporating Ma into our lives allows us to find balance, harmony, and mindfulness in our everyday experiences. By embracing the space between elements, the pauses, and the stillness, we create room for appreciation, connection, and rejuvenation. Ma reminds us to slow down, to listen, and to be fully present, unlocking the beauty and peace that lie within each moment. So, take a step back, breathe, and let Ma guide you on a journey of self-discovery and mindful living. This might be the secret to being calm, grounded, and peaceful.

Remember, Ma is the vital balance between elements, the rhythm of existence, and the profound space that brings meaning to our lives. Embrace it, and let its gentle presence enrich your journey.

P.S. If you're craving more Ma in your own journey, join me for the Awakening retreat in October. A chance to immerse yourself in calm, embrace clarity, and rediscover the beauty of mindful living.


This article was written by senior couples therapist and parental advisor Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari. With a doctorate in Psychology, Dr Ben-Ari has worked in the field for over 20 years and runs a private clinic in Hampstead, London. She is also an author, speaker, international trainer, therapist supervisor, and was the Chair of Imago Relationship Therapy UK from 2013-2023.


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