How Can I Embrace Emptiness When I’m Not Full Yet?

Essence is emptiness.
Everything else accidental.

Emptiness brings peace to your loving.
Everything else, disease.

In this world of trickery emptiness
is what your soul wants.

Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Why do these mystics keep going on about emptiness? Most of us feel empty and are trying to fill it up. I gotta get more stuff, more sensations, experiences. If I don’t, I’ll feel inadequate, lonely, at risk of getting hurt. I don’t want any pain, so I’m gonna do what I can to keep away from it. If I get some pleasure, I won’t feel my pain. The pleasure ends, so I’ve got to get some more. Maybe I need to get it from you. Maybe I need some of your stuff to make me happy. I acquire. I hide from pain. I block out reality to keep the hurt away. I cling to my plan--the plan I came up with as a little child. It’s true, I didn’t know much about people or relationships or the world or psychology as a child, but I’ll stick to that child’s understanding of my place in the world no matter what. It served me well then. Well, it didn’t really serve me well, but it served as well as I could imagine in my childish mind. Why change now? If I change now, I’ll have to feel the pain I’ve been avoiding all these years. I’ll have to give up my protective shell of habits, blind spots, and prejudices. They are precious to me. They let me feel something. They keep out the hurt. Well, they don’t really keep out the hurt, but I think they should. It makes me angry that I have to feel pain. I think it must be your fault.

At some point, it may become clear to us that what we are doing isn’t working. Trying to avoid pain by hiding from life or by getting more things and more pleasure or by puffing up our ego isn’t going to work. Grasping at things and experiences, being attached to our image of ourselves and the world, clinging to the status quo, fleeing from our aversions; these never give us what we hope they will. Instead, they are likely to foster suffering, ignorance, and a heavier karmic load.

We would be better off loosening our grip. We could be less attached to the illusions we fashion to explain this confusing universe. We could drop our conceptions of ourselves that paint a pretty picture, but are no more a real self than a portrait on a wall. We could stop living in the past and throwing that past into the future so that we can pretend to know how things work.

Stop right now. Give it up. Take a breath and let it out slowly. Open your senses. Perceive without judging. Be yourself. Be not your fake self, but your real self. Don’t try to think about it. Don’t evaluate or criticize. Sit right where you are at this moment. Take this moment fully. Take this next moment fully. Take this one right now fully. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Breathe. Fully now. This moment.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett