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Blessed Emptiness

by martingbutler@outlook.com

For many people, a feeling of inner emptiness is a direct invitation to make an effort to fill it. A trip to the mall maybe, see some friends, watch a movie, read that new book and gobble up yet another theory about life, or smoke some dope – whatever.

This feeling of emptiness comes about during moments of quiet when the emotions, thoughts, desires, and bodily sensations are unusually still. But why do people find this state unbearable? The answer is simple; nature drives us all day, every day to strive. This striving is primarily aimed at maintaining our existence and finding a mate for procreation. Schopenhauer said in his usual uncompromising way that we are either striving or bored. Many people working to support a growing family have to strive pretty much all the time, and as such, they are not bored. However, take someone with plenty of spare time, and boredom can become quite an issue. We see this with very wealthy people continually traveling from A to B and then to C and then back to A to avoid boredom. Lunch in London maybe and then shopping in Paris; anything but experience boredom. It’s the life of a slave.

Now it just so happens that some people make efforts to understand and calm their emotions, desires, thoughts, and sensations. If they are successful, they will experience that inner emptiness simply because the usual distractions are no longer present. For someone untrained in such matters, this inner void has to be filled as quickly as possible. However, for someone who knows otherwise, this emptiness is an invitation to joy. There is, of course, a catch. If we seek this inner emptiness with the aim of experiencing the joy it can bring about, we are no longer empty; hence the mandate laid down by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita that we should never make efforts with some result in mind. It’s tricky, but there are times that arise quite naturally when we feel bored, or empty, and if we are mindful, we can sit with that emptiness and possibly experience the joy of it.

Nature has no interest in our inner state. As far as it is concerned, we are born, strive to survive, procreate, and then die. Inner emptiness is a chink in nature’s armor, and we should make use of it. This means consciously resisting the overwhelming need to avoid our emptiness in any one of the many ways that are available.

In truth, emptiness is always available. The Zen masters say that fullness is empty, and emptiness is full. The world we live in is empty. Everything is transient and unfulfilling, but I dare say that the invitation to joy that we get from emptiness will be of little interest to most people.

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