“At the center of your being you have the answers . . .”
I have been thinking about this of late. The quote is taken from the writings of Lao Tzu whom it is believed, penned the Tao Te Ching. Ironically, the statement has roused my curiosity. I have also felt the familiar resistance and fingers-in-ears that seems to follow an epiphany or moment of great clarity, as if I don’t want the answers after all. Having an “aha” as Oprah so eloquently put it, is the easy part.
In the past month I have been thinking about a concept that I had previously only perceived as highly negative. The concept is that of “emptiness.” I hadn’t realized how much of my life I have spent trying to fill up, to be full or to avoid emptiness. It seemed to me only a sorrowful place full of regrets and grieving. But upon closer examination and (reflecting on personal experiences) I realized that I had only decided that emptiness was a form of torture and suffering.
As I have let go of my old ideas about emptiness, more questions have arisen in my mind. What is emptiness? Why have I avoided it? What does it feel like?
When I have meditated in the past I experienced something like emptiness and it felt soothing. I also noticed that hunger is a kind of emptiness, the sort of hunger that feels good and makes eating a tremendous pleasure. I also thought of the sensation of giving birth and the painful fullness of reaching 40 weeks of pregnancy and the emptiness and relief of having the baby born. Or the thrill of finding the dishwasher has been emptied or the trash has been emptied. From a literal perspective emptiness tends to be the relieving of pain and creating necessary space for good things to flow in. Yet. . . emptiness also feels like loss, change and endings. Empty bank accounts, empty nests, empty hearts waiting for love and belonging. Is emptiness the result of something lost? When I consider the good things that emptiness brings I suppose not.
Emptiness is just space, a space that makes something possible. In the emptiness I create: whether my creations are painful or joyful is my choice. Sometimes I am making choices without any awareness that I am choosing. But whether I am aware or not, I am living with what I create. Emptiness seems then, to be neither good nor bad, lovely or horrid. Emptiness is neutrality and the source of power. By keeping myself full i.e. a full schedule, being hurried, feeling over-emotional, by overeating, having a cluttered or chaotic house, I have prevented myself from seeing the creative power I have to form my life and experiences into whatever I choose. It is in the emptiness that answers are found, hope is discovered and strength and resolve are forged. Inspiration flows in and out of emptiness the way music is only heard in the silences. Emptiness can also be a place where suffering thrives, depression lurks and where loneliness finds self-pity and victimization. We are always creating something. I had simply never stopped and took notice of the glimpses of emptiness around me, the space that makes all of it possible. As I have come to embrace the idea of emptiness I have found that there are some corners that need to be cleaned out and some chimneys that are yearning to be swept. I guess that is what I have been resisting. I have resisted making my emptiness a place I want to be instead of a place full of skeletons from the past that are still lying around uncared for and unburied. Sometimes it just takes getting started. At the center of my being is emptiness. It looks like I did have the answers after all.