The Empty Self
I took this photo at the beginning of the summer when I was in search of some old wood which I had intended to use in making picture frames. In the old, abandoned farm yard, a number of buildings were leaning as though ready to collapse, some still standing in defiance, and a few that had given up entirely as they lay in a fallen heap of broken hopes and dreams. I saw these buildings as reminders of what was. I didn’t see them as a necessary preparation for what was to follow. Like most people, I held onto a negative understanding of emptiness. I believed that emptiness was a synonym for death, for the final disappearance act that stood as illustration of our absurd quest for meaning and eternal life.
“Spiritual emptiness is not only an open mind but also an open self. We have to get ourselves out of the way – our explanations, our goals, our habits, and our anxieties. We often try to avoid disaster and fill life with order and meaning, but just as often, life unravels all our careful preparations. At that moment we can complain, but . . . it is best to go with the loss and be educated by it.” [Moore, The Soul’s Religion, p. 10]
As I read these words, I began to believe that perhaps there was something more than what my mind, my ego would have me believe. Curiously, I began to understand the Buddhist idea of egolessness and its purpose. The idea of egolessness was, for me, the hardest concept to understand. The thought of willingly disappearing into emptiness was taken as a death wish, a voluntary suicide of the mind. But now, I begin to realise that this is simply allowing other possibilities to emerge by having my mind step aside and not stand in the way as a judge.
And then I looked back over some of my life and saw those times where I had stepped aside, almost always unwillingly, in order for something new, something needed by my soul to emerge. I saw my running career come to a screeching halt and thought all was done only to find a opening for fuller presence as a coach, a new way of being that gave me more than what I thought I had lost. There are many other examples, but it would be fruitless to place them here – I have a tendency to overstate, to repeat ad nauseum, an idea that had already been understood by my listeners. My children have taught me that this is an annoying habit of mine [smile]. I retired, another loss, and in time I came to learn from retirement and in learning, I inched forward in my own awareness of who I was and my relationships with others and the world.
I am a slow learner, but I am learning that there are gifts in emptiness, spiritual emptiness. When the moment comes, emptiness provides a conduit for what then becomes possible if we would only sit still and allow what is possible to take on shape and form.