Filling an emptiness
A short film by Aeon online Magazine describes closing a monastery. The monks are old, in need of nursing care, and there are no novices. Closure is understandable – but the process itself is sad. Endings usually are. They leave a gap, an emptiness. All the thrills and efforts of a part of life are over. The quiet may be peaceful but it can be an empty, sad peace.
There’s an emptiness in so many people today. Not hunger, though there are plenty who suffer from that. Not lack of material necessities though most people think they need more. I remember a really decent rich man once told me that he had “nearly enough”. I think he should have said “not nearly enough”. What he was missing was not more money, not increased options, not even longer life. It was something to fill the emptiness.
The emptiness I speak of is mostly misunderstood. Its cure has always been thought to be ‘more’. Demonstrably it isn’t. So is it less? Can space fill the emptiness?
You do not really appreciate space until you sail up to Alaska and come out on deck one morning to see vastness that is almost incomprehensible. The view is of course magnificent, the quiet is breath-taking, the wildlife, beautiful. But what impresses you most is the sheer space. It’s a paradox that an emptiness can fill a need. But look again. Is it really empty? I don’t think so. I think it is a space – but for what?
In our overcrowded world we undervalue space. We have become so trained to making use of every inch that we do it automatically, without thinking. What is a shelf for if not to put things on? Why make a cupboard if not to house what we may one day need? Minimalist became fashionable for a while but the minimalists got older and hoarded just as much as the rest of us. If we cannot hang onto space, what can we do to fill our emptiness?
That emptiness is clearly within. So we might think that dealing within would solve it. But here’s another paradox. The emptiness within can only be filled from the space outside. Reviewing ourselves from time to time is good. A personal check-over is like a good shower. Cleansing, enabling you to see through the grime of life, allowing you to dress attractively – something you mostly do for other people anyway. But you do not spend your life endlessly in the shower. If you did it would make your body hard and brittle, just as endless navel-gazing numbs your mind.
Where then do we find the space outside to deal with the emptiness within? There are two sources that seem to be successful. Both depend on how we handle our expectations.
The first is appreciation. It is something we seem to be losing. It is not gratitude, and certainly not banal expressions of gratitude which are now often simply a politically correct acknowledgement of wealth. Appreciation is a creative drinking-in of who we meet, what we see, the things we consume, how we feel. It stimulates the senses with whatever is there. It manifests itself in a contentment that goes beyond satisfaction and reaches joy.
The second is caring, not just about other people but about everything. We only appreciate when we make the effort to do so. That effort involves caring about style, dignity, the proper treatment of others, about possessions, time, our planet and about space.
Fulfilment is the opposite of emptiness. Many writings about fulfilment say achievement is the means of being satisfied. Certainly achievement is a prerequisite to joy but we need to know what we aim to achieve. Our objective must be ‘a sense of purpose fulfilled’.
There is a popular expression that says “fake it until you make it”. It is an excellent way to change behaviour.
But we suggest you change your aspiration to “make it so you don’t need to fake it”.
That is how Amazing Reality replaces the Desert of Emptiness.