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The Fullness of Emptiness

Many of the themes in Into the Centre revolve around the idea of emptiness, or non-grasping. Last issue, I focused on "I stopped reacting," as it related to both physical and mental discomfort. This week, we have yet another look at how all of this plays out, and we'll use a piece of Rumi's (See links to past Rumi Articles) poetry as a stepping off place.

One of the tricky parts of the whole emptiness process is in how Westerners equate emptiness with "meaningless." I've often heard people say that to be empty is to lack feeling, empathy, and involvement. Now, of course, the people I have heard that from are all self-involved narcissists who have trouble with not being the centre of attention, so I guess that explains some of it. Nonetheless, one could be forgiven for thinking that single focus on the moment is tantamount to being uninvolved in the drama of life.

I'd likely agree with that view. As I wrote to a friend this past week,


No, there is nothing new in life. Please tell her for me that there IS nothing new. That's the scary reality of this work. SSDD.(Same shit, different day..)

That's why people get so discouraged. SSDD. And why relationships fail. It's the same dance over and over again, in different guises. I often say each of us has one issue, (unique to us, which I call DRAMA) that appears in different forms. Like Baskin Robbins sells 32 flavours, and it's all ice cream.

Making it more complex than this is an ego game our minds come up with to keep us from dealing with our stuff each time, gracefully.


I see this all the time, with clients. Lately, clients have been sharing dreams with me, and I'm amazed at how rich and complex (read DRAMATIC) the dreams are. The last one I was told about had three people in it, all interacting at cross purposes. Yet (according to Fritz Perls) each person and object in a dream is an aspect of the dreamer. Imagine the DRAMA that 3 people with different agendas can create—and remember, the "three people" are really just the dreamer, who is actually a fourth participant.

Waking life is the same. Lots of confusion, and nothing much changes. We are too full, and enlightened life requires emptiness.

Here's the Rumi poem:

Essence is emptiness.
Everything else, accidental.
Emptiness brings peace to loving.
Everything else, disease.
In this world of trickery
Emptiness is what your soul wants.

Jelaluddin Rumi (trans. Coleman Barks)

So, what's going on here? Much as we have often said in the past, the point of life is to be present as life unfolds, while at the same time being gentle with ourselves. What I mean here is simple.  Our mind creates stories, DRAMAS, which are both disturbing and meaningless. Our mind, as they say, makes a great servant and terrible master. DRAMA, then, might be seen as the opposite of emptiness.

Rather than trying to analyze the Rumi poem right now, let me try an analogy. Some time ago, Dar and I decided to obtain a PVR (personal video recorder) from our cable TV supplier. The unit is a combination cable box and digital recorder.

Now, we're getting ready to swap it for new technology. The two boxes look different, but do the same thing. Let's call what the unit looks like its "form."

OK. Now, in addition to the "form," there is how each unit functions. "Function" is slightly different from form, in this way. Unit 1 takes 10 pushes on the remote to store the data about which show to record. Unit 2 takes 3 pushes. If time is important to me, then the function of Unit 1 is more efficient than that of Unit 2. In general, though, their function is "similar."

Lastly, there is content.

Each recorder only holds the content I program into it. The shows I want to record, and only the shows I want to record, are stored inside.

Now, if I own one PVR and Susie owns the exact same model of PVR, we can say that the PVRs have the "same" form and function, but different contents.

Got it?

Here's where people confuse themselves. They think that there is one more aspect - "meaning." We are saying that meaning is never a function of anything. Meaning is imposed, is situational, and is fleeting.

I always have the ability to look at the contents in my PVR and decide if I want to change what I choose to program. This decision does not require me to create a DRAMA about what I've chosen to record. In other words, I am "empty" of judgement about the rightness or wrongness of what's in the PVR.

Emptiness, as we use the word, and as Rumi uses the word, might be described as making adjustments to my approach to life, without imposing meaning, judgement, or DRAMA.

Now, it should be clear that the opposite of personal emptiness is DRAMA and judgement. Often, clients are caught here. They come in because they are judging their "contents" to be faulty, lousy, bad, whatever. They want me to insert the right, fixed, proper, good "contents". Instead, I invite them to drop the judgements, and simply try a different approach.

Now, it may sound like the same thing, but it's not.

Rumi says, "Emptiness brings peace to loving. Everything else, disease." The last word is telling—dis-ease. Lacking ease. The emptiness to which he refers is being empty of judgement regarding ones lover.

Let's go back to the PVRs. They are what they are and they hold what they hold. Now, I could get caught in the DRAMA of judging the content and saying "that's bad, nasty stuff. What a bad, bad PVR." If I did say this, someone would drop a butterfly net over my head.

I would be equally confused if I blamed the programmer of the PVR.

This is where most people get stuck. People love assigning blame and making judgments! And this one activity is responsible for virtually all the misery in the world.

We believe that the way out of this dilemma is understanding that one function of being human is creating a life based upon who one is and how one sees things, in the moment. While another's approach may not resonate for me, and I may therefore not chose to copy it, all I can say is, "That's not right for me."

Most relationship disputes, on the other hand, are based upon the judgement that one's partner is not simply different, but wrong. People get up on their soap-boxes and preach at their partner, listing all their flaws and sins. And the partner does the same. The partners are full of judgement.

Emptiness is this: I am curious about your programming, and I continually ask you how your programming is working for you. In other words, I encourage you to explore how you see reality and how your view is working for you, and invite you to let go of views and actions that are not beneficial…to you! And I invite you to do the same for me.

I am dis-eased if I think that my way is the right way. I am empty if I live with integrity, and accept who I am and who you are, without judgement.

Not one person, living or dead, has ever been content (at ease) when living in judgement. And this includes both judging oneself and judging others. We are not suggesting compliance here, nor apathy, nor stupidity. What we are suggesting is the integrity to accept complete responsibility for what I can control—the way I act in the world.

Emptiness is the key. I continually empty my self of the accumulated sludge of anger, resentment, judgement, and regret. I empty myself of the need to fix others. I look at myself and my way of explaining, seeing and living. If I am not content with myself, I shift my behaviours and interpretations and look again.

To be whole, one must be empty.




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