The Bliss of an Empty Mind

  1. Body Cleanse
  2. The Mind’s Cobwebs
  3. The Bliss of an Empty Mind
  4. Clearing the Gunk Out of Your Head
  5. Exercises in Mind Emptying
  6. Clearing Relationship Gunk
  7. Putting Your Soul into your Being
  8. Dropping the Excuses
  9. Seeing the Light
  10. You Can’t Win

How to clear your thought processes, otherwise known as — The Bliss of an Empty Mind


Although it sort of seems like I’m giving away the farm, 99.5% of the work I do as a counsellor is exactly the same. And, this work matches my personal experience as I explore and ‘work on’ myself. I’m about to reveal this secret to you, and the odd part is that I know that

  1. most of you will agree, and
  2. most of you will quickly come up with reasons not to change anything, despite your agreement

Rather than jump right in, let me quote a client.

Some of this is my learning to take a situation and follow it through from start to end (the middle is a muddle in my experience — I can start and see the end, but then something goes on regarding the middle parts.)”

Now, you’ll notice that I did not reveal the issue my client was asking about, and that’s for a good reason—the reason is irrelevant!

For reference, the “beginning” is the issue, and the “end” is the resolution. The middle is where the problem lies. In the middle, the muddle is how much time we waste on our internal dialogs – the bitching, moaning and complaining – what I call The Drama. The middle, while not optional, is certainly not important.

It’s NEVER About What You Think It’s About

Picking up from our last article, let me remind you of a key point. Our cultures and tribes have provided us with a structure through which to view our reality. From a biological perspective, all there is is sensory data. Vibrations of some sort (light, sound, tactile, etc.) ‘hit’ us constantly.
Here’s an illustration from my book, This Endless Moment, p 85–86

Exercise in Consciousness

Sit comfortably. Begin looking around the space you are in. As you look at a door, internally say, “Door.” Immediately move your head, focus on something, and name it. Do this for a minute or two. How long was the list? Now, what were you focused on prior to doing this? This book, for one thing. What else were you aware of seeing? The truth is, your mind was aware of virtually everything in your visual field, but chose to exclude, or filter out the “irrelevant” data, leaving you consciously aware of only a portion of the available data.

How did it decide what was irrelevant? Past experience. You’ve been reading for most of your life. You learned rules. How to sit. How to light the book. What to pay attention to. Your brain, doing you a favour, excludes what you’ve predetermined isn’t important.

We’re not done. Now, listen for a minute or two. What do you hear? How much had you heard prior to paying attention? Again, the filters were in place. Your ears were hearing all of those things (you don’t think sound waves aren’t there if you’re not paying attention to them, do you?) but filtering them out. So you could read.

More. Use your skin now. How’s the temperature? How’s your butt? Numb? Can you feel the chair? Check out your clothes from the inside. Can you feel the elastic or belt around your waist? (Oh! How nice! You’re reading my book in the nude! What do you feel with your skin?)

And more. What do you smell? How’s your mouth taste? (Where’s that coffee cup?) How do you feel, emotionally, today?

The point is, modern life is so “busy” signal-wise that we’ve had to shut down our senses to survive. We have become dulled and jaded by the sheer volume of stimuli, to our detriment. The nice part about it, as you just discovered if you did the exercise, is that turning things back on simply requires paying attention.

This exercise reminds us of the Zen principle of “simply noticing.”

This section helps us to see that ‘stuff’ is coming at us all the time, and we are only aware of a fraction of it. In other words, ‘things’ become real only when we notice them.

It’s All a Figment of Your Imagination

We resist the notion that nothing is real until we ‘see’ it. It’s one of those Zen mind games, like, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I made that one into a tee shirt:

zen tee
You can buy the tee shirt by clicking on the image!

Or, the ever popular question, “If a man speaks in a forest, and there is no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?” Couldn’t resist…

In Buddhism, there is a differentiation between apparent reality and ultimate reality. It is also framed it as the contrast between the authentic and the actual self. In Buddhist thought, ignorance rather than ‘sin’ (right /wrong, good / bad) is the issue to be dealt with.

Ultimate reality is best described as “is-ness.”
In Taoism, they say, “The way it is, is the way it is.”

The ultimate reality is: while everything exists, it lacks meaning.

Try this: point up. Now, is someone on the other side of the globe pointing the same way? Of course not! There is no “ultimate up”—there is just the direction that is “up” for you.

Apparent reality is “what is,” with your opinions and judgements attached. In other words, the direction that is ‘up’ for you is declared to be the right direction, and everyone else is wrong! Apparent reality is sticky, and it’s where we spend our time when we’re in our heads, judging, plotting, and scheming.

Why Emptiness?

This is the key issue for any personal development schema. When I first became acquainted with ’emptiness,’ it was in the context of Existentialism—the nihilistic “angst,“or fear of death —hooked to the concept of meaninglessness. Later philosophers, like Maturana, suggested “Life is a Purposeless Drift.” Buddhist ‘emptiness’ has nothing to do with any of this.

Zen is about observation of “what is.” Now, the ‘what is’ is the ‘what is’ below your filters and assumptions. In other words, the goal and point of Zen is to watch your mind as it meaning-makes, while not attaching to either the process or your assumptions. In this way, the mind sort of slides to the side, and you peer past the mind-games to the essential ’emptiness’ of everything.

Hey Wayne, Enough With the Philosophy Lesson! Gimme Some Practicalities


Example 1: This past weekend, Darbella and I attended the UpTown Waterloo Jazz Festival. First set was a band, and the first 5 minutes was an improv of a particularly jarring kind. Dar and love this. A 20-something couple sat down near us. After 5 minutes, they marched out. I judged that they hated the music.

Now, here are my judgements.

  • One is, we stayed, they left, so I assumed they didn’t like the music.
  • Secondly, many would argue that jazz is an acquired taste. Beneath it all, in the ’emptiness,’ jazz is vibration we call music, and it is devoid of any meaning. Whether I ‘like it’ or not is all about me, and has nothing to do with the jazz.

Example 2: Have a look at this picture. Who is this woman? Tell yourself a story, based only upon the picture.


Now, can you fathom that your story has absolutely nothing to do with the woman in the picture? The story you told yourself is totally and completely about you!

Learning to ‘Let it Be’

Back to the client I quoted at the beginning. Here is my edited reply:

Emptiness and Equanimity

I’m going to write a blog article about this soon, so there will be a longer version of this up on my site. While not wanting to get lost in the threads of Buddhism, I think there are a couple of concepts that are helpful. One being equanimity.

Our beliefs are tied up in our past learnings. You might remember from my book, the part about deconstruction. This is the fearless examination of the things I believe to be so about myself and the world. We do this to see that our egos are prejudiced and see the world in black and white. In Buddhism, they say there are three possible approaches — attraction, aversion, and indifference.

These approaches are actually filters or descriptions that we fit to self and to others. Another way to say this is, “Things I like, things I hate, and things I don’t care about.”

Now, we do this almost instantaneously — label things good, bad, or indifferent. My approach is to ask myself (and my clients) to take the time continually to explore this ego process. In other words, ALL situations are meaningless, or ’empty of meaning.’ They just ‘are.’ Our minds get into definitions, judgements, and declarations. Normally, this just happens, beyond our conscious awareness. If we slow down, we get a chance to see our ego-mind doing this little trick.

I WANT to justify my choices by making references to externals – to mom and dad, to fate, to whatever. If I slow down and watch, all I see is a situation and my response, in between which is a pile of mental gymnastics.

Right there, in between the situation and the outcome, is where all the drama happens. Right there, in the middle, you start into the judgements: woe is me, too much money, it’s not fair, nobody else has this problem, how did I get into this mess, nobody loves me, etc.

So far, no problem, as this is normal. SO LONG AS YOU NOTICE!!! That’s where the equanimity comes in. Noticing is watching your mind scramble to ‘crazy make’ and to judge and blame. The goal is to just sit there, letting your emotions arise along with your descriptions and evaluations. You can also express your emotions, as they arise, safely and indirectly (say, at a chair, or by beating the bed.)

THEN, complete the task!

In other words, “Woe is me.” — reply, “Yes, woe is me and I need to resolve this.” “It’s too much money.” “Yes, it seems like a lot of money and I need to resolve this.” Eventually, your ego will give up, and scream, “So, get up and resolve this!”

And then, you do!

Next Article, we’ll look at the four principles for dealing with the issues that arise — Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-Identification (R.A.I.N.)

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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