On Emptiness





I grew up in a house filled with spares. Empty was not a familiar concept to me. My mother always had two or three or more backups to all household consumables.

And so I understood young that empty was bad and that preventative measures must be taken to avoid it.

If our inboxes are empty we feel unimportant, not busy enough. If I get to Friday night and I have no plans for the weekend, I feel anxious.

We’re told that if you see the glass as half-empty you are a pessimist.

But if empty is bad does that mean full is good?

And are there shades of grey? Can we be too full? Or too empty?

In theory, no, as both are absolutes. And yet, as anyone who has ever eaten dinner at my place knows, too full is a real concept, alive and well. And by the same token, where a little bit of emptiness might drive us forward, too much can halt us in our tracks.

Milan Kundera explores the idea of light vs. heavy, asking:

“What is Vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”

We know why we defend ourselves, but what is it that makes the emptiness, the void, so tempting?

Is it because we spend so much time amassing things, substance, stuff; in a never-ending pursuit that wears us down and tires us out so much, that we long for the clarity, the freshness, the blank slate, the relative repose of nothingness?

Or is it but a shiny illusion, a trap to ‘lure’ us, an empty promise, as it were?

We all feel it. In the quiet, in the darkness. At the bottom of a glass, at the end of the packet, as we pull our clothes back on. We are painfully aware of our own emptiness, but we refuse to acknowledge it. To give it form, to allow it to breathe and take shape and settle in. We push it down, out, away, we smother it with food, and drinks, and cigarettes and loud music and fast runs and dancing. We write the words, any words, good words, bad words, average words. Because we believe that something is better than nothing.

Scientist, astronomer and writer Carl Sagan mused:

“In all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.”

And so we hold tight to others. We pair up, have families, draw friends close. Maybe if we are together then the emptiness doesn’t seem so bad.

A yoga teacher I once had used to end her sessions with this:

“The divine light in me, recognises and honours the divine light in you.”

I wonder if the whole point of human interaction, of meeting for lunch, of running in packs, of clinking glasses and sitting beside one another, isn’t as simple as saying:

“The sublime emptiness in me, recognises and honours the sublime emptiness in you.”


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