EMPTINESS

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One of the most popular phrases that I hear floating around is “let-go”. Learn to “let-go” seems to be the advice coming from every corner. “When are you going to learn to just let-go?” Let-go of “what”, I wonder? Is there not anything worth holding-onto? If so, what would that be, and how do I know? This reminds me of the Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr;
“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change what I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This same sentiment was also spoken by The 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar Shantideva of Nalanda University;
“If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for dejection?
And if there is no help for it,
What use is there in being glum?”

The Buddha suggested that there is suffering in the world due to the fact that things change, and we want things to remain the same. We become attached to predictability and permanence in life, but events occur that despite our best efforts, we have little control over. These are the types of events that Shantideva and the Serenity Prayer suggest we have the equilibrium (serenity) to accept; in essence, “letting go” of the expectation that we can alter the outcome. Form a “witness” to the ongoing events of living…..create some distance by not identifying with all these events. Much of the Buddhist doctrine is centered around developing equanimity in the face of inevitable change. But what about the other ones; the changes where our holding-on will make a difference? What is the source of the wisdom that will allow us to distinguish what is worth striving for (holding onto) from what is not? Essentially, what is the source of and basis of “hope” in the midst of frustrating unpredictability? When do I dare risk to dream? How will I know?

More than likely, you are familiar with the story of the blind men and the elephant. In this story, each of the blind men grasps one area of the elephant, and to them, that is what the elephant “is”. Their descriptions of what the elephant “is”, are of course different, and they are unable, because of their fixation on their own particular sense experience, to see the greater truth where they would find common ground. Conversation regarding their individual experiences becomes fragmented and argumentative, and they feel alienated, perhaps with a measure of righteous indignation that the others are so inept and unwilling to see the “truth”. This scenario has played itself out many many times in my own life. To place it in Jungian terms, I was unable to “transcend” my sense experiences, including my emotions, and place them in their appropriate position, relative to the underlying greater truth. This transcendent function Jung states, is necessary not only for personal individuation and growth, but for social integration as well. Transcendence allows us to gain a perspective of how and where our individual sense experiences and emotions merge with a greater, more comprehensive “truth”. To enable transcendence, I have to “let-go” of the underlying concept that it is necessary for me, in order to maintain “control” of my life’s authentic evolution, to assume that my personal experience in any given moment is equivalent to unchanging “truth”. I have to let-go of the need to control how my life unfolds. I have to let go of self (ego attachment) to my feelings and thoughts.So what do I hold-onto, and what can I change? If I am not in control, who is? What is on the other side of this transcendence?

William Stafford addresses transcendence in his poem “The Way It Is”;

“There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.”

In his poem, Stafford speaks of something that does not change…an ineffable thread that guides us along. This thread is known by various names in every culture and religion, and it is the same unchanging thread that is common to all of them. The word that I use is “Emptiness” and equates to unlimited possibility. It is present and alive in every flower and blade of grass, every creature that is born and grows and dies, every molecule of every bit of matter and quark that makes up our universe, in every rock and pebble and each drop of rain. It calls to us from the recesses of our heart and from all that we can see or feel or hear. It lies beyond our loneliness, our ecstasy, our grief. It is the mother and father of all that ever was or will be. It is the river of life that courses through our veins and our awareness. It is unchanging, and what we have been given to hold onto. It is all we have to truly rely on, or hang our heart and dreams on. It is the source of hope. With it, all things are possible, and without it, all is ultimately doomed to meaningless failure. We can’t know it, but we can allow it. Allow this Emptiness to be present in your awareness at all times, in all situations. It is the lowest common denominator and most common thread of existence. This is the only anchor that holds, and ultimately, the only choice we have. “While you hold it, you can’t get lost.”
Peace, friend.

2 thoughts on “EMPTINESS

  1. Just going through a very difficult situation at work which is circulating like a constant shrill buzz in my consciousness. Shared it with my mother while waiting on the platform for my train. She sent me a message that brought me peace and courage

    Boarded the train and started reading your blog. Shared it with my mum too. The serenity prayer is her favourite prayer and was pasted on the walls of our home growing up. It was like a message of divine synchronicity

    As i read your blog i felt something lift. My fears and worries that i have been wrapping around myself

    Ofcourse, the emptiness. That reflects the profound colours and lightness of life

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