The title of this post, Living With Emptiness, is a pun. For many people, the feeling of emptiness in their lives is a reality that they live with, but I am referring to the Buddhist meaning of “emptiness.” In my post, Nothing is Created, I quoted from the Heart Sutra, “…Form is emptiness, emptiness is form….The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.” Emptiness, as I explained in that previous post, means an absence of separate identity from the source of all life.
Life is a holographic experience. Looking deeper into any manifestation in life, we can trace its contents to that which originated in other forms in space and time, like the leaf that lives on as the tree after it has completed its cycle as a leaf through the seasons of its lifetime. Life expresses itself through all of manifestation, as a leaf, as a tree, as you and me. We are made of the same building blocks of life, the same pulsing energy of the creative life force. In the words of William Blake: “To see a World in a grain of sand, and a Heaven in a wild flower, hold Infinity in the palm of your hand…” Emptiness is fullness in potential, it contains any possibility. So also, fullness in space and time is impermanent, always changing, so we can say, fullness is emptiness. It is this perspective that will transform the feeling of emptiness that many people in our society experience as a result of not knowing and sensing that they are infinitely connected to the source of life.
How do we put this sublime teaching into practice, so we can make this our own experience? In an earlier post, Being Awareness, I mentioned an exercise in which we can see ourselves in all our interactions as a way of witnessing our interconnectedness. We normally see ourselves as separate beings, acting in isolation, manipulating the environment, people and experiences to make things happen. In this exercise, if we mentally step back in a stance of watching our world, seeing the parts of our body that are visible in our peripheral vision, we can more easefully have the experience of being the witness. We put ourselves in the picture of life. We are more aware of life expressing through us, rather than the feeling that we are powerless beings struggling to survive in a loveless world.
With a perspective of being the witness of our experience, we can be more detached from the emotions and mental formations that we wrestle with. We are able to name our experience, create some space to release ourselves from the grasp of our emotions, and can work with the feeling states that threaten to undermine our own inner peace. When difficult emotions such as fear, feeling unworthy, and shame rear their ugly heads, we can create some distance by being a witness to them. We can choose to believe that these emotions are only a part of our experience, that they are not the totality of our beingness, that there are also the parts of us that are courageous, deeply lovable and honorable. We will begin to understand that emotions are fleeting in nature, due to contraction in the mind. We can say that emotions are empty or impermanent, and emptiness is full of the potential for the emotions we choose to indulge.
Living with emptiness is a profound Buddhist teaching. It is the basic understanding of the nature of reality and the web of illusion that is created by the limitations experienced in the mind. If we can work with this one teaching, integrating this perspective into our everyday experiences, we will become established in the truth. Emptiness is only one concept, but it can be applied to everything we experience through our senses. In every situation in which we are seeking to understand, the remembrance of this one concept will set us free.
The Heart Sutra continues:“…the bodhisattvas(compassionate beings), supported by the Perfection of Understanding, find no obstacles for their minds. Having no obstacles, they overcome fear, liberating themselves forever from illusion and realizing perfect Nirvana(infinite peace).”