‘The Emptiness’ & the Feeling of Emptiness (Two very Different Things)

Via on Jun 14, 2011

There is a feeling that many people experience. It’s like a sense that there is something missing – inside oneself.

And there is an experience that can only be attained through the direct perception of reality.

Both of these things may be called ‘emptiness’, but they should not be confused.

The feeling of emptiness inside oneself is a symptom of a deep malaise. It has often been attributed to depression, and rightly so. However, I have found through my work that it stems (the root cause) from certain kinds of abuse trauma that damage one’s self-esteem.

To illustrate this, I’ll give a ‘real life’ example. Actually, this example is a very good one, because it represents what I consider to be the most common, and perhaps the most damaging (although also the least recognized) form of abuse: emotional neglect.

A child is born utterly dependent and vulnerable. She enters this world with very few needs: physical security (food, water, oxygen, physical warmth) and love (attention and emotional warmth).

Very soon she sees that her parents are able to do a vast array of things – they provide for all of her physical needs; they move around and communicate effortlessly; they cause miracles to happen spontaneously (light, fire, water… all appear to be under their power).

So naturally, the child feels that these two beings are as Gods. They seem all powerful, and she depends on them entirely (not to mention – they created her!)

But very soon, something strange begins to happen.

Days go by and she doesn’t see the God (he’s a busy man and works dusk ‘til dawn). Although she would dearly love to see him, he apparently does not feel the same way (after all: if he did, he would – he is all powerful!)

And perhaps even when he is present physically, he somehow is not really present. His attention is not fully with her. And she feels (deeply subconsciously in her child’s mind):

“What is wrong with me that my Father does not see me? What am I missing?”

She truly feels that an important part of her is missing – some beauty, or some power, or something precious. And where that missing part should be, is only emptiness.

That feeling of emptiness is incredibly painful…

because it is related not only to the emotional relationship with parents, but also to our very survival: if a child is not worthy of love, who will save her when she needs saving? How will she survive the many years of dependence that are to come?

The feeling is in fact so painful that it cannot be accepted: as a defense mechanism we resist it by suppressing it (into our subconscious) where it remains as a blockage, until healed. Subconsciously we continue to feel empty.

So the child grows up feeling unworthy of true love; unworthy of abundant happiness, health, and success.

This, or a variation of it, is what causes very many of us to have low self esteem: a parent’s (or both parents’) inattention; absence; or inability to express love.


The other kind of emptiness is not a feeling: it is reality.

When we develop beyond independence to inter-dependence; when we see things as they truly are rather than projecting our own selfish desires, needs, and fears onto them; when we acquire enough energy and personal power to elevate our awareness beyond the mundane… then we perceive the true essence of reality – and it is emptiness.



Nothingness and emptiness are not the same. But Nothingness is part of emptiness. This was expressed most concisely and most beautifully in my opinion by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj when he said:

“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing,

Love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life moves.”

When everything is one, then nothing is separate, and the something that we thought we were disappears. This is transcendence; it is also frightening to someone who has not yet developed a strong sense of self.

You see, ‘in order to be truly spiritual, we must first be human’.

My wife taught me these wise words.

Too many people are turning their backs on their material selves: their bodies; their physical needs’; their animal nature.

Let me tell you something: nothing is not spiritual.  Everything IS spiritual. Yes, even money. Sex. Death. Disease. Depression.

I used to think that spirituality was the opposite of materialism – that was my definition. However, I have learnt that there is no difference between the two. They are two sides of the same coin. The same way that nothing, and everything, are two sides of the coin of emptiness.

If you are trying to be spiritual you are not being yourself. We all have material needs.

Don’t spend many years (as I did) trying to transcend materialism. It doesn’t work. You might have a transcendent moment, but you’ll still have to be back in time for dinner (or work Monday morning).

Instead, focus on balancing your spirit with its physical, material reality.

This is what has come to be known as being-ness.

Don’t chase after oneness – after all, it will find you (when you die)! Instead, use your time in this world to integrate your full being-ness.

I’ll end with a personal anecdote – a true story:

As a child I had a recurring dream; a nightmare. I was floating in space, utterly alone. I could wave my arms and legs, but there was no way of moving anywhere – I was weightless, with no momentum. Lost, alone, and powerless.

In the far distance there was a tiny speck of something. I had no idea what it was, but it felt like a toilet (odd, I know). So I was lost and alone and powerless, and apart from the stars and myself, there was only a toilet-like object in my field of awareness. The over-riding sensation was one of total desolation.

I had this dream many times all through my youth, until in my twenties it faded and I forgot about it.

Then, a few years ago I was in a meditation led by Tony Samara. I had a series of very powerful visions (which I won’t go into here – another blog, another time) but one of these visions was my old dream: I am floating in space, a toilet-like speck in the distance. Only I don’t feel alone any more. In fact, I don’t feel any sense of separation between myself and the toilet and the stars and the empty space. Rather, I feel myself as all of that – I am the emptiness in between! And tears flood my eyes and pour down my face, because I realize deeply that I Am That.

To say that this was a beautiful meditation would be an understatement: it transformed my life.

The purpose of my writing this is threefold:

1.  I want to highlight the two different kinds of emptiness: one can be a sign of progress; the other is something that inhibits progress, yet can be healed.

2.   I am promoting my work: I heal blockages, very successfully.

3.  I want more people to understand and realize deeply that spiritual progress depends upon material stability. We must accept ourselves and love ourselves fully as individuals before there will ever be any peace amongst us on this Earth.

So, help me achieve all three of these more fully by ‘liking’ (Facebook), sharing, and of course, I’d love you to leave a comment – comments are the currency of blogs!

About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston is a therapist, healer, advanced Sivananda Yoga teacher, and writer. His writings have been read by millions of people and can be found on Elephant Journal, Rebelle Society, and various other portals online. He has been teaching Yoga for 16 years in hotels, ashrams, beaches, gyms and rooftops worldwide. And he runs a busy international therapeutic practice from his home in rural Croatia. Offering sessions in person or via Skype, his therapeutic work is based on healing trauma, and the tools he uses for this are varied – mainly RPT, Shamanism, and energy work. He has also developed some of his own methods, particularly in the area of abuse trauma; ‘resource state’ awareness; and boundary reconstruction. He regularly runs retreats combining Yoga and other energetic exercises with his therapy. He would love nothing more than to see you on one of these retreats, since he believes that this approach to personal development is really the only effective way of bringing love and peace to global human society. Connect with Ben on Facebook. Read more of his writing on his new website with integrated blog! Yes, he's excited about that :)



26 Responses to “‘The Emptiness’ & the Feeling of Emptiness (Two very Different Things)”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Hi Ben. This really resonates with me. Thank you.

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    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
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  2. Ben-
    I visited your website through this post and before I say anything I have to say thankyou. You are the FIRST healer/instructor/whatever that I have come across who even mentions the fact that you dont refuse therapy bc of price. Dont misunderstand please, I am not saying what you do should be done for free, but for me I can not afford any alternative forms of "healing" and I am deeply upset to have to have resorted back to my familiar spot in the chair across from the prescription pad. You see I have an extremely hard time believing this is my only choice, but in many ways it backs me up against a wall. Your post here is the first time in months anything has struck even the slightest reaction from me, it helps tremendously to know your not alone, and I have so much shit to work through I dont even know where to start, or if I should bother (I'm on medication for that right? why get all emotional?) Anyway you make it seem real, and attainable, tangible healing, and I feel like you truly want to be doing what your doing–I will be honest the first thing I did on your site was find the prices, before reading anything else at all–and I was pleasantly surprised. If I was closer to you I would surely come see you, I believe wholeheartedly in what your doing–and thanks again for your post, really I loved it.

  3. integralhack says:

    I am thrilled that you touched on interdependence–or what Thich Nhat Hanh refers to as "Interbeing" as a requisite to the experience of emptiness (the second sort).

    Often people without what Buddhists call "right view" confuse this emptiness with something else and it can become spiritual inflation ("I" had this experience, ergo I am enlightened and above the rest). Ironically, this experience is the opposite of the first kind of emptiness but arises from the same place: the ego–or false self–which of course, is empty.

    Thanks for the provocative article!

  4. rachel says:

    this is an excellent article, ben really doing well to identfy the two different types of emptiness, i am not sure about your claims for reference point therapy, but this is because i havent tried it, i do remember what your what i saw as extremel optimistic take on yogas ability to heal everything, all at once, especially if combined with meditation, ( no mention of deep seated traumas ability to withstand yoga at all) but this sounds like a good addition, and an accurate description of trauma and traumas roots also, so i would certainly be willing to give it a try, lolx

  5. Irish says:

    Ben, You must have grown up with me in my house. It was like you are talking about me. I was shocked and relieved at the same time. Now that I am aware, I can at least start learning how to heal.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
    Irish ( a women of few words but mean what I say)

  6. naima62 says:

    Thank you Ben.. I'm in the healing process as we speak, so to read your article felt like a huge push forward. My heart actually feels lighter..

  7. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

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  8. […] ‘The Emptiness’ & the Feeling of Emptiness (Two very Different Things) […]

  9. Lisa says:

    Thanks for this piece on emptiness. I must have really needed this because I felt it right in my heart. As I try to make sense of the curveballs that life throws at me, I always find that I will see teachings about emptiness. It's funny how that happens. This one really connects the personal with the cosmic. It's hard to explain :) Thanks for making me think this morning! Many blessings!

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  11. Wahido says:

    Dear Ben, great blog! Love

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