Emptiness is a fundamental part of the spiritual person living in the world.
It’s not at all clear how one deals with emptiness when it arises from their spiritual practice. One thing is for certain, though: it is a very good sign.
If you are experiencing emptiness at times during your practice, realize in that moment that what is happening is a sign of a very advanced state of mind. You should realize that in that moment you have become quite successful in your practice.
1. Don’t run from it!
You should not run from that moment, embrace it as a sign of great spiritual success. But it is not the highest attainment.
Emptiness arises because it was latent in our minds. In other words, the non-advanced student lives with this emptiness all the time. And when we begin to love ourselves, this emptiness pops us—like tears during a psychotherapy session. Let it pass.
As we fill ourselves with love, through our practice, what was latent in us—a feeling of emptiness, in this case—arises. When this happens, we experience emptiness in that very moment, but in actuality it is what has just been released.
2. Transcend it.
If we are able to get beyond emptiness, we find ourselves at peace once again. Just as when you hit the pillow after a long day, you might audibly let out a moan or other reaction that might sound as if you are in some discomfort, in the same way, when you are filled with deep love, you also let out a latent feeling—a latent experience.
If you are advanced enough, this feeling can sometimes be an experience of emptiness. But, if you allow it to pass, you will get beyond it into a peaceful, comfortable state. Your fear will not be there any longer, nor will the emptiness in the back of your mind.
This is very good because that inner emptiness that you might not even be conscious of is all too often a cause of people stopping their practice. So, it’s a good thing to get rid of it because you will able to continue to do your practice.
3. And if you haven’t experienced it yet, try to!
The next time you come across a feeling, or experience, of emptiness in your practice, don’t run! Remain still, remain with the breath. See what happens. You will not go anywhere. Nothing bad will happen to you. In a few moments, minutes maybe, you will feel relaxed and confident again. You will feel calm. You will feel more at peace than you had before.
First try to find this state of emptiness – then transcend it. If you can do that, it won’t ever come back. You will have to chase after emptiness—it won’t chase after you. And if you’ve never experienced this state, just continue doing your practice and you will. But remember, when you find yourself in it—remain calm.
Think of it as your body, your mind, testing you—to see how serious you actually are. Most people never get beyond emptiness. And even more people never even experience it to begin with. So, consider yourself lucky if you have experienced emptiness—get back to it—and don’t run from it this time. Just breathe!
Why is this so important?
This negative reaction to positive things is a very common theme in western psychotherapy. It’s why psychotherapy has been so successful in helping patients better cope with the world. You are supposed to react positively to positive things and negatively to negative things; but unfortunately, built up tension in the mind and body cause our reactions to be less than absolutely effective for utmost progress in our lives.
If you can clear this hurdle of emptiness, you will also be able to clear other worldly hurdles like low self-esteem, whether they manifest themselves in social settings, in family settings, or in work settings. Your spiritual practice will have corollaries in your worldly life. And isn’t that what spiritual practice is supposed to do? Isn’t it what helps us to live a better life?
To have more of what we want and less of what we don’t want is the goal. Don’t run from emptiness—see it as just a hurdle to an even more peaceful, comfortable state of mind and you will see the positive effects take hold in your worldly life as well.
Josh Barzell has been following an enlightened path for nearly 12 years, first under western methods of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, and later under eastern methods of meditation and contemplation. He has written on the subject of Enlightenment, with his essay “Enlightenment in the Modern World,” which can be found in book form on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, online. His websitewww.modernworldzen.com is currently undergoing a renovation. Modern World ZEN website has other short writings that are offered for free. Josh currently lives in Boulder and graduated With Distinction from CU-Boulder with a B.A. in Biochemistry and has been writing on spirituality since 2009.
Editor: Ryan Pinkard