January 24, 2015

Emptiness is a Gift.

Provided by author Renee Anderson

*Adult language ahead. 

Buddhism taught me about the hole in my soul.

Four years ago when I began my own process of looking deeper, I was overcome with daily epiphanies that I took as a glorious and magical influx of truth.

Enlightenment! How easy. Insta-lightenment. Yeah, buddy. I was high on life.

I breathed sunflowers and sh*t rainbows for a good six months. These “epiphanies” were all in relation to the bigger picture. What are we doing here? What does reality mean? Are we part of god or products of god?

This was all fine and good, but eventually each truth had an opposite that was equally true. Both-all-everything became true at the same time.

My mind was a steaming pile of paradox.

F*ck. I’m back to the beginning.

This was okay.

But the bigger issue I see now with this time in my life is that my spiritual focus was directed completely outward, into the cosmic reaches of space, the sky, the Earth. This is wonderful and beautiful, but eventually my self crashed the party and ruined my good time.

How does this new information affect my life? What is my place in all of this?

I felt a new responsibility to the world. It felt heavy and real. I cried. What are my actions and words and thoughts and how are they affecting the world around me? What ripples are my experience causing in the reality of other people, animals, plants?

As my direction changed from the stars and the sky to my own experience, a realization came down upon me, slowly but heavily, like an iron plate being sewn into my chest.

I was unhappy. I’d been unhappy for years. Little joy, little openness, little warmth. I was living in my head and my head was obsessive, neurotic, anxious and angry.

I fully accepted this realization about my own happiness and was very open with it. I embraced the darkness and for a while, things became even darker. Emotional problems that I had been somewhat unaware of were now on the front lines, and they came out with a vengeance.

They ruled me. They ruined me. All of my vices and pain and anger had me by the neck and were dragging me through my days—days when all I wanted was sleep.

What was this coming from?

It was coming from a lack. A hole. A seeping wound. A vast void in the center of my soul. I felt unfulfilled, discontented. This hole pained me, and to be honest, it often still does.

I did a lot of hole-contemplating.

We all have this—this emptiness is inherent in the human condition.

I wondered what this meant. I tried, like most of us do, to fill it with things like romantic love, work and drugs. I grasped for some sort of fulfillment, a stuffing, an insulation for my wide open crater of a soul.

I told many of my friends that I was not happy and had not been for a long time. I was just being honest. I wasn’t depressed and I wasn’t being a hermit. I was myself, as I always had been. I was just more in tune with my true feelings.

Often, when I told people about my own unhappiness, they got pretty squirmy. It’s an uncomfortable subject. They didn’t want to talk about it. They didn’t want to talk about it because I touched their emptiness, their void. They didn’t want to hear that someone they see everyday was unhappy.

I wasn’t trying to be a downer—I was trying to be real. I’ve learned after instances of bearing my soul that not everyone feels comfortable with the truth. And that’s okay. What mattered was what I was going to do about it.

I began wondering about some concepts and ideas related to this hole. I thought about the bigger picture, the existential answer. Maybe this void represents our disconnection to Earth.

Maybe this hole is a representation of how we are all parts of one whole, and since we are only parts, we will never feel true fulfillment.

Maybe this hole can be filled with connecting truly, with opening our hearts and letting in love.

Maybe this hole needs to be filled with a sense of purpose, a plan, a path to walk on that serves a greater good. Maybe this hole exists because we can never be truly, completely understood.

These were all lovely ideas, but that’s exactly what they were—ideas. Around this time, I was nearing the end of a two-month stay at Deer Park Monastery, a Buddhist monastery in Escondido, California. I listened to a talk by a very personable and funny monk named Brother Phap Hai. Through this talk, he inspired the realization that I was looking outside of myself for answers to this whole hole problem.

“We’re running after so many things that we think we can get because we think that they are outside of ourselves. In the Buddha’s teaching, it’s not about looking for that one more thing, which doesn’t actually exist, what is it that we are looking for? When is that magical moment going to be when we get it all together?

There might not be a magical moment when we get it all together. What can happen though, and what does happen, is that through the practice of mindfulness, we start to discover that right here and right now we have all the conditions that we need….there is no where else we need to be.

We are running after comforts, after small comforts, things that will take away or somehow minimize that emptiness that we feel in our heart, something that will cover that up. Buddha’s teaching is not about covering that up or running away from it.

The Buddha’s teaching is about embracing that wound, that emptiness that we have within us, that core of our humanity, and looking into it, because that’s the gift that we are meant to bring to the world. That is our path of transformation” ~ Brother Phap Hai

Wow. These words were so beautiful to me that tears poured from my eyes in the meditation hall.

I don’t need to fight it. I don’t need to fill it. What a relief. What a treasure!

It’s the silence, the clearness, the empty void that is our very tool, our very heart. If not for this space, where would we fit our love? Where would we fit our compassion? Embracing this calmness is exactly what allows me to feel the pleasure of a loving touch, the joy of the sound of leaves crunching under my feet, the beauty of the light of the sun playing through dancing trees.

This emptiness, my emptiness, cradles these sensations and gives space for them to flow through me. This emptiness allows space for me to transform unhealthy habit energies and release them back out into the world as something new.  He went on to say:

“In each one of ourselves there is a part of our self that is unobstructed, that’s clear, that’s wise. We our self are the teacher we’ve been looking for. Our mind is always searching outside of itself and never feels fulfilled—that’s why we never feel fulfilled.” ~ Brother Phap Hai

I’m no longer fighting this void, this wound.

Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it feels open and calm and free. Sometimes it feels full and loving and overwhelmed. But it’s mind and I have the power of silence and stillness to use it to connect with the clear, original nature of all life around me.

Part one of this dharma talk can be found here and part two here.


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Author: Renee Anderson

Volunteer Editor: Melissa Horton/ Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: Provided by author

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