What does this phrase bring to mind? An exhaustion of emotion? An inability to feel anything? A lack of desire? If you’re a meditator type it is not something negative at all. Emptiness is a desirable place, one you want to get to, which already sounds contradictory so what exactly could it mean?
First it does mean emptying yourself of a great many things: of your likes and dislikes, of all the conditionings of your upbringing and life experiences, of all your images of who you are, of all the agendas you think you need to become a different person or to change a situation, etc. The list is infinitely long and the task nearly impossible but you actually can get to a place of some neutrality for at least some period of time.
Notice that this is something rather different than what’s promoted by our modern culture or what you’d get in psychotherapy, where all those things are considered very important, worthy to be examined, sorted through, evaluated, embraced, rejected, etc., etc. Here you just dump it all.
The other meaning of emptiness is not empty at all but fullness. It refers to the undifferentiated stuff that spontaneously turns into stars, planets, species, ideas, emotions and everything we see every day. It is the ground of all being from which we all spring and to which we return in an ongoing eternal cycle.
When you put these two meanings together the idea is to scrape the slate clean and go into silence so that the forces of creativity can spontaneously arise and take you in a new direction.
Now there is another phenomenon that virtually always comes up and no one has a reasonable explanation for why so they usually take is as a given. Everyone who goes into emptiness and silent space begins at some point to feel that it has a benevolence. They sense it has an inherent compassion which then produces a similar response.
That sounds nice, now how to make it actually happen? In the preceding post on Smiling the method was to soften and relax your body and steer it toward feeling more happy. Here you go a step further and dissolve into nothing, with no particular agenda. Instead you wait for that warm stuff to arise of its own accord.
You don’t particularly care if and when it comes because you’re in neutrality, so take your time. Now there’s no sin in wanting to feel compassion of course; it’s just that you’re not forcing anything. So when it does appear it’s more genuine and pleasantly surprising too. (Note that we’re in the subtler aspects of allowing vs. doing.)
But there is a perfectly legitimate shortcut: Create the emptiness in your heart. The heart is the most natural place to feel benevolence. If you sit quietly you can probably feel your heart beating. Those who measure these things tell us that the electrical signals there extend out several feet and are much stronger that those of the brain. The heart energy center is on the central axis next to the physical organ but it’s not crucial that you distinguish between the two.
It is important that whether you imagine or visualize or feel empty space in your heart area you remain conscious of everything there vs. going unconscious. Just spacing out won’t get you very far. One trick to stay conscious is to fluctuate the space larger and smaller like a balloon. The next step is to make your mind go out, way way out to the emptiness of outer space and recognize that the inner and outer are of the same nature. Then you can expand the empty heart space out to the cosmos and bring the cosmic space back into your heart.
It may dawn on you that you actually can be free from all the internal chatter the binds us up in knots. If that weren’t enough to make you happier, sooner or later you will recognize that the silent emptiness itself is benevolent in nature. When you feel that you can expand your heart’s compassion out to the universe and bring its compassion back home.
If this is beginning to sound like pie-in-the-sky you can test it out. First try projecting and receiving compassion to and from those you know and love, which should be easy. Then try it with those people far away whom you don’t know, or with other species in the world. Try it with those you do not love or even hate. Try it when you’re having a debate. If it doesn’t work you’re not there yet; go back to neutrality and send that out and back. As they say, if your spiritual practices don’t translate to your everyday life what good are they?
What I’ve described here is the essence of what is called Shen Gung, simply translated as Spiritual Practice. The genius of the Chinese Taoists was to strip down this whole complicated subject matter into its simplest elements while still being practical. They weren’t the only ones to simplify. Buddhists will recognize this as Dzogchen. It’s also one way to read our Western phrase God is Love. Whatever your starting point, if you can empty out the complexity it will do your heart a ton of good.