The Value of Being Empty

filled jugMilk jug

“You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.”
~Paulo Coelho

We are so full these days. Have you noticed? Our lives are filled with work time, family time, social schedules, the daily upkeep of life, not to mention the inner busyness of plans, worries, fears, and self-judgments. Throw in some expectations, relationship concerns, grudges, and unexamined feelings. Phew! It’s a veritable jungle in there.

The Possibility of Emptiness

Just for a moment, think of yourself as looking out through a clear vessel. Nothing is in the way of seeing people and situations clearly. Your mind is quiet. You are no longer confused, no longer sidetracked by mental stories or strong emotions. Infinite wisdom moves through you without being blocked or ignored. Creativity has an open channel for expression. Your familiar idea of “you” dissolves into space.

This is the potential for all of us – to be open, present, and available, to live from inner intelligence, to be in harmony with life. In fact, this is our natural state. Consider for a moment – who were you before all the “stuff” got crammed in there? Who would you be without it?

The Clutter of a Full Vessel

Emptying out the vessel might leave us on unfamiliar ground. The contents are there for a reason – they protect us by organizing our perceptions of the world and providing a blueprint for what to expect and how to respond. But they also deter us from seeing things exactly as they are. When our vessel is full, we are looking through old patterns and belief systems that limit the information we are able to actually take in. No wonder we feel confused.

Early on in life, a friend of mine developed the tendency to act aggressively to get her needs met. She grew up in a home where if you did not fight for what you wanted, you were sure to lose out. She learned to be controlling and even manipulative in her interactions. When she looked through her vessel, she saw people as pawns to be conquered. She was determined to come out on top.

Although this way of being usually got her what she wanted by force, it left her feeling isolated and dissatisfied. Now, with a beautifully empty vessel, she is warm, openhearted, and happy. People feel moved to be close to her rather than wanting to escape her domination.

From Full to Empty

Maybe your vessel is so full that you cannot imagine it being empty. Or perhaps it contains only a few remaining remnants of clutter that block your view. Either way, if clear seeing and inner ease interest you, if you are ready to turn back toward yourself, consider emptying out your vessel. Here is how to proceed.

A Few Points About Emptiness

  • As we get started, take a moment to reflect on this essential truth: emptiness is our natural state. We have not always lived according to our personal patterns and viewpoints. Before they took hold, there was space, potential, limitless possibility. Remember?
  • Being empty invites us to befriend the unknown. Once we subtract expectations, “should’s,” and projections from the past or into the future, we realize how much we do not know. Here is where wonder and openness reside. And perhaps some fear. When old patterns fall away, it is normal to feel afraid about not knowing. Meet this fear lovingly.
  • Be careful not to confuse emptiness with boredom. Boredom feels flat and numb, whereas true emptiness is the capacity to be fully awake to each moment. When we empty out, we do experience less drama, a quieter mind, and a calmer emotional state. You might notice the loss of agitation that is familiar to you, and some people find this shift disorienting. As always, you have the option of deciding what you want, what you want your life to be about.
  • Be compassionate with yourself. Every moment of exploration and letting go is a moment of freedom. If your patterns reappear, forget the times you have examined them in the past, and be fresh with what is being asked for now.

Step by Step

As we explore the tangles of thoughts and feelings that cloud our vessel, stay connected with your intention. Long-standing habits have a momentum that defies their dissolution. For a shift to happen, the desire to look through an empty vessel needs to be stronger than the desire to stay with one filled with debris.

Take a look at what is obscuring your clear seeing. With the willingness to be honest with yourself, what patterns and tendencies are preventing you from feeling clear and at ease? What mental and emotional habits are distorting your view?

Now, put on your curious explorer’s hat, and inquire into whatever you discover.

You might notice a thought pattern that comes in the form of an expectation, memory, plan, hope, judgment, “should,” or inner criticism. Sometimes a thought is so familiar that we do not even think to question it. In the spirit of openness and exploration, similar to the process Byron Katie offers, ask yourself:

  • Is this thought true? Am I believing something that isn’t actually true?
  • How do I feel when I think this thought?
  • Could the opposite of this thought be just as true?

Next, explore feelings.

  • Notice how you react when reality fails to conform to an expectation you hold.
  • Notice how you feel when you are operating based on what you think you “should” be doing.
  • Invite in all the hurts, fears, and resentments to be seen, felt, and held lovingly. These are your long-lost children who have been waiting for your embrace. You might even be surprised at how easily they subside.

Eventually, bit by bit, we begin to feel clearer. We are no longer bogged down by the past. We notice just a little more happiness, joy, lightness, and ease. We realize there is no difference among the seeing, the vessel, and that which is seen. All is clarity, peace is omnipresent, and love flourishes endlessly.

How empty or full do you feel? What has helped you empty out? What has challenged you? What is your deepest intention? I’d love to hear…

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Comments

  1. avatar says

    Sometimes I think I keep my vessel full because I’m afraid of what I’ll find if it’s empty. This is such a thought provoking post. Perhaps I just need to face up to my empty vessel, to see beyond the fear and towards the new possibilities.
    .-= Topi´s last blog ..5 life lessons Ive learned from my Mum =-.

    • avatar says

      This such an important point, Topi, and I am so glad you brought it up.

      Fear can be a factor in two ways. Even though we may want to be looking through a clear vessel, there could be fear of what we will find if we take a look inside. And the fear you are mentioning is of what you will discover if the vessel is actually empty.

      No one can really tell you what the empty vessel is like. When you get to the edge, it takes a leap a faith, a need to know no matter what the consequences. What you leave behind is everything familiar – including the mental and emotional triggers that bring suffering. When it is time for you to face up to the empty vessel, I trust completely that you will.

      Sending love…

  2. avatar says

    Gail, this post is very eye-opening for me, at the right timing in my life to receive it.

    (In fact, I was just thinking I wish I could completely take all of this in and remember it, every single part of it!)
    Everything you shared, I have been struggling against lately, without realizing it.
    I mistook emptiness for being defeat, or falling back into an area of stagnation, or boredom.

    I have been fighting for the new, and yet afraid to embrace it because the aggression is there thinking I need to work harder or do more, or else I fall back into discouragement.

    Well, before I came to this blog I was inspired by another to stop fighting against the wall and find a path around. Besides you don’t want to destroy everything. The other side may have part of your inheritance. The idea of going around the wall, and what you shared of emptying out (eliminates the ego) and the spirit naturally relaxes and rises to the occasion. This is exactly what I was needed, this kind of guidance right now to let this anxiety dissolve.

    So, thank you very much!
    I think I have been defending or manipulating at times as you shared above. (stuck in old patterns we used to use just to be heard or not crushed, but they no longer serve us).. when the blessing is already being held out to me on a golden platter. An intimate celebration doesn’t have competition either. It’s a private gift with just one name on it. We each have this given to us, it’s always there IN LOVE.

    I guess I better go get ready for the ball, and take off the warrior outfit ;)
    xxx

    what a blessing this was for me today! So grateful, beyond words!!!!!
    ~Jenn
    .-= Jenn´s last blog ..The Spirit of Ascension- Slowing-Down to Make It Count- - =-.

    • avatar says

      This is so beautiful, Jenn. I am moved beyond words.

      There is so much insight here and such a willingness to discover true emptiness – not mistaking it for defeat or stagnation.

      What I want to say to you is this: you don’t have to fight anymore! You can even include the wall and have all of it be a part of your journey. When we give up the inner war, everything is available for our awakening. Even the challenges or what seems irrelevant – if all is included we collapse into love, effortlessly.

      I love that you say an intimate celebration doesn’t have competition. When we discover the possibility of being intimate with everything, there is nothing to do but celebrate.

      I am toasting you, belle of the ball!! Big cyber hug to you…

  3. avatar says

    I was impressed by clarity of this article… Awesome Gail…

    State without the mental labels, without ego, a state of emptiness and peace is the “ultimate” state of human evolution, if we say so, since it is also the initial state of origin…

    The first time my being experienced a state of emptiness was in a “difficult” moment, full of negative emotions. There was so much negativity… My mind was full, so I suffered a lot.

    In the end, I came into a state of peace. State of calmness and joy. Negative thoughts were like house of cards that was so big that it collapsed on its own….

    After that I found out that I was not the first person who experienced this… And so it began my growth.

    No joke, this is one of the best articles on the subject I have ever read. Take care… Marko
    .-= Marko — Calm Growth´s last blog ..What Everybody Ought to Know About Self-Confidence — Part 2 =-.

    • avatar says

      Great to hear your story, Marko. I’m very glad this article resonated with you.

      Sometimes when the suffering is too much, it just breaks open and falls apart like a house of cards. All you can do is laugh upon seeing how we turn ourselves inside out believing to be real what is actually nothing more than a thought.

      I love your description – state without mental labels, without ego, the initial state of origin. In Zen, they ask, “What was your face before you were born?” which points to reality, eternal awareness, aliveness, life that has no opposite. And in this state there is no separate self, no “me.” What a relief!!

      Love to you, Marko…

  4. avatar says

    Thanks Gail. Today was an emotionally draining day. As others have said Timing is everything and while I would like to think that I could have made the most of your thoughts this morning, they surely have eased my runaway thought train this afternoon. The vessel was overflowing earlier and now it seems like there is just some space in between my accumululated whatever it is I accumulated.

    Thanks again!
    .-= occasionallyserene´s last blog ..What could you do… If you could evaporate anger like the sun does the morning dew =-.

    • avatar says

      You are so welcome, OS! I’m so glad your thoughts have subsided and you now see some space. Thoughts come and go, but the space is always here.

      Enjoy, my friend…

  5. avatar says

    Gail: This was such a good post. Thanks so much for sharing all your wisdom. I really liked what you said about emptying out your vessel if you want inner ease. We really do have to let go of some bad habits and be willing to dismiss anything that may be clouding our vision. Often it is easier to just start from the beginning and with an empty vessel as you suggested. I think for me what has been challenging is that there are times when I feel my vessel is empty and I am ready to begin, but then I look again and there is still something in there that needs to be removed. Thanks for the great post, insights and pointers in the right direction.
    .-= Sibyl – alternaview´s last blog ..30 Things I Wish I Knew Earlier in Life =-.

    • avatar says

      Hi Sibyl,

      I love how you are taking a look at your process – seeing the fruits and the challenges.

      By the time we get to adulthood, unless our experience is very rare, we can assume the vessel will be at least partly full. Just by having to deal in the world, we develop strategies, viewpoints, and ways of being that serve us to some degree, but ultimately don’t make us happy. Once we realize what isn’t working, we can bring our attention inside and take a look at what is filling us up and keeping us from living fully.

      An empty vessel is absolutely possible for all of us because it is our essential nature. But most of us have clutter to address to some degree. So I’m not surprised to hear you continue to find things in there. That makes you human! Each piece you discover is an opportunity to be free of it. In my own life, I tend to focus on the tangle I am noticing rather than on the goal of being completely empty.

      Your evolution is so beautiful, Sibyl, and I am honored that you share some of it here.

      Love, Gail

  6. avatar says

    Great post Gail. It is so easy to get stuck in an old groove. I used to be too afraid to question my own thought patterns but have since realised questioning allows so much more in.

    It still feels unconformatable at times and I still feel the urge to resist it, but with a little encouragement from my support systems I’m walking towards letting go of those grooves and embracing that emptyness.

    • avatar says

      You are so right, Deborah. Our vessel starts filling up before we even realize it. I love that, even though you sometimes feel fear and resistance, you are willing and able to question your own thought processes. This is the path to freedom. I’m curious – what are you afraid of?

      And it’s beautiful how you see that it allows so much more in. When we inquire, we get through the distortions and untruths.

      Sometimes we need support, don’t we? The path is so much easier when other like-minded people help us see our blind spots and when we learn from and inspire each other.

      I so appreciate your sharing your process. This is how we lend and receive support.

  7. avatarDeb says

    Thank you Gail for a great piece, again. I feel as if I have been working on this process for a while now and you have put what I am going through in words.
    I like the line “Your familiar idea of “you” dissolves into space.” The “you” I was is dissolving – I don’t have to be a timid, quiet, dependent victim. That’s not what I was in the beginning, I am seeing I can let go of those old feelings and roles and it is actually easier to let go of them now.
    I like being an empty vessel (or almost empty). I am amazed at how differently aspects of my life are turning out recently, as I begin to get rid of all those old ways of looking at issues and people and events. Just as you wrote above “Eventually, bit by bit, we begin to feel clearer. We are no longer bogged down by the past. We notice just a little more happiness, joy, lightness, and ease. We realize there is no difference among the seeing, the vessel, and that which is seen. All is clarity, peace is omnipresent, and love flourishes endlessly” I am notice more happiness and joy and ease. All this really does work!
    Thanks.

    • avatar says

      Deb,

      Your words ring with the sound of clarity and freedom. I am so happy and excited for you! You (and anyone else reading this) absolutely do not have to be a timid, quiet, dependent victim. You can let go of the feelings and roles that aren’t serving you.

      I know this process is not always an easy one for you, and you have so valiantly expressed your struggles here – which I appreciate. Obviously, your healing and wholeness are more important to you than anything else. When someone has that level of commitment, transformation happens. The old conditioning just can’t stand up to the fire of truth. What an inspiration you are!!

      May “you” continue to dissolve. May you know yourself as eternal love.

      xoxo, Gail

  8. avatar says

    Hi Gail.

    Each day sure is a different one. Some days I have a basic plan, and some days, I have an energized plan of attack and methods in place. Each day has a different frame around it, and different conditions that preceded and followed it.

    You are right that emptiness and boredom are not connected at all. Emptiness takes some real effort to obtain and maintain, but boredom takes nothing. Boredom requires a lack of effort. As far as emptiness, when we put in the effort to obtain it, like by clearing out a shelf, or clearing out some thoughts we have that are cycling through for no reason, we get energized. I know I get energized when I think of having less open loops in my mind. Emptiness takes boldness because it requires cutting things out and stopping one activity or another if they aren’t working.

    Emptiness might not be popular but it is way more enjoyable than a lot of the disarray that is readily available in our minds and out there.
    .-= Armen Shirvanian´s last blog ..Why I Don’t Name Names =-.

    • avatar says

      Hi Armen,

      Great to hear from you! I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

      I think emptiness may not be popular because people don’t realize its benefits. By far, the overriding way of being, in our culture, is to be busy and filled up. Empty? I don’t think it crosses most people’s minds. But once we learn of the possibility – the enjoyment and energy that come from emptying out, it potentially becomes attractive.

      When I first started reading about Buddhism, I learned about emptiness for the first time. I didn’t really understand it then, but something inside me said, “Yes!” It felt right and definitely was something I wanted to experience. This is the service that blogs like ours can offer. We put out the possibilities for happier lives that people may not think of on their own. Maybe we are like little cyber Buddhas :)

      Your thoughts about boredom are right on. Even just being curious about boredom is more energizing than being bored. There is always a way to move from contraction to aliveness.

      Take good care of yourself…

    • avatar says

      A warm welcome to you, CC. Thanks so much for visiting!

      I love to hear about your emptying process – the results show in that beautiful photo of you. Holding onto expectations is such a setup for suffering, isn’t it. We are trapped by our views, and it all goes downhill if the events of life don’t meet our expectations. Being free of them leaves us open to receive life as it actually it.

      Would love to hear what you have gained by letting go!

      Wishing you well,
      Gail

  9. avatartooempty says

    i feel too empty.

    i want to have my heart back. i mentally am aware of our true self. what does it matter to be that?

    i’d rather have my feelings in my heart .. not a walking shell. a robot. a slave to just being actions and no feeling.

    how do i undo emptying myself? it was a horrible mistake for me. i do not want it. i want my heart. i am expressive emotionally in all ways, but nothing touches my heart. i hate it. for years i have wanted to die because of this.

    i have also tried accepting it. i have gone through times of accepting it. it did not bring joy. bliss.

    possibly, help me see it all differently so joy is triggered within. i don’t want to be this way any more. i’d rather not exist physically anymore at all.

    • avatar says

      Dear Too Empty,

      I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that you shared so deeply here. I can see that the post went right to the heart of how you are suffering, and I hope that my words can be at least somewhat helpful. I’m going to give it a go.

      I don’t know how it happened, but somehow your heart became closed, and I hear the pain you experience because of it. What you are calling emptiness, I might call numbness. You sound shut down in a way that nothing is touching you. The emptiness I am referring to is empty of the mental and emotional knots that cause us to suffer, but is actually very full with aliveness, love, tenderness, appreciation, happiness.

      I absolutely know that knowing this emptiness/fullness is possible for you because it is the essence of all things of the world, including people. Your essence is fullness, clarity, love. So my guess is there is something in your vessel that hasn’t yet been seen fully seen that is blocking you from recognizing this true, alive emptiness.

      You write that you have tried acceptance, but it hasn’t helped. My suspicion is that there is still some subtle thought pattern or emotional tangle that hasn’t been fully met in love.

      I hear a number of encouraging qualities in you: you know what it feels like to have your heart, even though you don’t have it now; you are willing; you are clear about what you want ( your heart, joy); you are reaching out; you can express yourself emotionally.

      Putting myself in your shoes, after trying so much on your own for so long, I would be seeking out help, which you have started by offering this comment. Whether it comes in the form of a therapist, spiritual teacher, or counselor of some kind doesn’t matter. Someone else who understands your process, and is also objective, could be a very useful guide.

      I totally support you in being very kind to yourself in this process. It sounds like things have happened that you regret. I am certain that you did the best you could in the past – because we all do. See if you can bring unlimited kindness to yourself.

      Putting my psychologist hat on for a moment, if you are actually feeling suicidal, please get some help ASAP from a therapist, physician, or even by calling 911. What I clearly hear from you is a desire to stop suffering, a desire to feel joy in your life. These are possible for you.

      I am happy to be a support for you as much as I can. Feel free to stay in touch.

      My heart is so open to you in this moment…I’m sending you love overflowing…

      Gail

      • avatartooempty says

        thank you Gail, i have hope while reading your words.. indeed numbness rather than the emptiness. yet i i did feel today a peculiar peace. i appreciate you sending that my way. and just got this so you get the credit ^^ :)

        as i was riding the train i saw all the sights there were to see, underpasses with graffiti and the sunset over an open field and tired women with their babies and an elder struggling in brave uncomplaining face with their wheelchair, and they were just part of all that is (and a little bit of me felt, i am not this person, but just as they are).

        somehow i was not me, the person, as i rode home from work. i was in some empty space but not empty.

        watching all the forms of existence, and knowing they are empty at the same time being form. (shoved myself into the whole of it).

        basically, all the sights were empty/form, form/empty, empty/form… i enjoyed it in peace. and did not feel sad i was recognizing my heart as empty, though it still is. but for now it is saying ‘i identify with empty and that is form too’. i could feel myself having this body, this life, as outside myself yet i was in myself… it was very brief, and i don’t know if that is how the truth is to feel. but it was nice, and peaceful.

        there was something about the trees…. i imagined how earth was and will be, a rocky dry place, and how that is how my heart feels for now, but trees will grow. i had the thought, ‘trees are the emotions of the earth’.

        i do get suicidal at times, i don’t have insurance for therapy, but could find some help from people somehow i hope. it is numbness… but will appreciate what blessings i have as this human self, and i’m sure it all ends too quickly anyway for most peoples’ preference… and that scares me sometimes… my present earlier was a ride home one the train, now that is a dream. my present now is the only reality, typing this, but soon it will be a dream. all i see is a passing dream… i guess i fear where i will go…. our true self is all bliss so i will try not to be afraid. trust it.

        thank you for your words, they bring a wonderful day to a wonderful end. <3

        i will stay in touch. thank you very much for that.

        • avatar says

          Beautiful follow-up, TE.

          I appreciate your giving me the credit for your peaceful day, but let’s give credit where credit is due. To be absolutely clear, which is essential, the same force that moved me to say the words that helped is the same force moving you and all the sights and sounds you saw. This is where we meet and where all forms dissolve – in the one love that is the true source. And this includes you. Nothing left out.

          No wonder you felt peaceful. Your mind was relaxed and you were one with the flow. And you make a very astute comment: ‘i identify with empty and that is form too.’ That identification is your gift on a silver platter to investigate, to drill down to the truth of it. And it is that identification that is keeping your heart from knowing itself as fullness.

          You describe the passing dream of your present experience. May I suggest looking deeper? All experience arises and passes on. What is it that doesn’t change, that is and always has been present, that exists no matter what experience is or isn’t present – including the experience of “me” and the body? What are these passing experiences arising in? And the answer may surprise you. Bliss is an experience that comes and goes. So don’t look for bliss, although it may show up now and then. Simply be open and see what is actually here. You may find that the true eternal self is more ordinary than your mind thinks it is.

          Blessings to you…

  10. avatar says

    I think a lot of people fill themselves and their lives up because they are somewhat afraid to listen to the silence of their own minds.

    We tend to fill things up to the point where good honest introspection is not only impossible, but is not a concern. This leads to problems though. Especially if your identity is tied completely to the things you have filled your life with, and they are suddenly taken away.

    Great post, and thank you for your thoughts.

    • avatar says

      I resonate with your comment so much, Joshua. Thank you.

      I hear your point about being afraid to listen to silence. That fear motivates more and more filling up to the point where there is no space to stop and see what is really going on. And if we are attached to the things we are filled up with, we are left with a recipe for suffering.

      So what is the antidote? Silence…allowing…courage…non attachment…inner reflection…

      And, as I read between the lines, these seem to be the guiding qualities to your life. Thanks so much for sharing them.

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