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Why Can't We Tolerate Emptiness?

--by Natasha Dem (Apr 23, 2012)


Why is it so hard for us to tolerate emptiness in our minds? The prevalent belief that action always equals progress may be a contributing factor. We perceive emptiness as an undesired state, something to be feared. We feel uncomfortable with those moments when our minds seem devoid of any creative or productive activity. We rarely, if ever, simply sit with and allow the feeling of emptiness.
 
When a thought enters the mind, it is replaced by another. It is automatic. We are not aware that a thought has segued into another thought. But upon developing the muscles of concentration, we become conscious of the entry and exit process of our thoughts. The mind gradually begins to entertain fewer thoughts per minute. We become aware that there is an interval, a delay, a space between one thought and another. This space is emptiness but also a fullness. At this level of awareness, we are in the sanctum of pure awareness. There are many who are living in this state of pure awareness, and their experiences are lucid and real.
 
Many are in search of this state, whether they know it or not. We are wired to seek and find what we seek. This quest is as old as humanity itself. There is no need to spend time and energy seeking some illusory “self.” What you are seeking is inside of you, and it is you. It is the mind that asserts otherwise.
When you believe this mind, you seek this “I” outside yourself. All one has to do is to remain quiet, calm the mind and experience this space between the thoughts. In this state, only the “I” exists. When you let this “I” in your mind be, without resisting, you enter the realm of emptiness — pure consciousness or the creative void. Whatever comes up, do not take it personally. Just observe. Allowing your mind to “go blank” for a little while won’t kill you, and will actually help you discover your potential, unlimited.
 
Now developing some comfort with this state is both simple and complex in concept. Since we are slaves to stimuli, we can’t imagine harnessing such a practice of emptiness or of being. We are incessantly tempted to turn our attention to something just to avoid this sensation. Blankness is not nothingness. To be empty does not mean non-existence. Emptiness is the ground of being, and because of it, everything is possible.
 
When the ego cooperates in suspension of all sense impressions and thoughts, it enters the realm of empty, unnameable nothingness. This nothingness is the gateway into the deeper layers of consciousness. It is here where inspiration, knowledge and creativity will ultimately strike.
 
--Natasha Dem


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11 Previous Reflections:

 
On Apr 30, 2012 Thierry wrote:
Yes Catherine, I misread you and this will serve me as a lesson. Forgive me for adding to your grief. My sincere hope that you and your son will find a more peaceful relationship. 

On Apr 29, 2012 Chitarta wrote:
yes, thoughts arise.....and always vanish, if we let them.....the natural law is that EVERYTHING arising is actually a movement in /as consciousness......everything being born is on its way to die....that is the natural law.....if we cling or resist to this flux or build our peace on this flux we are going to suffer....if we WELCOME WHAT IS as it is in its own law of arising and vanishing we ARE peace....if we are living the PRESENT MOMENT as it is fully we are PRESENCE itself and we are not swept away if THIS moment changes into THAT moment, but just WELCOME the change itself.....NEVER MIND with a is the mantra....... sidharta

On Apr 25, 2012 Sidharta wrote:

WONDER - FULL is this EMPTINESS, LOVE -FULL is this EMPTINESS, BLISS - FULL is this EMPTINESS......when i started to look where each thought is arising from ? instead of being overly interested in the content of thought , a whole other state of BEINGNESS unfolded.....also BEING comfortable with this HUMAN NATURE of a HUMAN BEING of NO - THOUGHT and because of this being able to WELCOME WHAT IS in a broad sense of what life is presenting us with. life becomes very simple, because what really matters is being fully in touch with each PRESENT MOMENT in its PRESENT MOMENT costume.....good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant.....all the different oppositional feelings, sensations, thoughts of body/mind take a bath, a dance in the spaciousness of a silent, empty mind and transform themselves from thought - form, feeling - form, sense - form.....to empty - form.....SAT- CHIT- ANAND....EXISTENCE- CONSCIOUSNESS- BLISS,  our true human beingness.........especially in this wonderfull dance of spr  See full.

WONDER - FULL is this EMPTINESS, LOVE -FULL is this EMPTINESS, BLISS - FULL is this EMPTINESS......when i started to look where each thought is arising from ? instead of being overly interested in the content of thought , a whole other state of BEINGNESS unfolded.....also BEING comfortable with this HUMAN NATURE of a HUMAN BEING of NO - THOUGHT and because of this being able to WELCOME WHAT IS in a broad sense of what life is presenting us with. life becomes very simple, because what really matters is being fully in touch with each PRESENT MOMENT in its PRESENT MOMENT costume.....good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant.....all the different oppositional feelings, sensations, thoughts of body/mind take a bath, a dance in the spaciousness of a silent, empty mind and transform themselves from thought - form, feeling - form, sense - form.....to empty - form.....SAT- CHIT- ANAND....EXISTENCE- CONSCIOUSNESS- BLISS,  our true human beingness.........especially in this wonderfull dance of spring. how much delight is gifted to us by mother earth to celebrate life in this very MOMENT......each breath, each step, each zip of tea....... at a time.......aaaaaaahhhhhmmmmmmm....purrr...purrr....purrr........

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On Apr 25, 2012 Thierry wrote:
Picking up from Ganoba's comment, the state of not knowing that comes when thought realizes it's own limitation is uncomfortable to stay with. This is quite obvious in every day life as when we feel insecure not fully grasping and controling a situation. But even when sitting quietly with oneself, one expects, however subtly, some intimations from the 'deep', some fuller, more complete understanding, direct from source, not mediated by another. And this may not occur until we are more spiritually receptive, more capable to withstand the uncomfort of not knowing.    

On Apr 24, 2012 Ganoba wrote:
 Most of our knowledge is a fragment of information, validated by some other fragment.
take for example the case of the "half empty glass". here emptiness or fullness is seen with reference to the water in the glass. We conveniently ignore the presence of air in the glass. If we take into account the presence of subtle elements in our formulations then we would realise that there is only fullness. Emptiness comes into being by ignoring the subtle, the aspect of reality which is beyond our comprehension. Accepting emptiness is accepting our limited understanding of the wholeness of life.
how many of us are comfortable in accepting that "I don't know"?

On Apr 24, 2012 Narendra Devadas wrote:
 The transient  "blank  I " appears to be the elusive self in meditation.

On Apr 24, 2012 Thierry wrote:

As for me, to sit quietly while observing one's thoughts and noticing the gaps in between thoughts to the point those gaps , to a certain degree, expand, does not necessarily lead to extraordinary inspiration and knowledge. It is simply a good  hygienic  practice that helps, momentarily, still and refresh the noisy, mechanical mind. Insights may occur when we are  self forgotten, like, at those times when we are so intently listening, so intently deciphering another person's thought. It may be while listening to a teacher or while observing the house cat . [...] We are often obsessed by the thought: 'I was at a turning point, I made the wrong choice'. Unrest, regrets, etc. That very thought is , in the now, giving continuity to things past. That thought is the past.That thought is also I/You  feeling wrong at this very moment (eternal now!). Don't escape it, stay with it for a while. Feel what it feels like. Explore its content extensively. As you feel the desir  See full.

As for me, to sit quietly while observing one's thoughts and noticing the gaps in between thoughts to the point those gaps , to a certain degree, expand, does not necessarily lead to extraordinary inspiration and knowledge. It is simply a good  hygienic  practice that helps, momentarily, still and refresh the noisy, mechanical mind. Insights may occur when we are  self forgotten, like, at those times when we are so intently listening, so intently deciphering another person's thought. It may be while listening to a teacher or while observing the house cat .

[...]

We are often obsessed by the thought: 'I was at a turning point, I made the wrong choice'. Unrest, regrets, etc. That very thought is , in the now, giving continuity to things past. That thought is the past.That thought is also I/You  feeling wrong at this very moment (eternal now!). Don't escape it, stay with it for a while. Feel what it feels like. Explore its content extensively. As you feel the desires, the fears, it downs on you that none of them are real. Are they not projections, imaginations, illusory and deceptive by nature? Do they not happen in the now?

What is the state of your mind NOW? Is it not  free from that thought?

As you have attended, explored that thought fairly extensively it will loose some of its grip. It may pop up again but your awareness of the now will be greater. You will be more grounded. 

[...] 

Each thought, whatever its content, arises in consciousness from past experience. One may find bliss in those moments when consciousness is free of contents but, more likely, consciousness will present one with one's own uncertainties and irresolution. Thought has to be aware of itself and fully understood before it subsides. Otherwise the same patterns pop up again and again, always in the eternal now, of course. Resolution can only happen in the now. 

 

To be aware that consciousness is there prior to any context or thought, the unknown prior to the known,  is immensely significant . This fact is so easily overlooked. But there is no escaping the one or the other when they are there.

[...]

This is interesting because it shows how meditation can be used as an escape. I sit on a cushion trying to still a mind in frenzy! The rest of the time, I abuse my family and son. Unaware of what I do, I then victimize: ' they hate me, why?"  I know the case of 'a border-line, narcissic mother '. She had five sons. they all shun away from her. She humiliated her husband, a sort of sweet, too sweet tempered fellow. A tremendous spanking might have corrected her ( in French, a spanking is also called a 'correction') but her father image of a psychoanalyst could not resolve himself to give it.  Blame, guilt, self-pity is mere continuation of that narcissism which is cause of your drama.

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On Apr 24, 2012 Melissa wrote:
I have been blessed with the gift of entering into that state. When I am feeling particularly troubled and cannot find resolution, it has become easier to turn off the troubling thoughts and allow the emptiness to take over;  which, in turn, may sometimes be accompanied by a blissful state. This was not something that I trained myself to do, although I have practiced yoga since I was a teenager; rather it was a gift from whom I do not know. I am grateful - for it brings a sense of peace to a life beset with stress and doubt. Even as I compose these words, the silence abides beneath all thought and perception. It is always present.

On Apr 24, 2012 Ricky wrote:

As I become more aware of my earthly age, I increasingly recognize the significant influence of others' lessons and teachings on me concerning how I had come to view and interpret my own life, culture, values, and purpose.  The lessons and teachings over time have been the root of deep dissatisfaction.   Four years ago I participated in my first 'spiritually focused' yoga practice and savasana, and experienced an emptiness when the mind truly rested and clearly revealed the "I".  The expansive clarity and stillness, oneness and wholeness, provided an immediate and instant recognition of being.   As I write this I struggle for the words to express this, and then realize this is the 'unnameable no  See full.

As I become more aware of my earthly age, I increasingly recognize the significant influence of others' lessons and teachings on me concerning how I had come to view and interpret my own life, culture, values, and purpose.  The lessons and teachings over time have been the root of deep dissatisfaction.  
Four years ago I participated in my first 'spiritually focused' yoga practice and savasana, and experienced an emptiness when the mind truly rested and clearly revealed the "I".  The expansive clarity and stillness, oneness and wholeness, provided an immediate and instant recognition of being.  
As I write this I struggle for the words to express this, and then realize this is the 'unnameable nothingness' referred to in the writing.  Slowly the conflicting messages of outside influences have sloughed off and peeled away, along with all the mind chatter (chitti vrtti).  There remains a calm that rides on breath awareness, and provides the emptiness where my purpose (svadharma) resides.  The teacher within me is hard pressed to stay still, though, and the desire that has bubbled up from this space of emptiness is undeniable...and I rest in the wisdom of that desire.
In the 'being' that arises from emptiness, inspiration abounds, the deep inner knowing provides rest, and the creativity of how to approach an increasingly hectic chaotic life and live authentically within it blesses me every day.        

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On Apr 22, 2012 David Doane wrote:
 My first thought in reading this piece was the advice to "Don't just do something, be there."  Emptiness is the absence of doing, thinking, planning, worrying, and simply being.  Emptiness is no-thingness, and no-thingness is full of presence, full of being.  Emptiness is fullness of process and attention to process, rather than full of things and trying to make particular outcomes happen.  I've had times of such emptiness, and for me they are associated with intimate moments, such as taking in a beautiful sunset or star filled sky and feeling moved and intimately one with them, or an intimate interaction in which we are being present together not being up to anything.  I've had no greater joy than being lost and found in those empty and full moments.  
  

On Apr 21, 2012 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:

 Thanks for the opportunity to respond. I can vividly remember an experience in an undergraduate college philosophy class  (in 1953) when I said to myself: "This is the first time in my life I have thought." After reading a number of philosophy books, I notice I have difficulty in  expressing authentic, transformative, life-changing  experiences in words.  Prior to becoming a Zen Buddhist over 20 years ago, I would kill woodchuck's in my backyard.  I now take harmless small spiders off the wall  and place them outside.  I believe I am one with everyone and everything but I frequently forget that in my daily living.  Believing I am one with everyone and everything is an experience that is beyond emptiness and fullness.  When I empty my mind I have a greater chance of becoming more full.  I'm placing below a quote from Sharon Begley  and a psychiatrist named  Schwartz.  Believing l am one with everyon  See full.

 Thanks for the opportunity to respond. I can vividly remember an experience in an undergraduate college philosophy class  (in 1953) when I said to myself: "This is the first time in my life I have thought." After reading a number of philosophy books, I notice I have difficulty in  expressing authentic, transformative, life-changing  experiences in words.  Prior to becoming a Zen Buddhist over 20 years ago, I would kill woodchuck's in my backyard.  I now take harmless small spiders off the wall  and place them outside.  I believe I am one with everyone and everything but I frequently forget that in my daily living.  Believing I am one with everyone and everything is an experience that is beyond emptiness and fullness.  When I empty my mind I have a greater chance of becoming more full.  I'm placing below a quote from Sharon Begley  and a psychiatrist named  Schwartz.  Believing l am one with everyone and everything, helps me notice my noticing while I am noticing. “Through mindfulness you can stand outside your own mind is if you are watching what is happening to another person rather than experiencing it herself….Mindfulness requires direct willful effort, and the ability to forge those practicing it to observe their sensations and thoughts with a calm clarity of an external witness….One views his thoughts, feelings, and expectations much as a scientist views experimental data - - that is, as a natural phenomena to be noted, investigated, reflected on and learned from.  Viewing one’s own inner experience as data allows (one) to become, in essence, his own experimental subject.” Warm and kind regards to everyone
 

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