How many of us have asked, “Is this all there is?”  We burn the candle at both ends with work commitments, volunteer commitments and family commitments (sometimes in that order), and on top of that we work hard to schedule time for ourselves, for exercise and for entertainment.  Weeks dissolve into months, and at the end of it we’re exhausted and perhaps overwhelmed by the multiple simultaneous sound tracks creating noise in our heads.  We feel like there has to be more in life, but in reality, there is already too much. 

How can we step off the treadmill and find more meaning with less doing?  Many traditions embrace the idea of emptiness—both emptying the mind to encounter the soul and, more especially, emptying oneself of one way of being to make space for a new way of becoming.  There is a Jewish saying  that you can’t pour into a full cup.  “Islam” translates roughly to “surrender.”  Eastern traditions employ several meditation practices to transcend self.  Even in nature many things cease to be one thing in order to become something else.  A seed ceases being a seed in order to become a tree.  Emptiness may hurt, but it is also our best hope for the healing and life change we seek. 

Recent posts explored what it means to rely on God-help rather than self-help when seeking life change and renewal.  The Twelve Step addiction recovery tradition offers special wisdom on this point.  Recovery seekers know that one has to create a power vacuum in order to make space for God’s power to enter.  They recognize this wisdom as the Third Step, or making “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” 

As logical as this emptying sounds, it is incredibly difficult to do.  We can become deathly attached to our own desires.  Pharaoh is the Bible’s biggest loser.  He was willing to endure any number of plagues and to lose everything rather than doing a Third Step.  When talking about surrendering our earthly desires, attachments and plans to make space for God’s power and care in a Third Step, recovery seekers invariably talk of “taking it back” at some point in the journey. 

At least recovery seekers recognize that it’s either God’s will or their own will in the driver’s seat.  Many religious seekers hope for a little auxiliary God-help without taking the difficult step of surrendering their own will.  Sometimes we want God to be almighty on our terms. 

Join the conversation.  What practices help you empty yourself and surrender your will?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

4 thoughts on “Emptiness

  1. It seems that the human nervous system has, as one of its design features, the ability to systematically quiet down to a level where awareness is truly empty. This is referred to as the experience of pure consciousness, that is the experience of consciousness all by itself without any contents. Although the ability to do this is as thoroughly built in to our design as the ability to fly is built in to a bird’s design, the procedure for making use of this feature has to be learned, just as a bird must learn the procedure of using its design for flight.
    This quieting down or emptying procedure is called Transcendental Meditation. It is a very well studied technique.It is not a religious procedure, but it does provide the experience of emptiness, an emptiness that is infinite, timeless, lively and blissful. Paradoxically, the direct personal experience of this infinite emptiness is found to be simultaneously completely full.

  2. That’s wonderful insight, Allen, and truly encouraging that we each have the capacity for it. Thanks also for pointing out that Transcendental Meditation is not a religious practice, although many religious traditions have borrowed Transcendental Meditation techniques. Thanks for commenting and come back anytime.

  3. Pingback: Spiritual Conversion: 3 Steps from 3 Traditions | Across Traditions Blog

  4. Pingback: Obstacles to Forgiveness: Pride | Across Traditions Blog

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