allowing, change, emptiness, freedom

To Be with Our Emptiness

Photo by Dee Hill

Photo by Dee Hill

We are, each of us, introduced to our emptiness at some point in our lives. Some of us come into contact with it as children, some of us as adults. But at some point, we begin to notice it, feel it.

It aches deep within us, constantly, this void. Sometimes we barely even notice it, as we spend our days focused on frenetically filling it, and oh, do we try to fill it with all kinds of things.  Over the years, I’ve tried in so many ways. With relationships, work, focusing on others, with sex, shopping, shoplifting, cigarettes, TV, with drugs, alcohol, religion and God. 500 piece jigsaw puzzles, even for a while.

Since I’ve been sober for nearly six months, I’ve noticed this emptiness pop up with increasing frequency. Of course it does, I have far fewer places to hide.

For me, it feels like a deep itch, like a gnawing, gaping vacuum under my heart, above my belly, and it rumbles in a low growl, like a motor. What do I fill it with? I don’t like it. I’m not comfortable with it. It’s like when you have a rash and they tell you not to itch and all you want to do is itch.

Talking about it over lunch with a dear friend yesterday, she resonated immediately. “It feels like… a burning hollowness.” she said.

Yes. That.

It calls to me and feels like want. What do I want? I ask myself. What do I need right now? More coffee? Another cigarette? An orgasm? To get loaded? To fuck? To take a nap? To take a walk? The wanting tugs at me, like a persistent toddler.

Fill me, it says.

I asked another friend about her emptiness over coffee. With twelve years of recovery under her belt, she knew exactly what I was referring to.

“In recovery, we call that a God-shaped hole.”

Yes. It made sense at first. But then I thought more about it. I have a rich spiritual practice. I write and talk to God every day. I practice gratitude, and mindfulness, and I feel supported and loved by something greater than me all the time. I listen to spiritual podcasts.  I read spiritual books. I journal. I color mandalas. I feel like the Divine and I are pretty tight. I think calling it a God-shaped hole may be simplifying it. For it implies then, that a god-shaped hole can be filled with God. Problem solved. Oh, still have the hole? Just pour in more God.

I am beginning to see thing differently. And for me, it’s a pretty radical concept.

It started as an epiphany, as a question I asked myself.

What if the hole, the itch, the emptiness, the sweet ache of being alive is not meant to be filled, but is meant to remain empty?

That is what I now believe. I’ve come to realize is that this emptiness isn’t meant to be filled. It’s meant to be lived with.

And learning to live with this emptiness – teacher and poet Mark Nepo calls it “the sweet ache of being alive”—is the most challenging inner work I have done.

What does this emptiness want from us? Only our companionship.

Because when we leave this emptiness and allow It to just be, when we sit with it, breathe into it, and learn to simply be with it, it turns into our depth, our vastness.

It will sometimes take all our might, but we truly can shift the urge to fill it into a practice of just being with it. I’ve been working with this practice lately.

If we sit with it, with curiosity, with a welcoming spirit, even if that welcoming spirit is a reluctant welcoming spirit, we realize the hole doesn’t need filling at all. This white space, this deep hollow becomes a portal and through it, in it, we free-fall into the depth and spaciousness of our own being. Our limitless spirit. The emptiness is the portal through our humanity and into our divinity.

What would happen if we just dove in?

We become one with the hole and it doesn’t swallow us. It only reveals to us our vastness, our infinite capacity for everything, our sweet, vulnerable ache that doesn’t need anything except our company.

This is a new concept for me, I reiterate. And when I remember to practice it, when that itch, that familiar, uncomfortable yearning for that mysterious anything, that un-nameable something, that persistent toddler of want, tugging at me, saying fill me, fill me, arises, I am learning to turn my attention to it, instead of blindly, unconsciously numbing out.

I turn my attention to it and say “hi.”



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