It is rare to value absence, space or emptiness. Our culture and conditioning usually attributes value according to qualities that can be measured and values material things, which have substance and which can be owned. Space and absence however are important, and many things we use every day such as cups, windows, rooms and many musical instruments are only of value because of their emptiness or lack of content. It is the very absence that we make use of. The cup must be empty for it to be able to hold the water that can quench our thirst. In the same way meditation practice is an invitation to cultivate a quality of inner space where we are empty and able to receive life.
We so easily fill our lives and our selves up in such a way that we feel that there is no space left, and in fact not even enough to contain all that we are trying to fit into in our days. There is so much activity in our lives: doing this and that, going places, accumulating possessions and experiences. In our daily life we have work, study, relationships, parenting, shopping and “leisure activities” such as sport and entertainment and it often feels like there is no time to stop, let alone time for meditation or spiritual practise. We seek for experiences and no matter how many we get we seem to want more and a greater variety and intensity of experiences. We can never come to rest when always seeking for more, and may realise that we feel an absence of peace in our lives.
We spend so much time lost in thinking, our mind racing along in the grip of past and future scenarios, planning, fantasy, worrying and wondering. Our thinking even notices how busy it is and thinks that it would be nice to have less thoughts, but this just generates more busyness as the mind comes in to conflict with its own activity.
Life can feel so full – over-full and under pressure almost to bursting point. Even when feeling nearly overwhelmed by the intensity and business of our life we often find it very hard to slow down, let alone stop.
We start to realise the importance of making space in our lives. We wish to learn to be…to let go of doing, anxiety, stress, pressure and busyness. But this is not easy as
we can experience discomfort with non-doing, with absence and with space. We are both attracted towards finding non-busyness in our lives and at the same time afraid of it. Our sense of self worth is often derived through doing, achieving and getting results, often to please others. Even more importantly our sense of who we are, is greatly dependent on the same activities. We are so very identified with our roles and activities, the experiences of mind and body, as being me and mine, that we easily lose our sense of who we are and the meaning or direction of our life when we do not have any thing to do. There is nothing for us to hold onto or possess in empty space and the absence of directed activity, so we can find it unsettling, even alarming. The lack of reference points and information to tell us who we are when we are not doing something makes it a real challenge to stop. Most of the time we do not realise that we are caught in this process because our first response and often unquestioned response to any unease is to get lost in trying to “do” something about it.
The cost of this way of living is that we lose contact with any sense of inner peace and any possibility of true clarity. Although it is not easy, we realise that we must make a commitment to creating space in our lives and in our hearts, to enable ourselves and our heart to breath, and our minds to see clearly. Valuing the quality of simply being, and opening to making space means letting go. Letting go of our need to constantly occupy our selves with activity and define ourselves by our roles. If we are willing to enter this unfamiliar space we can discover a deep and abiding trust in our own deep value, and an understanding of our own true nature, arising from the truth of our being, not from all or any of our doing.
Making space can take many forms, but they are all characterised by an absence of doing. Non-doing means simply connecting with the way things are, rather than always trying to make them the way we want them to be. Periods of daily meditation, going on retreats, taking the opportunity in moments during our day when we can stop and re-connect, all offer to us the opportunity to be. As we learn to include times of non-doing in our life, we find peace in being, allowing the mind to slow down. Not giving it momentum through struggling with it, nor believing in the stories it tells. Watching the process with-out identifying with it through aversion or grasping, we realise that we do not have to manipulate our experience in order to find peace.
At first it may feel almost counter-productive when we stop, because we become acutely aware of the amount of activity we are inwardly caught up in and just how uncomfortable that feels. By staying steady with the experience however, it begins to be transformed. Simply being, allows mind and body, heart and spirit come into harmony when we rest in the present. In being, we connect with the space that is always available in the moment we can let go and simply abide in the here and now.
In insight meditation we use the words “the dharma” to refer to both the teachings of wisdom, compassion and freedom, and the truth of the way things are, from which
these teachings arise. To understand the dharma is to realise a fulfilling and authentic spiritual life, and it is towards this that the path of insight meditation leads.
Teachings and understanding may come to us in many forms, but they only transform our life when we absorb them into the depths of our being and allow them to guide us.
When we consciously begin to create space in our lives and our hearts through meditation and through learning to just be, is it this space that allows us to receive the dharma, the teachings and the essential truths of life, so that they can touch us in a deep and transforming way.
The space that is created, through learning to connect with and be at peace with what is, acts like a centre of gravity in which we feel grounded, and towards which wisdom flows. In other words we are able to see more clearly the truth of our life and to live our life in harmony with this understanding. Our heart is like a garden which becomes choked with weeds and hard packed soil. Making space in our lives is like cultivating the soil of our inner being so that the seeds of kindness and understanding that lie in our heart can flourish and grow, flowering into wisdom and compassion, and bearing the sweet fruit of inner peace and freedom.
May all beings live in peace and harmony.