If I told you I was feeling emptiness in my life, would you immediately feel sorry for me and start to suggest how I might find fulfilment?
For some reason we think emptiness is undesirable. We associate it with lack, and assume it is a vacuum that needs to be filled.
This was my way of thinking too. Each time I experienced this, I felt that I had to do something about it. Find a purpose, do more charity, or whatever it took so that I would be ‘filled’ again.
Then it hit me. I had worked hard to be this empty. I had pared down my belongings, minimized my commitments, eliminated the non-essentials. All this naturally left spaces in my routine and my consciousness. Yet I didn’t appreciate it because I had been conditioned to think it was a negative.
A negative view of emptiness
How did we come to have such a negative view? A few possible explanations:
- We associate emptiness with psychological problems. Psychologists list it as a symptom of deeper problems like social alienation and drug addiction, so we feel that there must be something wrong with us if we experience the same thing.
- We understand emptiness to be the opposite of fullness. ‘Fullness’ is a word with positive meaning, and therefore we think its opposite must be negative by definition. This stems from dualistic thinking, where we try to classify everything as right vs wrong, good vs bad.
- We are unaccustomed to feelings of emptiness. Modern living puts so many pressures on our time that our routines and minds are packed from a young age. When we have gaps in our routine or thoughts, we are not used to this space and cannot deal with it, so we gravitate back to busy-ness.
A non-negative view
Let’s consider alternative views that embrace emptiness as a neutral or even positive state:
- Most of our universe is emptiness. This is neither good or bad, it just is. Within that space, countless galaxies and life forms can exist. Space is a necessary backdrop against which life can stand out and move about.
- Buddhist philosophy embraces emptiness. The aim of meditation is to arrive at nothingness. The paradox “form is emptiness; emptiness is form” is a Buddhist classic.
- Emptiness is a necessary part of good design. The use of space in designing houses, buildings, and cities can make the difference between ugly clutter and elegant simplicity.
Emptiness and fullness
I’ve learnt to appreciate the emptiness because I once craved it. Many years ago I didn’t feel very much. I wrote in my journal that I wanted “to be empty enough to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows”. My recent emptiness has allowed both sadness and joy to wash over me and fill the void.
Now I easily cry over sad movies, yet minutes later, I am perfectly serene and happy. I feel joyous watching a squirrel scurrying along my jogging track. I have space for all these wonderful feelings to flow through me.
The next time you feel empty, don’t fight it. Don’t even judge it as something undesirable. Allow yourself to experience the feeling for all that it is, and all that it is not. Make peace with it. See what it reveals. See where it takes you.
60 replies on “Emptiness”
I feel that it’s really just how you perceive. It’s as easy as looking at the half-empty/half-full glass. I believe that it’s really exciting to have it filled to the top at times, while empty during other times. It gives us a chance to look at our lives at its high and low. As you experienced these moments early in life, it will help you later in life to appreciate the good times and overcome the bad times. Keeping a mindset that things were once great and could get better with time or the other perspective where things were once horrible and it could be much worse.
No matter what the subject or idea is, I think people should always look at the pros and cons. It’s like how you analyzed the whole idea of emptiness. There seems to be always two or more sides to a story and we just have to look at things from different lights and perspectives.
Cool article! Emptiness is nice sometimes. I meditate at least once a day and I feel great when the mind is empty or some would like to call it mindfulness! (;
Welcome, and thank you for an insightful comment. You’re so right that life is all about how we perceive it. And yes, there are usually two sides to a story, or even more! Being able to live both emptiness and fullness to their depths and heights is a gift, I feel.
Wow, meditating at least once a day is something that I aspire to, and just never got round to doing seriously, so your example is a good reminder.
By the way, you have a really impressive site. It’s just so good-looking! I didn’t even need to read the articles to be impressed, though I did read the featured article and was duly impressed – you write very well.
HeLLo to ALL
Nice reading at a nice place.
Some people just enjoy solitude – they rather go for it.
At the same tme some falks feel so guilty about being lonesome – what’s wrong with me —-.
Appreciate feed back.
Welcome, and thanks for your comment. Yes some people enjoy solitude – I’m one of them, and maybe you are too. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your own company. In fact, I think if everyone could love with themselves, we would have a lot fewer problems! At the same time it’s nice to have other people in our lives. It’s all about balance, I think.
[…] escribió Daphne de JoyfulDays.com: A full cup cannot contain any more. An empty cup allows you to be filled […]
Daphne, I thank you for this beautiful text you wrote about emptiness and to everyone that posted their comments on this. I was feeling very empty this day, with some unsatisfaction. Maybe this unsatisfaction is my reaction to emptiness. Maybe people react different, according with their character, some react with emotions (like unsatisfaction), some feel the urge to do things, some start thinking and re-thinking everything, and some go shopping. Maybe it’s time to reprogram our reactions to emptiness.
I came to your blog and found this. To my mind, your writing seems magical in some ways, as it transformed my state of mind while reading it, but with no complexity of any kind, just the simplicity your writings embrace are the beautiful medicine you put in this kind space you call Joyful Days.
Thank you so much!
What a beautiful comment you wrote. Thank you very much. You made me feel like the entire post was worth writing, just becuase it helped one other person cope with emptiness better. To be able to ‘transform your state of mind’ is a profound honour and responsibility. I am grateful that you shared this with me.
I too used to feel this ‘unsatisfaction’ until I stopped to ask myself why I felt that way. That was how this post came to be written. I’m so glad that reading the post gave you some peace.
I have had periods in my own life, Daphne, of great emptiness. Sometimes this was a result of circumstances beyond my control. But sometimes this was a direct result of my cleaning out negative areas in my life. Initially, my response was fear and despondency. But then I came to be grateful for this empty space because I saw it as an empty vase that could then be filled. Sure, perhaps there was emptiness now … but this created room for all kinds of goodness to enter, and enter it always did. Even now when I have moments (or even periods) of emptiness, I remind myself that this openness creates room for good things to enter. This gentle reminder eases some of the loneliness and pain that I can still feel during these times.
Thank you for this post.
Your sharing means a lot to me. It never occurred to me before that from being full of negative thoughts to being full of positive thoughts, at some point in the transition there needs to be a period of emptiness when the negatives are thrown out, and the positives are waiting to enter. That necessary emptiness is therefore a good thing.
I’ll remember your comment next time I feel empty, and feel expectant that this empty space is now ready for all sorts of good things to flow in. Lovely comment, thanks!
In our modern day society, I think it is the silence of the emptiness that so many are afraid of. When I first started healing from incest and I started to reconnect with my feelings, I did a series of oil paintings and one of them I entitled Emptiness. What I found out from the painting was that the emptiness that I felt in my solar plexus was actually quite full of all of the emotions that I had been denying for most of my life. With that painting I was able to begin to heal and release all of those trapped feelings from my body.
Today I enjoy the silence of that empty space each morning with my first cup of coffee. I am a nicer person to be around if I have my quiet time first thing in the morning. The silence is for listening to my own inner voice and to the voices of my guides and angels. There is nothing negative in that.
I learnt a lot from your comment. While reading it, I realised that feeling empty is better than being full of negative emotion. And that the emptiness may be an essential part of the transition from a place of hurt, to the releasing of the hurt (thus the feeling of emptiness) so that this place can be filled once again, this time with positive emotions like joy. What a great point.
A morning coffee with silence and space to think and feel… that’s my ideal start to the day too. I like your point about the silence allowing us to hear our guides and angels. What a lovely expression!
I am so grateful to have you in my life to learn from! I marvel at your ability to always impart with impact! Thank you!
I celebrate the opportunity for *emptiness* so that I may fill it back up with love and kindness! :~)
Your wordplay leaves a smile on my lips every time. Your love and kindness already comes across in a simple comment like this. Thank you very much!
This is my first time reading your blog, and I’m blown away. This post, in particular, is absolutely beautiful. Emptiness provides meaning to all other things, as well as opportunity.
Your writing style and passion for what you believe is inspirational.
Thanks for adding your energy in a deliberate way to our world. (*bow*)
Welcome! I appreciate your wonderful first comment. Emptiness is a good backdrop for meaning and opportunity indeed. I like the concise and clear way you put this.
Glad we found each other – I was delighted to find that you blog about joy too! Ain’t it a good way to live? 🙂
It is not emptiness that we dislike, it is FEAR. Fear that we are not doing the right thing, that we are not reaching a goal, that we are not in the place where we’re supposed to be. No one can be at peace with fear in one’s heart, for the ’emptiness’ that we desire is a ‘calm’, a kind of peace that fills our hearts while waiting for other things. Our hearts are never truly empty, it is filled with something, desirable things or undesirable things. Fill your heart always with good things like peace, like anticipation, excitement, hope, faith, joy. It is only by filling ourselves with these that we repel all the other things that make us feel empty deep within.
Thanks for this perspective. Fear is certainly a big part of the picture – what are we missing out, are we falling behind, are we less than we’re supposed to be…. You’re right that accepting emptiness can bring peace, and a calm anticipation of what’s next.
Daphne, this was amazing. It seems rather obvious to me now but I never thought of it this way before. Thanks for waking me up to this!
I love your list. Especially:
Give up one non-essential routine activity. (how about give them all up)
Donate your TV to charity. (Somebody had a t-shirt with a TV exploding. Love that!)
I’ve never gone a day without reading though. Refuse to always read newspapers and magazines or negative internet stories though.
Thanks for your lovely comment.
Giving up non-essential activities and possessions is quite addictive actually. Once I gave up one and realised how much I got back in return, I just kept giving up one more and one more… in fact I may have given up too much.
Like you, I’m a reader. It’s really hard for me to not have a book on hand. Tried it the past couple of days, and it freed up so much time and brain energy to just stare out the window and think. I even had some useful thoughts! 😉
Thanks for this Daphne. One thing it amazed me to learn was that human beings, if you look at them on the subatomic level, are mostly “made” of emptiness. You might say, then, that when we have an experience of emptiness like the ones you described, we’re really connecting with our true nature.
You made a good point. Yes, at the atomic level, we’re hardly even here! Funny then that we make so much of ourselves 🙂 I’ve read accounts of astronauts who realised how miniscule earth is from the perspective of outer space. It’s both humbling and awesome that we’ve managed to come so far, we little dots of existence. So yes, feeling the emptiness is being reminded of what nature is primarily about. Thanks for this great perspective, as usual.
Beautiful post, Daphne. Some spiritual traditions say that real happiness comes from a quiet, empty, mind. I think that’s true. (And the suggestion to give the TV away for some reason made me laugh!)
I’m still trying to get used to the fact that an awesome blogger like yourself takes the time to read my humble blog. Thanks so much. We have much to learn from those spiritual traditions. And really, do give your TV away! 😉
For me emptiness signifies that wonderful things are in store. In those moments of “downtime,” I appreciate just how lucky I am to have such a full and wonderful life.
I love your perspective. Next time I feel empty, I will remember to wait for what’s in store next. And yes, the downtime does put the ‘uptimes’ in clear perspective. Thanks for this thought!
Hi Daphne, this is a new perspective to me.
I usually use the ’emptiness’ term only if I am ready to accept new things in my mind. I have learned much from your article.
Great post, Daphne. Thank you. 🙂
I like the way you use the term ’emptiness’. It’s good to keep an empty mind sometimes, then more can flow into it. I must remember that myself! Thanks for your comment.
This is indeed an excellent post! It can be so hard to embrace the emptiness, but I agree we need to do just that.
It is hard indeed to accept emptiness is ok, let alone embrace it. Practice helps!
What a wonderful post. As I’m reading it, I sit here with my belly empty and I was reminding myself that it’s OK to feel an empty belly. There’s plenty of food in the kitchen, and I will soon get up and eat, but it’s totally OK to experience the feeling of emptiness.
Great point! In fact, feeling hungry for a while helps me appreciate my food a lot more! I get a headache when I go hungry for too long though, so I suppose again it’s all about balance.
I enjoy the experience of being on my own, in my space. I function so much better overall when I have time to be less crowded in my mind. Less is really more! It’s funny that with emptiness, the feeling that comes thereafter is an aliveness from a sense of quiet joy.
I avoid cramming too many things on my plate nowadays. I used to think that I am as good as dead if my time is not fully occupied. I now value my alone time very much. Thumbs up to your suggestions of making our days peaceful!!
Good on you for appreciating emptiness. In fact, I keep thinking about your phrase “the gap between thoughts” and that is exactly what emptiness is at the mental or spiritual level.
It’s a great achievement when we accept that not ‘doing’ anything is not laziness or inefficiency, but an enabling condition that allows things to happen at a deeper, subconscious level.
I love to hear how anything remotely negative can be turned into a positive. Attitude is everything. This was a great post.
I enjoy your work. Keep spreading your message.
Imperfect Action is better than No Action
Thanks Giovanna. We personal development types are such incurable positive people… I wonder if it’s a disease! 🙂
I’m currently trying to create some emptiness in my life. I’m working slowly on doing a final decluttering, and I’m going to be dropping a lot of things from my insanely long, and impossible-for-one-person-to-accomplish to-do list.
The way I see it is as follows: nothing new can come into your life, on any level, if it’s already full, full, full. If there are too many material possessions you have no more need for cluttering up your life the things you want to manifest can’t come into it. If your head is too full of thoughts about things that don’t really matter you can’t expect peace of mind to enter your life. Neither is there room for your intuition to guide you if your head is full of all kinds of thoughts of the things you believe you need to do in order to succeed, be happy, accomplish something with your life, or whatever.
With all that in mind all I have to say is long live emptiness. 😉
Hey I’m de-cluttering my life too! I have a very short to-do list, thanks to past de-cluttering. However I still have too much in my life, and can understand the feeling of being full, full, full with no room for anything else.
I’m working on material possessions at the moment – really getting rid of anything that is not absolutely necessary. Maybe I should do that more with thoughts too. I like what you said about emptiness allowing intuition to enter and guide us. Great perspective!
Hey, beautiful post Daphne. When I first started reading I was going to say there is a distinct difference between the kind of emptiness that is related to psychological problems, and the kind the Buddhists refer to, as well as the physical emptiness in a house or building space.
But after reading this, I think they’re the same thing. The difference is how we perceive them, how we react to them. We can view emptiness as a lack of something, or we can just view it as space. Space is good, it provides perspective, it only becomes troublesome when we insist that something needs to be in that space: a task to do, a thought, a bedroom set.
I really enjoyed this post! I feel emptier.
Thanks for this very insightful comment. When I started writing the post, I tried to distinguish between types of emptiness too. Then I realised I couldn’t find any clear line, and decided that emptiness is just emptiness. Like you say, it’s how we view it that makes the difference in perception and feeling.
You phrased it beautifully – “it only becomes troublesome when we insist that something needs to be in that space: a task to do, a thought, a bedroom set.” So well said!
I have scaled down my life more in the last 2 years than in my entire life!I’ve created so much room and time in my life sometimes I’m beside myself!
I think emptiness is a blessing for our body mind and soul. And I’m lovin it.
I can imagine you loving the emptiness of the empty nest, because from such a young age you had so much on your hands, filled more than twice to overflowing.
Emptiness is a blessing, and I’m so glad you understand that; we can learn from you. Scaling down is a good thing!
Hi Daphne .. I love this story .. Having just gone over to San Diego and back with lots of spare time .. I’ve always struggled just to sit and read, sometimes I’ll scan a business magazine, but mostly – how does one concentrate with all the ‘rabble’ going on around one? I take this time to ‘chill’ ie wander along with few thoughts – make some notes .. but let my mind have its own space .. I don’t feel stressed travelling and arrive feeling reasonably relaxed.
I am happily independent and can take people or leave them .. and even in this empty space .. will equally make contacts and often friends .. as you can and will see from my latest posts ..
Emptiness at times is so essential .. thanks for sharing
Welcome back from San Diego! Wow you certainly have a very active lifestyle. I’m amazed at how much you manage to pack into a week.
You make a good point about filling the empty space with friends, who are free to easily leave that space to make space for new friends. Cool thinking!
Beautiful points and great perspective.
Bruce Lee taught me long ago that you got to empty your cup to learn stuff. It’s so true. I enjoy the renewal. I enjoy empty.
Maybe it’s the yin-yang in me, but I like the opposites … empty / full, night / day, … etc. Knowing one helps me appreciate the other and I enjoy the cycles.
I did think about the yin-yang balance issue, only after I wrote the post though. I’m glad you picked it up. If we could see emptiness as the yin to the yang of being busy, we would probably feel more wholesome about it.
Bruce Lee was wise. In fact, emptiness is quite easily accepted in many Eastern traditions. Thanks for your encouraging comment.
Interesting. I do tend to view emptiness as negative and this article has certainly made me question that. I do have to say that since having my kids, I haven’t felt empty, not even once. I’ll report back when they are teens. 🙂
Looks like you’ll be a long way from empty for a long time more! At least until empty nest syndrome comes along 🙂
Great post. Thanks for putting a positive spin on “Emptiness”. The next time I have a feeling of emptiness, I’ll definitely remember this post and reflect on that feeling from a positive point of view.
Thanks for your comment. I’m glad my post will be remembered by somebody! And yes, please do accept the emptiness next time you feel it and see where that leads.
You’ve touched on something that everyone would do well to take note of, especially younger people.
Experiencing “emptiness” is a critical lesson in development that used to happen at an early age, and now I fear there are generations that would run screaming from themselves if they hadn’t some diversion to “fill them up.” Some of us might remember whining to our mothers, “Mom, I’m boorrrreddd…..” The reply was often something along the lines of “Go find something to do.” “Go outside and play.” “Go contemplate your navel.” (Yes, I’ve heard that one!) When we learn to entertain ourselves, our pace naturally becomes more thoughtful and slower. And when we learn at an early age to “contemplate our navels,” then it’s much easier to learn as adults to be still in the silence, to meditate, go within, and even just to have quiet patience in the checkout line at the market!
That said, I still have difficulty just as Lance does in overcoming our programming for “needing” to be doing something, despite our best intentions! Just this morning, I spent an hour trying to access the deep “float away” meditation I love so much. My mind kept dreaming up thoughts and my body kept trying to sleep. I was in the minority!
Among all your wonderfully thought-provoking views is what I think is the key to flowing more effortlessly through life’s trials. If we can excel at embracing the emptiness as you describe it, flowing with the rhythm of it, then we can learn to flow through much harder circumstances, too. Embracing emptiness gives us a tool for releasing our resistances.
Sorry for going on so long, but these are the thoughts you inspired and I wanted to share them with you. Thank you, Daphne.
Wow, your comment was probably better than my post!
It’s so true that young people today have no break from external stimulus. With TVs and computer games and internet activity, there truly are few empty spaces in a young person’s life. Funnily enough, our grandparents probably thought the same about our childhoods which we think were relatively empty!
There is much to be said for contemplating our navels, or any part of our body, or any part of nature or the world around us. I remember when I was actively gardening, and scrutinising my plants everyday for the smallest growth. The kind of contemplation that a ‘slow’ hobby like gardening offers is hard to find in today’s society, where people seem to go for speed and thrills.
I like the way you said “I was in the minority!” That was both hilarious and penetrating. Well, we minorities just have to stand up for ourselves, don’t we? 😉
Please don’t apologise for your long comment. It was a joy to read, and full of wisdom. I’m so honoured that you took the time to pen down your thoughts here. I’m glad you had these thoughts and reactions to my post, because now I know I’m not alone in wondering why emptiness is so mis-understood.
Thank you so much, Julie.
Guilty as charged. I sometimes (often) go to ridiculous lengths to ensure “emptiness” prevention. I attribute this tendency to my belief that urgency is a requisite of accomplishment. And if I lack urgency, then I fear I lack the means to accomplish.
Like Roger, I, too, have been studying Buddhism and this post provides valuable insight about being mindful. Or perhaps, more important, getting to the place within which one can be mindful.
My challenge is a fear that while I’m relishing my emptiness, I’m actually procrastinating. That I’m manipulating emptiness as an excuse to be lazy. How does one determine the boundary? Or am I being presumptuous in assuming that there is a boundary?
Thanks for an excellent post!
Welcome! And thanks for your comment.
Your point about urgency is a very good one. We’ve all been conditioned to think that ‘successful’ people get a lot done, and squeeze plenty into their day. That’s one definition of success. Another definition would be what contemplatives do – they live the life of a hermit, just praying for the rest of the world that’s too busy to stop and pray for themselves.
Great point too about procrastination. I think procrastination is when we KNOW we have to do something specific yet avoid doing it by busying ourselves with other things. Emptiness is when we’re not putting off anything – there may be the anxiety that we should be doing something, yet no specific action comes to mind. So perhaps the distinction is whether there is a specific duty in question.
And laziness… is under-rated! There is something in human nature that wants to work, to achieve, to contribute. Ask any person to sit in a cell for years – the true lazy person’s dream – and that person will rebel and itch to be out doing something. So I think that very few of us are really lazy (though we may have been called that by others who are uncomfortable with seeing us just sitting around ‘doing nothing’). My humble opinion anyway.
Thanks, Daphne, for your response. You’ve given me plenty of food for thought.
This is one of the best posts I’ve read!
I think some people are extremely afraid of emptiness. They purposely fill up every moment of their lives to hide from emptiness.
I’ve been meditating daily for nine months and studying Buddhism. It has transformed the way I view the world and I’m still a beginner!
Thanks for your high praise. I am humbled indeed, coming from an excellent blogger like yourself.
Wow, nine months is not long in the bigger scheme of things, but very long in its own right! Hats off to you for learning to meditate and teaching this on your blog. I have been meditating on and off, and still haven’t managed to be consistent at it for months at a time. You’re doing great!
Wow, this is great! I always think of emptiness in such a negative context but, like you, I’ve worked hard to create empty space in my life, space that could be filled with whatever I wanted to fill it with. I love your suggestions for embracing emptiness. They are wonderful!
Good to know you have precious spaces in your life! Isn’t it strange how we don’t see our wishes granted right before our eyes? I have a new-found respect for emptiness and I hope you grow to appreciate it too!
There sure can be that feeling that comes over us when we feel some emptiness – that we need to fill it right away – lest we appear as though something is wrong with us. And the truth is quite the opposite. Emptiness is a good thing. We are conditioned today to believe all of our time must be filled with something. And we have a myriad of ways to do that. And my take on all of that – of when we fill ourselves just for the sake of not being “empty” – we may be “full”, but I think that in reality – it’s a superficial “full”. It’s not a deep and meaningful “full”. And the way I know to really get there – to where it is meaningful – is by allowing emptiness into our life. Through that emptiness, we have the opportunity to examine more deeply what will deeply fill us.
Just this morning, in fact, I chose the superficial “full” over empty. I was up early – and while I planned to take some time just to “be”, what I ended up doing was turning on some music, and then making coffee, and then reading a magazine article. While none of these are bad – in the context of me planning to embrace the emptiness – these quickly became distractions to fill that void. So – it’s not easy for me. And yet, when I do fully embrace the emptiness, I always come out with more clarity in my life.
Daphne, thank you for this today. It’s reminding me what is truly important, and about some of my own issues in fully embracing the emptiness in my life…
Wow, what a great first comment! I really like your sentence “Through that emptiness, we have the opportunity to examine more ddeply what will deeply fill us.” It reminds not to accept a superficial ‘fullness’, and to be patient enough to let the emptiness remain until something meaningful is attracted to it. What a great perspective!
You know, I have lived through the morning scenario you described countless times. If we weren’t 13 hours apart, we could almost be going through the motions together! I find it so hard to sit still, and just be. And so easy to make coffee, read something…
Clarity is a wonderful result of accepting the emptiness for what it is. Sometimes the clarity is that we don’t need to be filled all the time. This is what I recently realised anyway. Thanks so much for this heartfelt and generous comment, Lance. You know how much it means to me.