the blessing of emptiness

Sitting here quietly this early spring morn, I watch the snow fall. It covers over yesterday’s newly exposed earth, so raw and vulnerable to trampling as it thaws (at least it seems so to me), its seedlings and ephemerals not yet ready, the light not strong enough yet, and I ponder the way that I too cover over what is not yet ready to be exposed to the light. A feeling nudges, pushing up for a moment. I notice but don’t explore, not ready perhaps to expose it. Its season will come soon enough.

Yesterday began with a few inches of freezing rain coating every surface here, including the frozen lake. By afternoon, the weather was downright balmy, a tropical breeze virtually blowing the ice away, the lake covered with fresh puddles and pools that reflected the sky as if summer, the water’s edge flowing beneath a thin veil of ice. This morning it snows, the lake a vast white field, the ice hard, the far shore indiscernable. Human awakenings can feel like that too, I suppose. One never knows what the day, nay the hour, will bring— sometimes clarity breaks through, more often what is stirring feels indiscernable, then goes back to sleep, to rest beneath whatever it is that we cover it with in our day to day lives.

Even the birds are confused in this inbetween time of not yet. The winter jays intermixing with the spring arrivals–redwinged blackbirds– at the feeder, filling their bellies with what is offered by human hands in these lean days. One lone red squirrel taking his fill— are the stores in his winter pantry empty?

I think of the way we fill our days in order to stave off some nagging emptiness of our own, and how often, perhaps, we mistake emptiness for pain? Can emptiness itself be a blessing, a space in which something might take root and grow.. Or is even the end of that sentence itself making of emptiness merely a vessel for something better, as if the emptiness itself is not good enough.

My friend runs from emptiness, perhaps, in her days of profound loss, busying herself. Not wanting to feel it, she fills it instead. A loss like that leaves one feeling lost, cut loose from one’s mooring, directionless, untethered, adrift. Who am I now? Where does my life go from here? Which way is north? And so instead of re-rooting right in the midst of that emptiness, we run, running on empty, both from it and towards it, circling the void like a vulture, both longing and unwilling to land in order to draw nurture from death. The seemingly cavernous pain, like the empty house, for now too hard to face.

I turn that mirror upon myself and I wonder, for I feel something akin to that in myself these days, recognizing that some part of me also resisted being here alone. How strange a feeling from one such as me who has craved and relished in solitude? What was I afraid of?

A feeling arises and i push it aside just as quickly as it seemingly rose. What is it that I both avoid and evade when that opening nudges me to enter. The quiet invitation to move fully into an emptiness that knocks, saying, “Come, sit awhile here with me.” I cover over that feeling of vulnerability with fresh snow. As if to open that door even a crack is to set loose a deluge of floodwaters. Even if they might be the lifegiving floodwaters of spring’s thaw, rather than a crack in the dam of some overwhelming grief scarcely held at bay, I still choose to respond ‘ Not today’.

I wonder, what if I stop pathologizing, or analyzing, emptiness as ‘something wrong’, falsely believing it to represent some elusive ‘not enoughness’ in me. What if emptiness and spaciousness are simply sisters, two sides of the proverbial coin. Why do we insist upon labeling the one sister as holy, the other as an evil twin?

The image of a womb is potent here for me, as the womb of mother earth now nurtures, hidden within her vast spacious container, all that the coming season of life will bring— flowers and fruit, shelter and beauty. What would it be like to simply crawl inside that spacious emptiness, not to fill it but to let myself be filled by it. To let myself receive Love there. To let the fruits of lovemaking be nurtured there, take root and begin to unfold there, before even exposing them to the light.

I am beloved. This I know more deeply than words can express. My roots are so widely and deeply enfolded by and enmeshed with that sense of belovedness that at their furthest capillary tendrils I cannot discern where Love ends and I begin. We are made of the same stuff.

I draw Love deeply into the very substance of my existence here in this place, even when it is hidden from me, even when I am in a dry, dormant season, a seemingly empty season, a terribly pruned back season, an impalpably embryonic season.

It is hard to not speak in dichotomies here. Each time I move to recognize emptiness as good, my thoughts rush in to fill it …with potential, as if potential is truly the good thing. Perhaps in a human life of seasons, of beginnings and endings, this is the way that a human ‘being’ is most naturally aware, after all. Yet, the emptiness we rush to fill rather than feel patiently awaits…. our embrace… or our entrance… its invitation always there to enter, with tenderness and compassion, to ask what it needs, or conversely what is trying to offer to us. Perhaps it longs to feed us…. even as we busy ourselves trying in vain to feed it, or more so keep it at bay, just beyond our full attention, feeding it with substitutes that never are enough.

Does emptiness have to be synonymous with pain? I once had a friend tell me she liked the feeling of hunger. I was leading a canoe trip at the time and was concerned that persons had enough to eat to fuel the journey. That premise was a revelation to me! Of course, I have always interpreted hunger/emptiness as something to attend to, but only insomuch as to feed it, not simply to notice it, or honor it, or revel in it, or even to ask it what it is offering. I have mistook the feeling of emptiness for pain. Clearly I have never experienced true physical hunger, the type of hunger of one who is truly starving, so my physical hungers have not been truly painful, and yet, the need to eliminate that feeling instantly, as if it is signaling something wrong, is well conditioned in me.

What if we receive emptiness, just as it is, without qualifiers, or quantifiers, not as precursor or result of, but as invitation, gift, blessing. Enter into it fully as if it is worthy of our complete and loving attention. Perhaps we will discover the fullness is already there. We need only walk through that dark door, in trust that we will be held within that vast container of Love, for even that seeming emptiness is made up of light.

And yet, there is no forcing spring to come before its time, and in this, as in all things, there is mercy and grace. It will come to us and awaken within us as it will, in its own time and space, sure as this blessed Mother turns over and over in her spacious bed, revolving around the light as she does and will do, taking light into her body as she does and will do, as will we, her creatures, made of her light infused substance. Perhaps our only work is to turn toward that light when it cracks open that door, and say ‘yes, please’, and ‘thank you’.

*in searching an image to go with this post, the image of a deep well came to me. and while this poem was not on my heart when i journaled this morning, i realize it is a part of its content…so here you are.

The Well of Grief
David Whyte

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,

turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering,

the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.

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