Two quotes today:
“Although the wheel has thirty spokes its utility lies in the emptiness of the hub. The jar is made by kneading clay, but its usefulness consists in its capacity. A room is made by cutting out windows and doors through the walls, but the space the walls contain measures the room’s value.
In the same way matter is necessary to form, but the value of reality lies in its immateriality.”
Tao Te Ching #11
“Who would write on a page already filled with writings?
Who would plant a sapling where one is already planted?
One would look for an empty page and virgin soil.
Become bare earth so the Beloved may plant His seed, become a blank page so His pen may write upon you.”
From Rumi’s Little Book of Life: The Garden of the Soul, The Heart, and the Spirit (Translation: Mafi/Kolin)
So exactly how does one embody the useful capacity of a jar…how could we possibly reflect such “emptiness” ?
Better yet, WHY in the world would we choose to be “empty” anyway?
Wouldn’t this require that we give up our needs, our opinions, our desires, our feelings?
At first glance, it would seem that these verses suggest that very thing…that I somehow choose to become a sort of “not me”, that I become proficient in acts of self-effacement and in developing thoughts that must be discarded as quickly as they come, so that I can maintain a blank slate sort of mindset. Doesn’t this leave me wide open for making some really bad decisions, because my mind is now a useless space?
No, I don’t think this is what these verses convey at all.
I believe that they are asking me to contemplate being open…available…more malleable and accepting of other possibilities, other views.
They request that I ask myself “How open (empty) are you right now?” and then, “Where can you become more so?”
Openness occurs whenever I move to the observer’s seat, watching what is occurring around me. Life will continue to bring into my path other’s words, their actions, their feelings, celebrations, sorrows…
But if I am already filled with my own projections, judgements and preconceptions, then I am already “filled up” with my “stuff” and therefore unable to absorb fully what is happening and to access whatever power may be available for me in this particular moment.
Like the cup in the photo above, how can I possibly tolerate more, hold more?
So it follows that there must be a subtraction before I can add more.
Pausing allows this subtraction to take place. What might be taking up unnecessary space, blocking my ability to more fully comprehend and react to my surroundings in this moment?
So what could I subtract right now?
A simple example of being “overfilled” might occur during the act of driving a car. While our mind is partially occupied with the details of driving, additional thoughts of today’s errands, current worries, a rude driver’s behavior and say, the condition of a friend who is dealing with a stressful situation…are all vying for our attention…plus there’s usually quite a lot more jam that! We find our mind hopping from one thought or feeling to another, checking occasionally on the traffic, then leaping back in again to follow whatever surfaces next in our stream of thought.
Over and over.
And soon the stream is a torrent.
There’s a LOT of pushing and shoving going on in there, a lot more data entering and flooding in…
And then suddenly?
We realize we have arrived at our destination.
And we don’t remember much at all about our trip.
Very little, actually.
Because we weren’t “there” to experience it. We were instead living in our thoughts and emotions instead of participating in our actual life that occurred during those “missing moments” we are now unable to recall.
We weren’t there.
Now that’s scary.
Other things were filling our personal mind space and there wasn’t enough room to entertain the tasks necessary to drive fully consciously…
Yes – much of our driving WAS actually unconscious…
Because our mind “jar” wasn’t empty enough.
Talk about your DWI’s…
Someone brings up something that they are displeased with. Whether it’s a dissatisfaction with you or with something else outside you, our resulting reaction often follows the same path we just described with our driving. This time we immediately begin to “fill our jar”, ready to respond, defend and/or fix the issues with all our automatic answers to the problem we perceive. We jump to conclusions. Frequently, the person has not even finished describing their perspective and we are already on the pathway of “partially listening”, as we scramble frantically within our head to resolve the issue at hand…
Now we’re moving into a type of panic mode.
So how much did we really hear of what they said?
Or really see?
Or even feel?
Just like the driving example, we weren’t there to experience all of it. Our thoughts and feelings dragged us out of sight, without a single protest from us.
And how dangerous is that, for us to be in a situation where we are probably missing quite a bit of vital information that could actually clue us in about our next words or actions?
It is only when we have the presence of mind to NOTICE that these thoughts, feelings and reactions are FIRST starting up that we are able to separate ourselves from them and really see the traffic, watch the bicyclist appearing on our right side, and hear the ambulance approaching quickly from behind.
And in the case of the displeased person in the second example, with our “empty jar view”, we would now be able to notice more than their words, seeing also their body language, hearing the emotion in their tone of voice, and possibly feeling the energy they are broadcasting so strongly.
But all these things we may very well have missed because our “jar” was too full.
The exact moment we notice that our minds are running wild and filling our jar to capacity or beyond, we actually perform a 180 degree turn, beginning instead the emptying process. As we focus more on what is at hand, instead of chasing our thoughts, we are more open and available for the solutions that we couldn’t see because of the clutter taking up our mind space.
And more space will become available with each noticing.
We don’t feel as trapped.
We can actually even breathe a little easier…
Allowing more helpful words and thoughts to become available. We see that we now have more choices…
Because our jar is less full…
And more empty.
Try this several different times today, just for a few seconds:
Just take a few moments to notice the constant chatter going on in your mind.
It IS continuous. And probably we haven’t even been aware of it up til now.
Sometimes there’s a conversation going on in there.
Other times we hear a Judge directing or berating our every move.
Or it’s just a commentary on what is happening (as if we need a translator!)
It can be somewhat of a shock. It’s pretty much a zoo in there… with no zookeeper in sight!
Until we stop…
We begin to realize we are separate from the chatter. And just our stopping to notice creates a huge advantage, stalling the cycle a bit, eventually halting the flow.
To begin this adventure of keeping our jar empty, all we need is that first single step of simply taking notice.
From there, it will become our practice to stop a few more times, whenever it occurs to us, adding one or two (or more) pauses each day until we begin to establish a habit, an automatic reflex, to the presence of the rampaging thoughts, to the appearance of those automatic beliefs that are making assumptions when maybe they actually aren’t called for at all.
Do we really want so much to be on automatic that we aren’t even truly involved in participating in our own lives?
While I can see that I have missed segments of my own life by not fully “being there” as it happened, the practice of pausing has made a crucial difference in my more recent experiences. I am truly grateful for that shift in perspective and the fullness it has brought to my life.
As a page full of writing cannot be comprehended very well when more words overwrite and obliterate the original words, it also defies logic to plant one tree on top of another, as the trees would compete and choke each other out.
These verses seek to awaken us, to encourage us to become the “bare earth”, the “blank page”, “the empty jar”, for this is where true fulfillment will occur…
Beginning within each and every Pause.
Make it a point to stop and check in on a regular basis with what is happening in your own “zoo”.
Start to create more and more spaces…
With your pauses.
Choose one of your daily habits to use as a Trigger Action to remind you to Pause to become aware of your thoughts…to notice if you are all “there”, “partly there” or “somewhere else altogether”.
These triggers could be washing your hands, brushing your teeth, passing a certain building on the way to work, seeing something the color “blue”, taking the first bite of a meal…
Or how about every time you check your phone or other device?! Now THAT could get us into a regular practice faster than anything!
Choose whatever works for you.
Change it up or add other Triggers if you like…
The more the better!
“I EMPTY myself
That I may always find myself…
For I am MOST “Use-FULL”
When open to my “FULL-est” capacity…