The Emptiness of (Having) Everything

The Emptiness of (Having) Everything
Published February, 2005 in Reykjavík Grapevine

Art and work are two themes very insightfully discussed in the various magazines on life in Iceland. These articles have all revealed something else about Iceland, something deeper, than generally touched on. This is what I call the emptiness of having everything. Closely related to this is a problem, as I have seen it both here in Iceland and elsewhere, of constant “doing”, whether that is art or work or recreation (which Icelanders approach with the same intensity). But, as G.I. Gurdjieff said so well, the bigger problem is that we cannot “do” anything before we have learned how to “be”.

If art, for example, is to be pursued in the same way we pursue our jobs or our consumption patterns, then we are not in contact with anything “higher,” any values that affirm our deepest selves. We can buy and buy and celebrate and celebrate but that does not mean we are any happier. People here are full of the latest paintings from the most fashionable artists, gadgets, cell phones, flat screen computers, devices, new home repair insights (and TV shows), fashionable clothes, a groovy art scene and options for endless and cheap travel. But is anyone filled with more meaning? Is anyone better able to relate to who they really are because of all of this? I think not.

Several years ago, I had a spiritual crisis of sorts and tried jettisoning my Buddhist identity acquired after almost 30 years. I couldn’t. Though I explored other spiritual paths, other than Buddhism only one remains with me now—what is called The Fourth Way, brought to the West by G. I. Gurdjieff. He spoke of similar crises, “the terror of the situation” he called it, when we realize that we act as mere robots, rarely, if ever integrated with our feelings, bodies and thoughts. Even our religious identities can become robotic extensions of habits and can serve more to keep us asleep than to fulfill any yearning for deeper connection or higher meaning. I returned to Buddhism reinvigorated and began regularly applying those insights to a newfound sense of working with who I was and not whom I had thought myself all along. I had, in short, a brief experience of “emptiness.”

In Buddhism emptiness is a wonderfully loaded term referring to, through its deliberate choice of language, that which cannot be adequately expressed. This refers to the Awakening of the Buddha and yet also our own potential for Awakening. Looking at the sky and seeing it “empty” of substantive things can best convey this idea. Thus, one meaning is “without,” i.e., without meaning, without hope or without any deeper sense of identity. But there is another traditional meaning or quality to emptiness and that is of endless possibility and self-luminosity. Here in its positive meaning we have something worth realizing and pursuing.

The constant objects we pursue and the endless distractions we get involved with all reflect nothing of the emptiness of awakening possibilities. Instead they are more connected to the “sleep” inducing, numbing lifestyle that keeps us from ever connecting to who we really are and what we can truly become.


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