Originally Published: March 17, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
For the last few weeks I have been asking myself the question, “what makes my life full?”
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, “If you want to become full, let yourself become empty.”
Upon seeing this you may ask, “well, what does that even mean?” It seems to defy logic. But paradoxical statements like these are used by Lao Tzu so that we can drop underneath language. Because underneath language is really where the answers reside. All words can do, is point – in a signposting fashion – to The Tao.
There is a famous Zen saying: “do not mistake a finger pointing to the moon as the moon itself.” In other words, descriptions of things only serve as a reference (a finger pointing) to the experience (of the moon) itself. Implementing this into our lives, we have to ask ourselves: how do we really feelLao Tzu’s words? How do we really experience fullness by becoming empty?
During one of my classes, I posed this question to my students. I asked them to meditate on the feeling of fullness and emptiness just by examining their own inhale and exhale. We then conversed about what things in our life truly make us fulfilled.
And we all came to a fairly similar conclusion: the things in our lives that make us feel most full, are not tangeible things that you can acquire. My example: the breath. The breath is something that can fill us with such peace, such joy. But we can never hold onto it. We can never keep our breath; if we want to keep living, we must always let it go.
Returning to Lao Tzu’s words: “if you want to become full, let yourself become empty,” we can see that the breath has an almost literal correlation to this. In order to feel full of prana or “life” force, we must first empty our selves of it. In this way, our breath is always fresh, and with fresh breath comes fresh experience. If your breath becomes shallow, your experience becomes shallow. So, I say to my students, keep the inhale deep and the exhale long: then each moment of your experience becomes so deep. Each moment becomes so long. And then we really see how the universe does indeed exist in each moment.
Another example given – of something that is non-tangeible and un-acquirable, and yet, completely fulfilling – was relationships. You cannot grasp the connection that is a relationship. If you cling to a relationship, sooner or later it will surely fail. Relationships also need room to breath; they need to empty themselves before becoming full again, just like the inhale and exhale within our lungs. As soon as you hold your ‘breath’ in a relationship (whether with friend, lover, family member) the recipient becomes stifled and suffocated. They will try to make an escape. Relationships are about inhaling and exhaling. Letting go and coming forward.
It seems in our current society emptiness and fullness have lost their appropriate placements. It’s common-place to believe that filling up your life, is reliant on tangible, external factors. Take a look around you, how do people fill up their lives? By acquiring. And what are they acquiring? The right degree, the right job, the right amount of money, the right partner, the right car, the right clothes, the right ‘stuff’… and on it goes.
True, these are valid in their own right (it’s much harder to live a ‘full’ life when you are impoverished, for example), but relying on such things alone, creates a sense of ‘false fullness’ – something that is very temporary. And then we wonder why we get to the middle of our lives and still feel such a void….
Fresh breath; fresh experience. Letting go and coming forward.
I believe Lao Tzu when he says, in chapter 22, “When the ancient Masters said, ‘If you want to be given everything, give everything up,’ they weren’t using empty phrases. Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly yourself.”
So empty your life, and feel how full it becomes when you do so. This does not mean being anti-materialist. It’s a lot more subtle than that. But you have to work it out for yourself. Filling up your life is a creative process. Maybe even the most creative. But when you discover the moment of emptying your self only to be filled by the universe, then you are bowing down to the universe.
I’ve had some pretty wild times in my life: late nights clubbing, globe-trotting, near-death experiences; but I tell you something folks, bowing down to the universe is the most wild time you can have.
[On an offhand note, I would just like to credit Michael Stone for providing me with concepts such as “fresh breath = fresh experience,” “dropping underneath language” and the initial idea of filling up our lives by emptying them. A recent podcast discussing these very issues, inspired me to write this post. If you would like to download these podcasts (and they are very worthwhile!) please visit this site: http://www.centreofgravity.org]