“Humans are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma.” -Huang Po
Recently I was taking an afternoon hike at a local state park when I came upon a hiker a few yards in front of me. Instead of trying to pass him, like I usually do, I saw a bench ahead and decided to sit down for a few minutes and simply enjoy the stillness. As I approached the bench, an image came to mind of all the benches that I pass with people sitting on them, seemingly waiting for something, occupying themselves with their smartphones or tablets. Even in nature.
I appreciate my iPhone and iPad. They serve me well and when used wisely, enhance communication and connection. But I never carry my phone on hikes, its one of the places I prefer to disconnect completely. As I sat down on the bench undistracted, I sank into the fullness of the moment, the song of the birds and the wind rustling through the leaves emanating from my very heart, joyfully interconnected. I felt deep gratitude for the beauty of this moment, perfect and complete.
As I returned to my hike, I felt a moment of wistfulness for the dying art of just siting on a bench with nothing in hand. Humans seem to be loosing the capacity to simply enjoy the present moment, just as it is, without the need for constant stimulation. I believe that’s one reason why mindfulness meditation is becoming ever more popular. We instinctively know we are missing something essential, even as many of us grow increasingly dependent on our electronic devices and other distractions to fill the hours, to plug what appears to be empty.
Distractions aren’t new. Throughout history, humans have always found ways to divert their attention from the present moment. Most of us recognize that our diversions aren’t simply external, but a reflection of our often restless and seeking minds. Now, however, it seems these external distractions are growing exponentially so that we never need spend a moment in stillness and silence. At some point, we need to reflect on this emptiness that calls to be filled. How often do we stop in the midst of our attempts to satiate the void, mindfully slowing down long enough to take a closer look? Could it be that the very feeling of emptiness we want to escape, when no longer resisted, is actually a source of fulfillment and joy?
Seeking completion is a key element of the human condition. From one perspective, we view our individual self as fixed and permanent, yet simultaneously we feel incomplete. Something is missing. So we seek ways to make ourselves whole. For most people, it’s a quest with no end. As soon as we achieve the imagined completion, such as finding a mate, career and financial success, or even spiritual achievement, the fullness dissipates and the self again seems incomplete. Our quest begins anew. The constant need for affirmation and recognition can’t really touch the deep emptiness inside; it only skims the surface with a shallow illusion of fulfillment. Even our journey on the Buddhist path will only go so far. As long as we continue to pursue completion of the self, we will feel an uneasy sense of emptiness at our core.
The way to fill the self is to release our attempts to complete it. This may sound easy, but in practice it requires a radical and courageous opening, again and again, in the midst of our myriad distractions as well as our deepest fears. We need to come face to face with the fear that “I” don’t exist, the driving force that keeps us seeking fulfillment in every nook and cranny of our lives. In our willingness let this self go, to repeatedly face this fear, we at last have the chance for true fulfillment. When we realize that the self we are trying to complete is empty, we find completion in the joy and fullness of this moment.
– Lisa Ernst