Once when the lawn was golden green
And the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
In the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
With the chirr and murmer of insects, I lay in the grass
Feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
What I would become and where I would find myself
And though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
That the vast star clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
One hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
As though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.
“He was sitting in a brown room. With nothing to do and nowhere to go. There was a vast feeling of emptiness.”
This was not a monk, this was my partner speaking of his visit to his elderly relative, nearly 100 years old. A reclusive man with no urge for company, after losing his wife just before covid struck he has had 2 years of sitting alone in covid restricted life, in a rural place with limited support networks. But he was glad of the company now, and talked of life and ageing and just how empty everything suddenly seemed. He spoke plainly and undramatically of just ‘how things are’; being old, after having such a busy, energetic life; still lively of mind but the body no longer able to keep up with the mind. And people talk to him like he has already lost his mind, just on account of his age. He hasn’t the energy to explain or protest.
My partner is telling me details of the visit and the interaction between himself and his uncle, in this brown room, it was like he had brought it back with him – which he had, in his mind – this felt sense of a vast emptiness – and now here it was in my mind too. Palpable.
I could see him sitting there and feel this sense of ‘what was all that about?” (his life). All the days he had looked ahead to his future.
We both experienced this feeling as insight.
So now we are awake again, it’s another new day, here we are and we are still feeling this because what the meeting did for my partner was to make him question his life.
And when your partner is questioning their life, the meaning of it and purpose, well it’s a bit infectious. We have spent our lives, Avoiding The Void. Keep busy! Keep talking! Work to pay those bills! Watch Telly! Why is there only one Wordle a Day? I want to do it all day!
We drink our coffee and look into The Void. Where are we headed? Isn’t it all happening now?
I can’t say how The Gardener is experiencing this insight, but for me it is imbued with the bodily felt sense of emptiness I have experienced through insight meditation and the teachings of impermanence and of dukkha –teachings I have learned from Buddhist texts about why we feel unhappy most of the time and about that feeling that there is something missing all the time, or better just around the corner.
I take the void feeling to the cushion with me, with the intention of exploring what is here for me. I step into the void opening and curious. Feeling a little courageous.
I settle myself, stay rooted to the vast earth beneath me, with the lightest attention to the breath breathing me and feel the vastness of the space around me, and I step into it. My body vibrates with life, this was the feeling, skin tingling, I am alive, in this moment my body is buzzing, lightly, like champagne.
When I began mindfulness practice my body was disconnected, mostly there were no feelings to detect beyond pins and needles, numb legs, sore knees. This was something, but can be distracting and off putting, taking the attention away from the more subtle feelings, like what I am now experiencing. (I make sure I’m comfy, I’m not trying to be a monk, but it does take a bit of getting used to getting the posture right so it’s not too tight, not too relaxed) (same as the mind!) it’s so worth experimenting with that.
I’m sitting, body like a mountain and a light tingling buzz fizzes though me. And now, emotion, unexpected! And oh now.. it feels a bit messy.
A big sigh indicates to me going a little deeper and I feel that I am in this gap-space – there’s a sense of self falling to bits literally – a gap between who I am, who I think I am and who other people think I am. There is emotion here. I resist analysis and stay with this feeling and the feeling is that none of them are it – there is space between them all and I am in the space not in the self-identities.
It feels messy, my mind wants to connect it back to the brown room space it starts to think about that and compare, but I use my mindfulness to come back to the space which feels effortless and free, which brings more emotion around the effort of ‘being someone’.
Compassion is here on the cushion, is my cushion, I offer myself permission to be messy and in bits and hold it with self-compassion. More release of held tension. When tension goes, and I sigh, the energy is freed up – I can feel this happen. I don’t need to understand.
Life is actually unfolding in this gap between… bubbling up, fizzy and fresh. The gap lies between me doing this, me being that, the gap between the me trying to be what I think I should be, doing what I think other people think I should be doing, and actually the me that is experiencing here, now.
The empty space, if I can sense into it in each moment, will keep me present to this moment, which is the only moment I have. I might think the next moment will be better than this, or that next week everything will be OK and that next year will be even better and each projection out there whether about me or my life is taking me away from what is, and the amazing aliveness of this moment, fizzing like a glass of champagne.
“The Future is always beginning now.”
I think of the elderly gentleman sitting in his house and his wondering about all his days of striving and working hard; and we see ourselves in him; what are we hoping for today that takes us away from this moment? What do we think will be around the next corner better than what’s here? Can we awake from this delusion? Can we step into that very space we are always trying to avoid?
Simple / Not simple!
See how we get on with this: See if we can notice the tendency to want this moment to be different… better somehow.
What is it that you don’t like about this moment? Can you feel the gap?
– – – – – –
Warm wishes to you this windy week, I hope you stay safe and warm and have the opportunity to find joy in many moments of the coming days, whatever this week brings for you.
And if you have covid this week, as many people do, I hope it is mild, passes quickly and you feel better very soon.
Take care of yourself,