Susan Steen (2)

Steen

“Become totally empty. Quiet the restlessness of the mind. Only then will you witness everything unfolding from emptiness.” — Lao Tzu

I am afraid of being empty.

I am afraid of not having something of value to share this week.

It has been filling my mind every moment I’m not working on something else.

For five years, I’ve been afraid of coming to my deadline and arriving empty-handed, yet life constantly is providing me with beautiful moments about which to write. Why do we allow our fears so much space in our minds?

Empty — an adjective meaning containing nothing; not filled or occupied.

Maybe it’s a word that shouldn’t frighten us after all. So much good can come from empty, I learned this week. You see, we have a small fountain in the kitchen that doubles as a water source for our dog. It didn’t begin that way, but it’s right at his level and the running water seemed to just call to him.

The pump broke, and the water sat for a few days until I could replace it. I poured out most of the water (I thought) and put fresh water in, but Mac refused to drink from it. After a couple of weeks, I decided to start fresh. Totally emptying the container, I wiped it out to remove any residue before filling it with fresh water. He has been drinking regularly from it. Empty is just a word, but it seems to be teaching me a lot this week.

It isn’t only in the Tao Te Ching that we are encouraged to empty ourselves. In the book of Philippians in the Bible, readers are instructed to first empty themselves so they can serve others. In the Bahai faith, followers are told to empty themselves if they want to seek God. It would seem, then, there is much wisdom in the emptying of our vessels — our egos, our preconceived ideas, our expectations of the day or the job.

What if you can’t come up with new ideas at work? What if you don’t have any new homes to sell or customers to buy the homes you do have? If you are a creative person — an artist, a musician, a carpenter, a writer — it is a little unnerving to think you might have nothing in you to paint, to build, or to write. But if we follow the wisdom, it seems that instead of allowing these moments to bring fear and panic, we should celebrate being empty and open for what is waiting to fill us.

It’s true with so many of our fears — we face them and discover they weren’t nearly as awful as we thought they might be. Kind of like when I discovered that beets weren’t as awful as I feared they might be. (Maybe I should give rhubarb a try.) What fear has been filling your mind?

This week, I’m sitting in the quiet trying to allow myself to feel the emptiness instead of filling the space. I clear the counter, wiping away any lingering crumbs, and I immediately feel the joy of the emptiness. I go through the pile of papers that have collected, filing or pitching, and I am met with an empty spot that feels better to me than the occupied space, and I recognize that it’s playing into my apparent theme for the week.

Just maybe, you need to allow something to be empty, too. Sit with that for a minute. Are you trying too hard to fill your calendar, your space, your life? Do you think your children or grandchildren need to have every moment filled with activity? Don’t be afraid of emptying the calendar for a day.

I’m not afraid of an empty calendar, just an empty piece of paper. It’s encouraging to read the words of a thinker like Tzu and to hear a reminder from a friend: Empty is the container from which flows all creativity. Maybe this week you need to empty your container as I did with the fountain and watch for good things to flow from you in the days ahead.

My coffee grew cold as I was sitting here, and I started to just add a little coffee to warm it up. Instead, I’m pouring it out, emptying the cup, and pouring a fresh cup because it seems the right thing to do today.

Intentionally, I’m embracing opportunities for emptying things, specifically my restless mind. It might not be as exciting as researching things which fascinate me, and hopefully you, but it’s inspiring to think that by allowing ourselves to empty our minds we might actually witness wonderful things begin to unfold within us!

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