Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
— T. S. Eliot
I must admit to a peculiar perversity: I derive a certain thrill from playing “chicken” with my gas tank. When the needle points to E and the light goes on, I begin to conjure and calculate just how far I can get before I really need to tend the tank. Last week, I put 15.8 gallons in my 16 gallon tank. I was so proud.
Would that I could extend this predilection to other areas of my life.
Ann, my best friend and constant companion, is away at a writers’ retreat for six weeks. And I’ve been lonely. But rather than feeling the emptiness, I’ve been running around doing just about everything imaginable to fill the hole: projects and activities and dinners and social engagements. Emailing, texting, Facebooking, faxing. Anything not to feel alone.
This is odd for me, the one who seeks solitude on the high mountain ridges in remote corners of the globe. What is it about this emptiness – this aloneness – that so unsettles, that stirs such fear?
Alone we face our vulnerabilities, our uncertainties, our inadequacies, our insecurities. Alone we are compelled to ask the haunting questions: Where am I going? What is my purpose? What does it mean? Am I enough?
Alone we see the sides of us that are not pretty. Alone we doubt.
Alone we are confronted with: Ourselves.
God knows that there’s enough to distract. You’d think I was in charge of nuclear security or a multi-national corporation measured by the number of times an hour I can check my Blackberry. And while I love the Internet, I agree with Nicholas Carr’s new work, The Shallows: the Internet quickly devolves into Too Much Information; it overwhelms.
In distraction, we fail to connect with who we really are and lose the capacity to live with any depth. It is only within our own emptiness that we come to know the Authentic, the Significant, the True. It is only here that we can discover how we are called. It is only here that we can know our connection to the Source of all this is.
This is the story they tell: A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring.
The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself.
“It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted.
“You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.”
To be empty. To be alone.
“Alone. This is when it happens. In silence, alone,” says Gerry Spence in his surprisingly insightful Seven Simple Steps To Personal Freedom. “Without aloneness, without taking the fear of it into the self, without knowing it, what is the use? Birth and death happen there. And life as well happens there.”
Without this Journey inward, we skitter along the surface of things. Without Ourselves, we have nothing to offer to the world.
So over these next weeks as Ann writes, I am going to work harder to be with the quiet, to be with the questions, to be empty.
In order to be Full.
And he [the Lord] said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind and earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
— I Kings 19: 11-12 (KJV)