The Shape of the Blanks, II

Leave the Blanks EmptyLeave the blanks empty and watch their shape evolve. Emptiness has shape. The space of emptiness has definition in relation to its surroundings.

There are numerous times each day when we compulsively fill in the blanks. When a stranger looks as us oddly, we search for the reason. “Is there a smudge on my face? Is my zipper undone? Am I ugly?” When a friend looks at us oddly, we become frantic, especially if the reason is unapparent. “Did I offend her? Did I forget something? Is something wrong?” Even asking for the reason often doesn’t satisfy our doubt. “Perhaps this person is hiding something to avoid hurting me.”

Years ago I read Roland Barthes’ “A Lover’s Discourse”. Barthes’ lighthearted observations of the bewildered lover’s frantic interior dialog offers an entertaining read, but also strikes close to many of our real experiences. When the beloved is late for a date, the lover’s thoughts ping-pong at hyper speed to gain some sense of the situation, running various vignettes across his vision: the beloved making love to someone else; the beloved, dead in the middle of the road; and so on.

In relationships, every look, word, tone of voice, silence, pattern of presence or absence is charted, dissected, rinsed, scrubbed and rehashed to squeeze out any and every drop of meaning. Ultimately, the meaning is contextual; the answers change like quantum particles, leaving more questions. The end result is little or no gain and lots of strain.

When I see someone going through this kind of self torture, it’s as if they are tumbling rocks. As I kid I used to have a rock tumbling kit. My friends and I would gather a dozen interesting small rocks and place them in the rock tumbler with gritty minerals to polish them over many hours. The results was shiny rocks. And that’s about what you get when you try to answer unanswerable questions. The answers may become shiny, but they’re still rocks.

When alone, we tend to fill every thought space with something. We judge, name, analyze, decide and dismiss. Most of these verbs are considered desirable activities when we are at work solving specific problems. But the rest of the day we need to balance ourselves with open awareness and open ended creativity, not answers. Even after we tire of filling in the blanks ourselves, we then turn on the TV to fill them for us.

Over years and decades of filling in the blanks, our persistent attempts to fill the void becomes a compulsive background noise like static. The photo at the beginning of this post depicts this constant state quite graphically. There is no possibility of white, peaceful space with this kind of static going on all the time.

The desire to know all the answers is a natural and comforting habit. We want to have everything tidy and finished. We cling to this habit tenaciously. But that’s not the way reality unfolds. It’s difficult to let go of this feeling of control. Allowing the answers to remain blank can feel like jumping into a void. But as we grow accustomed to the idea, we realize the blanks are not empty at all, but full of a wondrous, infinite possibilities.

The Shape of the Blanks

The Shape of the BlanksCan we ask oursevles questions without trying to answer with too much finality? In our busy, goal oriented society, it’s considered unproductive. We believe we need to fill in all the blanks.

There are questions which don’t necessarily have clear answers, at least right now. Who am I? What will become of me? Who is the perfect mate for me? What do I really want from life? Why am I like I am? Even questions like, What should I do today? can cause a compulsive filling in of the blank. Most of us would immediately jump to answer these, thinking we know exactly what the answers are or should be. Or perhaps it’s what we want them to be.

The process of being alive, of being human, rarely has a “fill in the blank” simplicity. The answers change. They evolve. Sometimes they are better left blank. Filling in the blanks may actually hurt us. It can create labels which limit us, box us in. If I answer the question Who am I? with “I am a selfish person, because I’ve been told that, and because I tend to take care of myself before others”, I inflict more damage than good. But if I say “I will acknowledge what others think of me, and I will take care of myself, but I know I am aware of others well being. I just don’t wrap my life around it. My way of showing that I care it different.” Then I leave open the possibility of change. The answer is more positive.

Even better is to simply leave the blank empty and watch its shape as we allow our thoughts to filter in and out of the space created by the question. Then more possibilities are allowed into the equation. The blanks can blossom with a creative opening of new answers we had never considered before.

When we face stress, we tend to label the stress as bad, something to be avoided as much as possible, something to minimize. This kind of filling in the blanks creates a gap in our motivation. It prevents us from flowing with the moment and the freedom to process the stressful situation with alacrity. By simply leaving those blanks empty we prevent blocking our own progress with negative thoughts. The shape of the blanks may loom and threaten us, but we can smile and watch as the clouds pass leaving our minds clear to tackle the issues at hand.

Krishnamurti was famous for answering his followers questions with questions. Tonally a question has a lift at the end, allowing it to remain unfinished, open. Rhetorically a question leaves the answer soft and malleable, ready for adjustments, or more questions. Few philosophical questions in life have definitive answers. Why not allow the answers to ebb and flow like the tide, which brings in new answers and uncovers others when leaving?

Great Sensible Spiritual Blog

Check out this blog, The Path of Power, written by Hieu Doan. His posts are razor focused, concise and full of powerful wisdom. The ideas are what I like to call the fresh new face of spirituality. Based on Eastern thinking, it sheds all vestiges of ritual and tradition and goes to the heart of inner growth. You can tell this guy takes this very seriously, and with good reason. He’s on the right path.

The more the mind and body enters into the realm of True Self, the more peace, unconditional love and acceptance become what we are, rather than something we seek.