The Value of Emptiness

  Culturally, our program is to have more, be full, enjoy abundance. We have full houses, full refrigerators, full plates, full attics, full barns, full schedules. We associate emptiness with feelings of loneliness and deprivation: empty-nest, empty-stomach, empty-headed, empty-handed. Lao Tzu, the Chinese sage, frames emptiness quite differently. He talks about the beauty of an empty bowl, made to hold our food, but in being used, can never be filled up. He points to doors and windows that make a room livable. What would happen if we gave our stomachs more empty space during the day? Would that space make our digestion more dynamic?

 Each time I have moved and begun to ready the house for others by removing all extraneous junk, I appreciated how a sense of calm accompanied cleared surfaces, such as an exposed grain of wood, or and empty shelf here and there. My eye was drawn to robust plants remaining after the cull and I would invariably think: this is how I should live: clutter-free.

 It’s the same with eating. The more we stuff each corner, a little bit here and there, gradually obliterating every inner surface of our bodies, the more fatigue and common ailments we take on. When we take a moment to observe, free of the extraneous junk, and appreciate the hum of an unencumbered body, we begin to know about eating.

 What kind of breakfast gets the kids confidently out the door for school? What sends them out punching or clinging? What kind of lunch keeps you alert for your work, able to negotiate sudden changes, challenges? What lunch leaves you sluggish or scattered? What cravings distract you when you have projects to complete. Does dinner frame your evening?

 Many of us aspire to reach a point where we are always able to make wise choices, an inhuman goal. A more resilient attitude would be to begin again with each wide-awake moment, and let go of all the moments in between. We all go back and forth with wise and foolish choices (and all the in betweens) at different moments.

 It’s up to each of us to figure out what constitutes “nourishment” for ourselves. Once we figure that out, we’ll be in position to honor all the ways we can keep each other well nourished, and we may just have the healthiest year ever!


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