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Elizabeth Namgyel

Applying the Fullness of Emptiness to Our Lives

How does emptiness help us? How do we apply an understanding of emptiness to our lives?

Sometimes emptiness seems foreign to us. But in truth, we live and move about in emptiness because things, by nature, are not static or “objectifiable.” I often speak of resting in emptiness as an open question. An open question is a question we ask without expecting to find a final answer. When we ask an open question we have not yet reached a conclusion and yet the mind is focused and engaged with life.

Shutting down around answers puts an end to open inquiry…although, ironically, we never find final answers to any question. If you go online you can find a million answers in an instant. But which one is true? And who is the arbiter of true ideas anyway? It is not that we can’t access valuable information online. It’s just that it will only ever be true in a functional way – a relational way. It will never be inherently true.

For me, the questioning mind is a powerful tool that protects us from the ignorance of trying to find static answers. In asking questions we start waking up to the world around us. It is as if the world responds directly to us. But remember, the world does not respond in a static way. That is not the nature of the world or the nature of who we are. We are in movement and constant interchange with our world.

When we put our minds to it, we find that we naturally understand emptiness is some basic ways. For instance, how do you feel when you are talking to someone who is a “knower?” How do you feel when you are talking like a knower? I always find it kind of suspicious. I miss the open potential of my mind and the quality of curiosity. When I talk to someone curious or open-minded it inspires me. That is why we usually associate open-minded-ness with intelligence. Whereas fundamentalism is not something we cherish (although we do get caught in it).

If you think about it, shutting down around static conclusions disables our intelligence, while seeing the empty-fullness of life gives us big vision and an ability to respond with great intelligence. Fundamentalism gives rise to negative emotions, while open questions release compassion. Let me give you some examples:

Before soldiers go into combat they are trained to objectify the enemy. In other words, in order to kill someone, we need to see him as “bad” and “dangerous.” If we were to look into our enemy’s eyes, learn his name, think of him as someone’s son, brother or father, it would bring out too much of our humanity and we couldn’t kill him. Our experience of him would be too full and therefore too compassionate to cause him harm. In contrast, aggression requires objectification…a shutting down around conclusions.

The same is true for attachment. People in advertising know the whole psychology of objectification. Their main job is to get consumers to see products in a one-dimensional way. If they are advertising a car they might show how shiny and slick it looks, how smooth the interior is, how fast it goes. If, however, they were to talk about how the dashboard will crack, how the electrical system will break down in a few years, or remind you how many tickets you tend to get…you may still buy the car. But you won’t buy it with so much stupidity. You will have to include the complexity of owning a car, and your attachment will be reduced.

Someone once asked the Dalai Lama what to do when they felt angry at someone. He said, “Try to think of more than two other things about this person”. For instance, they are a good mother to their children or they brought you soup when you were sick. The minute we step out of objectifying someone, or something, as one-dimensional, we are stepping into emptiness. The ability to see things in all their complexity – as an open question – is really the kindest and most intelligent thing we can do. Seeing the fullness of others (or every situation), in all their pain and glory, expresses the greatest love and respect we can offer them. It is an unconditional kind of love. This kind of love has a profound effect on our own minds as well as theirs.

Often we think of emptiness or openness as a neutral or blank state. But the emptiness we are talking about here has to do with making room for the full humanity of others. It reduces “rightness” and fundamentalism. It is inclusive rather than separating. When knowing emptiness, we don’t find ourselves judging or objectifying others, the world around us, or even an experience we are having in our meditation. This kind of respect and love releases deep insight, discernment and gives us the ability to respond effectively to the world around us. We desperately need this kind of understanding in the world.  And so it is something to deeply reflect upon.

 (Editor's Note: You can read Elizabeth's previous blog, "The Fullness of Emptiness" by clicking here.)