There’s a saying about bowls. It comes from an ancient text, but maybe it’s just as applicable today (bowls haven’t changed much in that time…).

It’s about the fact that the absence of bowl is just as important as its presence. That the emptiness inside it is crucial to its nature. The emptiness makes it possible – is its essence, in a way:

“Mould clay into a bowl.

The empty space makes it useful…”

Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching

Perhaps there’s something to learn here…

So often, when there’s emptiness around, especially when it’s an emptiness of the heart, it’s tempting to try to fill it.

To stuff it with comfort food.
Or fill it with distractions.
Or cover it over with the boards of boredom and looking-the-other-way.

Harder just to sit with it and let it simply inhabit you for a while, perhaps…

But if you automatically cram the emptiness full and evade the anxiety that it can bring, do you also bury the lessons that it can teach?

Perhaps, a little like the bowl, emptiness is sometimes part of our essence?
Perhaps it’s important to be ‘blank’ for a while? Resting, before you move into the next phase of your life.

Which reminds me of another expression that I’ve heard wandering some artistic circles: “the creative void.”

A blank space between projects, the creative void can seem like a vortex of nothing at all, at first. It can look like writer’s block. Or the drying up of artistic impulse. Or an absence of anything ‘good’. It can be unnerving and even frightening.

But from it, eventually, new and rich creativity can spring. If it’s allowed to just be empty and do its mysterious work for a while…

So how does it feel when emptiness comes to visit you?

Do you find yourself reaching for something – anything – to fill it as soon as possible?

What might it be like just to sit with it for a moment?
(And how long might you choose that moment to be?)

What lessons or messages or possibilities might the emptiness have for you?

And if you listen to it closely, what advice might it have on how to heal?

(And is the emptiness, itself, sometimes a crucial part of that healing process?)


Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She was the former editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.