When I last saw my father and told him I had become a meditation teacher, he said:
“Meditation? So you teach people to sit still and do nothing? What good is that?”
In fact, Chinese mystics from the three jewels of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism have long referred to meditation as ‘sitting still doing nothing.” They recognized the immense treasure to be had from stillness and emptiness.
Our culture has always encouraged movement over stillness; excess over emptiness; intellectualism over transcendence; and opinions over observations. So, to most of us, emptiness and stillness sound like strange and frightening concepts. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we associate stillness and emptiness with death, and so avoid them as much as possible.
But they’re right. Meditation is death. We use it to kill the egoistic/selfish mind that is the source of all our suffering. Because people have identified themselves with their egos for so long, they think that, were they to be truly egoless, that would kill them. But only when we are free from our concepts of self, do we have the freedom to really become ourselves, without definitions, distinctions, attachments or delusions binding us, and keeping us restricted. As one translator of the Tao Te Ching has it:
“If you do not forget yourself,
Then how can you become yourself?”
Let me draw an example from my own life. Where I live in Wales, we are blessed with beautiful countryside, amazing mountains, and dramatic skylines.
On a bad day, when my ego mind is calling the shots, and I am lacking in inner peace or stillness, all of that natural beauty might as well not be there. I get encumbered by my thoughts, and, as a result, I am afflicted with perceptual tunnel vision. A phoenix could fly before me, or a dragon sprout from beneath my feet, but it would’t matter. Like an overflowing venue, my mind is already too packed with thoughts to allows anything else in. The dragons and phoenixes will have to wait.
However, if I am at my best, and have achieved inner peace and stillness within, then all is bliss. Not only am I able to relish these mountains and landscapes in all their beauty and wonder, I feel them, I become them. Such is the state of receptivity thanks to my emptiness that I can perceive everyone and everything with the utmost perceptivity. Boundaries between self and not-self disappear. All is unified. All is one.
So, emptiness is the difference between seeing the mountain and being the mountain. Try as you might, you won’t be able to eat one on a full stomach – how much less so a full mind!