Healing Through Emptiness
The last aspect of mindful healing is awareness of the universal laws that govern life. Central to it is an understanding of emptiness. This is most difficult to describe in words. In fact, while I can try to describe it here, the understanding of openness and emptiness will need to come directly through the experience of your own spiritual practice.
In Buddhist teaching, “emptiness” refers to a basic openness and non-separation that we experience when all small and fixed notions of our self are seen through or dissolved. We experience it when we see that our existence is transitory, that our body, heart, and mind arise out of the changing web of life, where nothing is disconnected or separate. The deepest experiences in meditation lead us to an intimate awareness of life’s essential openness and emptiness, of its ever-changing and unpossessable nature, of its nature as an unstoppable process.
The Buddha described human life as comprising a series of ever-changing processes: a physical process, a feeling process, a memory and recognition process, a thought and reaction process, and a consciousness process. These processes are dynamic and continuous, without a single element we can call our unchanging self. We ourselves are a process, woven together with life, without separateness. We arise like a wave out of the ocean of life, our tentative forms still one with the ocean. Some traditions call this ocean the Tao, the divine, the fertile void, the unborn. Out of it, our lives appear as reflections of the divine, as a movement or dance of consciousness. The most profound healing comes when we sense this process, this life-giving emptiness.
As our meditation practice deepens, we are able to see the movement of our experience. We note feelings and see that they last for only a few seconds. We pay attention to thoughts and see that they are ephemeral, that they come and go, uninvited, like clouds. We bring our awareness to the body and see that its boundaries are porous. In this practice, our sense of the solidity of a separate body or a separate mind starts to dissolve, and suddenly, unexpectedly, we find out how much at ease we are. As our meditation deepens still further we experience expansiveness, delight, and the freedom of our interconnectedness with all things, with the great mystery of our life. One hospice director experienced this interconnectedness as he sat with the children of dying sixty-five-year-old man outside his room. They had just received news that their father’s younger brother had been killed in a car accident and were struggling with whether or not to tell him. Their father was close to death and, fearing it would upset him, they decided not to speak of it. As they entered the room he looked up and said, “Don’t you have something to tell me?” They wondered what he could mean. “Why didn’t you tell me that my brother died?” Astonished, they asked how he had found out. “I’ve been talking with him for the past half hour,” said their father, who then called them to his bedside. He spoke some last words to each child and in ten minutes rested his head back and died.
The Tibetan teacher Kalu Rinpoche puts it this way:
“You live in illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality, but you do not know this. When you understand this, you will see that you are nothing, and being nothing you are everything. That is all.”
Healing comes in touching this realm of nonseparation. We discover that our fears and desires, our attempts to enhance and defend ourselves, are based on delusion, on a sense of separateness that is fundamentally untrue.
In discovering the healing power of emptiness, we sense that everything is intertwined in a continuous movement, arising in certain forms that we call bodies or thoughts or feelings, and then dissolving or changing into new forms. With this wisdom we can open to one moment after another and live in the ever-changing Tao. We discover we can let go and trust, we can let the breath breathe itself and the natural movement of life carry us with ease.
Each dimension of our being, the body, the heart, and the mind, is healed through the same loving attention and care. Our attention can honor the body and discover the blessings of the physical life that has been given us. Attention can bring us fully into the heart to honor the whole range of our human feelings. It can heal the mind and help us to honor thought without being trapped by it. And it can open us to the great mystery of life, to the discovery of the emptiness and wholeness that we are and our fundamental unity with all things.
This excerpt is taken from the book, “A Path with Heart“