Emptiness, addiction and freedom

07/04/2011 § 2 Comments

“All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room”. Blaise Pascal

If you have read this blog before you know I enjoy exploring hidden connections. Today I am thinking about emptiness and addiction.

I appreciated the comments on last week’s post about leadership. So when contemplating what to write about this week, my first thought was to continue with the same theme.

But when I sat down to write, I realised that I was all spent on leadership, for now at least. I didn’t have anything more to say on the subject that held any interest for me.  So I cast around for something else to write about and, unusually, nothing came to mind. Had my well of creativity run dry after a sum total of 11 blog posts? Oh no. Panic!

It is a scary thought to contemplate, emptiness. Maybe it feels like an intimation of death, of annihilation. We will do almost anything we can to avoid it. Alcohol, drugs, tv, sex, reading, excessive thinking, eating, shopping, Facebook, you name it, we obsessively fill our time with it to avoid going into that scary empty place.  Whole industries have been built to satisfy these addictions, all arising from our inability to sit still and be.

And yet if we can just bring ourselves to face it, that scary empty place can be a really cool place to be. It can provide deep insights and a feeling of profound peace. It is a place of healing and connectedness.

I think of emptiness as a narrow, rickety bridge over a deep chasm. If I can find the courage to cross the bridge, I will find all sorts of riches on the other side.  Yet I tremble at the prospect….

Having drafted this post last night, I woke early this morning in my brother’s flat in Covent Garden in central London, and decided to go for a walk. It was a gorgeous morning – warm, dry, clear, and the city just waking up.

I thought of heading to a park or down to the river but then I was reminded of emptiness. So I simply went outside and let my spirit guide me. I deliberately switched off my thinking mind and followed my feet. Have you ever tried this? I recommend it.

Via a circuitous route I ended up in Russell Square, which looked gorgeous. The plane trees stood tall, graceful and stark overhead, whilst at ground level life was bursting out in every shade of green.

Walking in the square and pondering emptiness, it occurred to me that it is the ego, desperate for control, that prevents us entering into emptiness, from dictating where we should walk to rather than following our feet.

I am fascinated with control, with the harm that is caused in society from the way one person controls another. What joy we could access if we could only release control!  Marx said that our domination and exploitation of the non-human world was a natural consequence of our domination and exploitation of each other. In the same way, I suppose, our domination and exploitation of each other is a natural consequence of our ego’s control over ourselves.  Every time we find the courage to enter into the struggle to let go, to stop controlling, to release ourselves from our addictions, to be empty, we strike a blow for freedom. Freedom at every level.

There, I am finished. Empty. Nothing more to say…

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§ 2 Responses to Emptiness, addiction and freedom

  • Finn Jackson says:

    Reading this I am reminded of a dinner invitation I received earlier this week.

    You know the kind of thing: a cliche-filled, hyperventilation of relentless buzzwords.

    “energy efficiency nirvana… smart technology… smart data…save energy… trillion dollars…dependence on fossil fuels, increase capacity to meeting growing demand…decarbonise our lifestyles, whilst at the same time keeping energy affordable and eliminating fuel poverty…cutting-edge technologies and techniques…case studies…advanced analytics…‘smart grid’…IT infrastructure.”

    I was overwhelmed by the ‘busy-ness’ of it. And the focus (if I can use that word) on removing symptoms rather than slowing down and addressing the root causes.

    To me, echoing Blaise Pascal, it is exactly this kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.

    I wanted to go and be a speaker.

    I wanted to stand up in front of them and say, “Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. If you really want to save the planet and reduce energy usage, the first thing you need to do is all close your eyes please. Now focus inside. Notice your breath…”

  • Isabel Carlisle says:

    A couple of weeks ago I came back from spending a month in Sinai, in Egypt. I went there because I needed to empty myself out and I thought the desert would be the best place to do that. I had no camera because it wouldn’t charge. I had no phone because there was no socket to charge it in. No computer, no cars, very few people, no street lights, no gadgets, no vegetation to speak of….. nothing really.

    You can’t hide in the desert. It is awe-ful and starkly beautiful. If you hid for too long you would probably die because everyone depends on everyone else for food, water, shelter, getting around on camels, fire for cooking. Life support life so although for centuries people have gone into the Sinai to escape busi-ness and welcome emptiness, there is community there.

    I thought that emptiness was all about letting go of things….the things about me that I thought it was time to let of, that I didn’t especially like any more. But what I found was different: it was the invitation to expand and be bigger. To get that space outside inside. Not scary at all, and I walked about feeling 10 feet high and 6 feet wide. And when I remember, I can still do that back in Totnes.

    Something else happened. It was like all the light in the desert—the sunlight and the starlight—shone their way into me and inhabited the spaciousness. So although I am still walking from one question mark to the next, I am walking large and bright.

    I think anyone can do this: invite in spaciousness and light and see what happens. It is the best and most freeing thing to be addicted to in the whole world!

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