Confronting Emptiness

Do you mind if I quote from my book? Is that pathetic? Before I do, allow me to explain that I’ve been in the process of depriving my blog of oxygen for some time now. I hoped I could reignite it by writing short stories. God knows, I have hundreds of conceits rattling around in my skull. Sometimes these ideas aren’t satisfied by the writing of stories, however. And so I’ve continued down the path of a dying blog that gasps out a few words every once in a while. When I have to force myself into new areas of interest/study, I would just as soon enter into a land of emptiness where nothing at all exists but emptiness itself, which is a soothing focus.

And that’s the place I’ve gravitated toward in the last few weeks. If I tried to write or read, or otherwise force myself into productivity, I would either fall apart or asleep. Then, last night, I stumbled across a blog written by a man named Dyske Suematsu that renewed my razón de ser for blogging. I read a number of his posts, but this one in particular struck me: Smile Upon Emptiness. In it, he discusses his fear of emptiness, and his willingness to confront his fear in order to cope with it.

His embracing emptiness out of fear led him back to himself and his own thoughts, which was ultimately more exhausting than a life filled with things: “I eventually drove myself crazy. I was at war with emptiness, and it was thoroughly exhausting. When everything around you is empty and silent, all you hear is a relentless flood of your own thoughts. There is nothing to block or divert that flood. You feel beaten down like a boxer laying flat on a boxing ring. And, your thoughts become louder and louder as your surroundings become emptier and quieter. Your thoughts trigger physiological reactions, so your body too becomes tense and fatigued.”

At the conclusion of Suematsu’s article, he relates how he was rescued from this exhaustion by one thing he decided to keep in his otherwise empty apartment—a book with an author photo on the back of it. This photo of another human brought him out of himself, and he was able to reenter the world at-large of things and activities.

I find the fear of emptiness curious, and I’m grateful to him for the glimpse at what can happen if humans exist in this state for too long. I’m grateful because I don’t believe (key word believe) I fear emptiness, but its opposite. I fear being overwhelmed by things and people, a fear I attempted to express through my character Anna in this scene from my book:

Anna wandered down the aisles while she waited, gazing at Mary’s inefficient handiwork strewn over the cluttered shelves. A sense of disorder pervaded the space, and Anna wasn’t certain if she was in a health food store or not. If health food consisted of canned rutabagas, then she supposed the claim was justified. Dusty canned foods in disarray backed up against fresh breads and cereal boxes and bulk bins filled with mysterious substances of nut and legume and granulated textures.

Near the deli, an array of hand-painted silk scarves swayed and eddied in the drafty building. Anna recognized her friend’s handiwork in the scarves, and she followed the trail of ebullient wind catchers to the shelves on the far side of the store. There, she discovered rows of bottles with strange signs and names, which made her shudder.

The world was fraught with things. And Anna could track down and research and discover all those things and, therefore, own them, except that they overwhelmed her. The vast array of ideas, alone, threatened to swallow her whole in its black, gaping maw. That was the universe to Anna—a black gaping mouth that might devour her if she edged too close.

Since I married a man who views himself as an integral part of the universe, rather than a person at odds with it as I am, he’s forced me numerous times to confront my fear of being subsumed by the complexity I see around me. As you can see from my initial thoughts, I still gravitate toward emptiness because it gives me a sense of comfort rather than of fear. But I’m growing more at peace with a world of people and things as the years go by. At some point, I hope to be at complete peace with my surroundings. I’m not sure, however, if an image on the back of a book, or elsewhere, will be enough to force me into acknowledging that I’m an integral part of the universe.

My marriage and children have drawn me out of empty spaces, little by little. Marriage and children will do that. It’s odd. In a way, I understand exactly what Suematsu means by emptiness causing the thoughts to clamor too loudly, which causes more fear on top of old ones. It’s an endless, repeating cycle of perpetual motion. Even though blogging and writing are the necessary outputs to thoughts that spring from empty spaces, these activities are part of the perpetual motion machine. Sometimes, it’s good to step off, and not into emptiness which may be part of the same mechanism, but to the fullness of life culled from chaos.

After all is said and done, the ultimate fear is a far messier conceit, and I don’t want to ponder it. Is it chaos that frightens me? Or is it actually emptiness? What if my true fear is of chaos masking emptiness? What if believing oneself to be at peace with the universe is fear avoidance? What if all human fears come back to emptiness, no matter what we believe them to be about, and Suematsu is simply more self-aware than most of us?



    1. I would agree, Stephanie, and so does he. He discusses how marriage and children are good for emptiness in his full-length article, which I linked to. He is married now with a family.

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