Most of our suffering comes from habitual thinking. If we try to stop it out of aversion to thinking, we can’t; we just go on and on and on. So the important thing is not to get rid of thought, but to understand it. And we do this by concentrating on the space in the mind, rather than on the thought.
– Ajahn Sumedho, “Noticing Space”
Over the past few weeks, my meditation practice has taken a turn towards exploring nothingness, emptiness and silence. After much visualization and other content-focused practice. I’ve turned my attention to non-content. To emptiness.
At first, practicing on emptiness sounds simple, no? Just meditate on emptiness. Yet, we live in such a material-laden world, it is quite difficult many days to imagine nothingness. True, pure, silent nothingness. And so, my journey began with trying to imagine
what nothingness could be.
I quickly converged on the scientific approach and took direction from the observation that most matter, if not most of the universe, is nothing. Some have reported that over 99.9999999999…..% of all matter is empty (yup, lots of 9’s ). So empty in fact, that others have claimed that all of what we consider to be solid matter could fit in something the size of an ice-cube. And given that all matter is effectively energy (courtesy of Mr Einstein’s E=mc^2), there is really no solid matter to work with.
When considering gases and liquids, which are even more void-rich th
an solids, it was further evidence that most of what we know and sense is nothingness and silence.
Practice is the spaces and the silence, not in what fills the spaces and the silence.
Without getting too metaphysical, or entertaining the concept of dark matter (a topic for another time), practice began to focus on the emptiness so pervasive around us. For a while, the emptiness was visualized like the matter which surrounded it. Emptiness also became as much a part of what surrounded me, and inherently a sub-component of matter. Emptiness was not empty.
Then during one session not so long ago, and interesting observation of the breath revealed a different sensation of emptiness. While practicing Vipassana, and noticing the sensations on a tiny portion of the upper lip, it was clear that the space, the emptiness, the nothingness, the silence that was just adjacent to that sensation, the emptiness through which air molecules traveled to eventually enter my lungs, traveled through an emptiness that was no different from the emptiness within the molecules and atoms. My own body was composed of emptiness no different from the emptiness of the universe. My thoughts existed within an emptiness no different from the 99.999999….% of emptiness that composed all the known and unknown consciousness.
Allowing myself to rest in the infinite, timeless, silent emptiness, it became further and further clear with every breath that the only constant within an ever-changing cosmos, micro and macro, was this emptiness. An emptiness within which all sensations, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, manifest. An emptiness that welcomes all, and releases all. An emptiness so still and silent that we may live entire lives never aware of its ubiquitous nature. A still, silent emptiness within which comes and goes every moment, every sensation, every memory, every dream, every fear, every desire, every thought, every word.
In this silence, there is no fear, no desire, no wants, no needs. Nothing. There is nothing but peace, acceptance, non-attachment, love.
In this nothingness and profound stillness, the gap, the space vanishes between self and the world entire. We become one with the world and the universe, for we are all basically nothing. Essence of the eternal sea of nothingness.
Floating in an eternal, infinite sea of pure silence and emptiness, a calmness overcomes, and all tension subsides. All tightness dissipates. All becomes one with the eternal stillness.
Within this eternal, infinite stillness flows, I increasingly feel, the Ki of the universe. Coming to know the stillness intimately, is to come to know the silence and emptiness in its purest form. Within nothingness resides the stillness, silence and needlessness that is the foundation of achieving harmony of the mind, body and spirit.
The eternal stillness permeates the universe entire, planets, galaxies, bodies, solid, and not. The eternal stillness is infinite. It is timeless. It is boundless. It is without need, purpose or mission. It just is. Simply still, silent, empty.
And so should our practice be, on or off the mat.
Silence is something that comes from your heart, not from outside. Silence doesn’t mean not talking and not doing things; it means that you are not disturbed inside. If you’re truly silent, then no matter what situation you find yourself in you can enjoy the silence.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart of the Matter”