No one, it seems, would ever aspire to emptiness.
It is a word that almost immediately conjures up images of lack, sadness, fatigue, loneliness, even meaninglessness and death. It is not a quality or experience that one would willingly pursue like love, peace, or wholeness.
But what if emptiness isn’t empty? What if there is something to be learned from emptiness? Something that cannot be learned in any other way.
What I’m suggesting is that befriending emptiness can open us to life’s deepest possibilities.
I want to turn to the Jewish mystics — the Kabbalists — to help make sense of this.
The Kabbalists described the divine as Ein Sof (sometimes spelled Ain Sof) — meaning Infinite or Limitless. For them, God is essentially beyond all possible description. God transcends any image or idea or experience.
So instead of attempting to give names for what God is, since this is impossible, the only name that they felt could capture the utter mysteriousness of the Divine, was one that described what God is not — God is in-finite (not finite), God is without limit.
What does this have to do with emptiness?
Some Kabbalists started wondering, if God is Ein Sof — Infinite, Limitless — how is there room for anything else to exist?
If the divine presence has no limit, and is infinitely extended in all directions, filling and saturating every nook and cranny of all infinity, then how did the world ever come to be? In other words, how did Ein Sof create?
In response to this problem, one prominent Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, made use of a concept called Tzimtzum, which means contraction or self-limitation.
What Rabbi Luria was suggesting was that Ein Sof had to contract — had to pull back the divine presence — so that there could be space for something else to exist.
Shabbetai Sheftel Horowitz states, “Before the creation of the world, Ein Sof withdrew itself into its essence, from itself to itself within itself. It left an empty space within its essence, in which it could emanate and create.”
Kabbalists called this creative space Tehiru — a void, a vacuum. I call it emptiness.
The perspective of the Kabbalists shifts the meaning of emptiness. Emptiness becomes a prerequisite to creation, it becomes sacred.
You might be asking, what does this have to do with me, with my life, and my experiences?
I believe that the way Kabbalists describe the mystery of creation reveals the underlying pattern necessary for all creative acts. In other words, without emptiness we cannot create or manifest anything in our lives.
For the Kabbalists, the desire to create meant that Ein Sof had to empty out some space within itself for the creation to arise.
Obviously our own human lives enact this process on a more limited scale, but the same principle applies. Without making an opening, a clearing, a void within our lives, nothing new can manifest within them.
Let me give an example. Over time, many of us fall into repetitive forms of relationships, even when the pattern is painful or unsatisfying.
The relationship fills in the space in our lives, so that we don’t feel lonely.
Even when a relationship ends and we vow to make different decisions, prioritize different values, and pursue someone with different qualities, the repetitive relationship form still fills the emotional and imaginative space in our souls.
Even if we remain unconscious of it, our lives still reflect the shape of the repetitive relational pattern.
And so when we find ourselves attracted to someone new — who may first appear to be completely different from the last person we fell for — we find out in a week, a month, a year, a decade that the relationship falls into the same form.
There is no room for a new kind of relationship — not because we aren’t single on the outside, but because we aren’t single on the inside.
We have no empty space within.We cannot bear the contraction, the tzimtzum, into inner solitude, and so there is no space for a new kind of relationship to fill. Emptiness is mistaken for the absence of love, when in reality it is the womb of love.
The same scenario plays out in other areas of life as well — in our relationship with food, in the way we conduct our business, in how we interact with our families.
We cannot create something new, because we cannot endure the absence of the old.
We would rather be full than fulfilled, even if were are full of misery. We would rather be comfortable than complete, even if the comfort inflicts our deepest sufferings.
From the perspective of Jungian psychology, emptiness facilitates the emergence into consciousness, into our lives, of ever deeper layers of the psyche’s innate wholeness.
The psyche itself makes attempts at subverting the more superficial layers of our self-knowledge — the assumptions we’ve gathered over time to construct who we think we are — by startling us with our own behaviors and attitudes that catch us from behind and reveal that we are more, both better and worse, than we allowed ourselves to suspect.
But these efforts made by the unconscious to crack through the surface of our well-polished personas must be cooperated with consciously if we are to make room for what is seeking expression.
In other words, we have to make a space for listening and observing, we have to welcome emptiness into the sphere of our current way of being in order to allow new aspects of our deepest wholeness to speak and emerge from hiding.
Magic also is fundamentally dependent on the friendship of emptiness. The work of magic is at its heart an attempt to make room for the descent of God into the human soul.
All the rituals and meditations that comprise the magician’s practice are how the individual builds within herself an empty space for the the Sacred to inhabit.
Because the meaning of human life in magic is envisioned as the wedding of the soul with its divine counterpart — its Holy Guardian Angel, its higher Self — then everything within magic is focused on making preparations for the wedding –preparing a wedding chamber, a temple within for the union of the human and divine.
The promise of emptiness is ever available to us if we tire of substitute gratifications, get exhausted by living as false selves, and can no longer endure our separation from the Sacred.
Emptiness offers us the possibility of realizing our deepest wholeness, the possibility of making magic, and living in a way that emulates the divine in the creation of our own sacred personal cosmos.
Emptiness costs us nothing that wouldn’t ultimately inhibit our fullest self-realization, and its friendship makes everything possible — from the planets and stars to babies, works of art, and love.
Creativity is only limited by the space created for it.
Dylan Hoffman, PhD, is a student — of life, of imagination, of soul. His apprenticeship to Soul is the essence of his own work as a writer and teacher. Dylan has founded the Spiritual Alchemy Institute to provide clients with instruction and guidance in the dynamics and development of the soul as it is symbolized, imagined, and practiced in the tradition of alchemy. Alchemy is called The Art by its devotees. It provides methods of meditation, processes of transformation, and images of the inner states and conditions that we must undergo to achieve wholeness — to integrate all the elements of our lives into a rich and unified soul. For Dylan, alchemy is where soul, life, and art become one, and make spiritual gold, create wholeness.