We all have that feeling from time to time that whatever we’re doing, wherever we are in life, that there is this underlying sense of emptiness, as if something is missing. And no matter what we do, we never feel quite satisfied. We try to fill that void with experiences and material acquisitions, but nothing seems to work. In fact, it seems that the more we try to fill that void, the more apparent it becomes.
But I want to suggest that the feeling of emptiness, the sense that there is something missing, is not actually empty. There is in fact something which fills that space. What we’re experiencing is not so much an absence of something, but rather an overwhelming consumption. And what consumes us is a deep sense of dissatisfaction.
That feeling we have is not a feeling of emptiness. It’s true that we may be yearning for something, and we may not be clear what that something is, but it’s in that very yearning that our suffering resides. That deep sense of wanting, craving, desiring to be fulfilled is itself the very cause of our dissatisfaction.
We talk about feeling as though there is a void, but we aren’t truly experiencing a space of emptiness. That space exists, but what we’re experiencing are the thoughts and feelings which fill that space. Ultimately we all want to feel satisfied. We all want to feel happy and at peace. And we spend our lives searching for this fulfillment wherever we go. We try to fill that void, but no matter what we do nothing seems to satisfy us. And perhaps the real solution is not that we must fill the void, but that we come to a place of allowing ourselves to truly feel it, to transcend the thoughts and feelings which occur in that space.
If it were truly a space of emptiness that we were experiencing there would be no suffering there. Suffering is something. Dissatisfaction is something. Discontent is something. These feelings are not the absence of anything. They themselves are what fill that space.
If there is a void beneath these feelings, then perhaps what we are truly seeking is to experience that void, to be in a space of clarity, devoid of all suffering. Perhaps what we are in need of is not to fill that space but to empty it. We assume that the way to be rid of suffering is to try and satisfy our craving. But the more we try to satisfy it, the more we crave. So instead of trying to satisfy that sense of discontent, can we explore that space beneath it? Can we let go of needing to fill that space, and simply be present within it?
When we desire something it means that we’re discontent with what is. We aren’t embracing the moment. We’re looking outside of this present experience for something else. We may not be clear what it is we’re seeking, but what we’re truly missing is this presence.
This desire, this craving, this sense of dissatisfaction is essentially resistance. Resistance means we’re exerting energy. We’re trying to escape, but the very thing we’re trying to escape from is this moment. We expend so much energy and achieve no result from it, because what we are trying to achieve is not possible. So is it any wonder that we feel so exhausted, so defeated and dissatisfied?
Can we simply embrace the moment? Can we be present here and now with what is, rather than needing the situation to be different? Can we bring our awareness to this moment and to everything occurring in this space? Can we simply observe our thoughts and feelings, without being attached to them, allowing them to come and go?
When we’re feeling dissatisfied with life, either we are recalling a pleasant memory from the past, or we are imagining some possible future enjoyment. So either we are thinking in terms of past or future, but we aren’t being present. So the question is, can we bring our attention back to the present? Can we be in this space? Can we bring our attention to our current surroundings and sensations, without resistance? This means we’re simply observing. We’re noticing everything that is occurring right here in this moment, without judgment or interpretation. And even when judgments arise—this is good, this is bad, this is pleasurable, this is painful—can we simply notice them as thoughts arising in that space, while still maintaining an awareness of that space itself?
You see we get so consumed by thought that we don’t notice the space in which thought arises. All we notice is the thought. When we look at clouds do we only see clouds, or do we also see the sky? Clouds come and go, but the sky always remains. So thoughts arise, and like clouds they come and go, but what is that space through which they pass? Can we bring our awareness to that space? Can we watch thoughts and feelings as they pass through that space, without our awareness becoming absorbed in the thought itself?
Instead of constantly seeking to fill the void within, can we simply allow ourselves experience that void, beneath all thought, beyond all seeking, and free of resistance?
See also: The Purpose and Meaning of Life