Meditating on emptiness can be unsettling. Because our busy modern-day culture associates emptiness with lack, loss, and not getting things done, the idea of voluntarily inviting emptiness to pay a visit—even if it’s only for a few minutes of meditation—can get scary. Sometimes it feels like walking out into the desert alone, with nothing but sand dunes and clear sky in every direction, and having no landmarks to find the way back.
All those busy thoughts flitting about in our minds have become so much a part of our identity, how can we possibly just set them aside and then reassemble ourselves later? Won’t all those balls we’ve so carefully kept in the air come crashing down? Meditating on an imaginary scene, such as a quiet bike ride or a walk in the woods, seems easier. That gives the mind a peaceful focus, but the background mental chatter still goes along for the ride, if more quietly than usual.
Although contemplating emptiness can be scary at times, I suspect that’s when it is most needed. Today’s world is so full of noise and random stuff everywhere, we might believe that is the normal way of things if we don’t pause to reflect. Emptying the mind of clamoring thoughts and worries doesn’t really mean nothing is left; rather, it makes space for awareness of life’s smaller details—such as what breathing feels like.
Even in the desert, it’s not really empty. A hiker would notice such things as gentle breezes, insect sounds, a hawk soaring far aloft, sand shifting with every step, a snake sunning itself on a rock, and a cactus at the edge of a dry gully. The world is full of spaces that only seem empty until we take the time to look more closely at them.