Emptiness has had a strong run of late as the ‘real deal’ of buddhist practice. I’ve certainly spent a good deal of time clearing obstacles and doing practices to move towards recognizing and opening to emptiness. I’ve found a shimmering vitality, freedom, often warmth and joy, vast spaciousness, and a bright, vivid clarity in the experiences that have unfolded.
Then, some time ago, I began to wonder, ‘where is the depth here?’ Resting in open clarity I’d find myself saying ‘I can’t get down!!’ I don’t feel depth in emptiness, light, or clarity. There is no dimension, only what might be described as ‘space’. Space without dimension is quite wonderful, and a bit odd.
In emptiness there is also no weight. There is no weight because there is nothing there! This is wonderful, and not the whole picture. In my experience there is weight, and it is important in many ways. Perhaps we shouldn’t regard the weight of experience as something that should, or indeed could, be transcended.
Depth implies dropping, there is a ‘down’. Deep. One starts ‘here’ and drops right into ‘here’, down. What gives access? Beauty that reaches sublimity does, whether the movement of a poem or of leaves against a Fall sky. So does pain or suffering, no matter the source of it. When I rest with suffering as it arises there is, of a sudden, depth in my experience. When I drop into that, another aspect of being is revealed.
Depth is dark. When we bring light to depth it is no longer deep, dimension is gone. Perhaps depth also has weight, that might be another aspect of the matter. We grab a large stone and drop to the bottom of the pond, into dark water. The space of depth is different from the spaciousness of light. We can open to and into depth. It is a little scary, maybe awesome.
Compassion puts us in touch with suffering. It is not just an ability to be with suffering, to be with the difficulty, pain and discomfort of what arises in life – this can smack of heroism, of heroic tragedy. Compassion creates, leads us to, a window. Through the window we get in touch with something ‘so deep we cannot fathom it’.
So we have these two,,, aspects of experiencing and ways into experience. Emptiness, the vivid, vital clarity of the emptiness of experience, of what is; and compassion, dropping into the depths opened by the suffering of experience that is pervasive and can be recognized or ignored.
Simply accessing the empty quality of experience and hanging out in the energy and light and freedom I come in touch with at some point seems incomplete. Dropping into depth and ignoring or forgetting the empty aspect of experience leads into a darkness lacking in vitality; it is not depth but wallowing.
These two ways can, and do, function together. Accessing the experience of the emptiness-of-being generates energy and can help to drop into the depth of experience without collapsing into reactions to it.
There is depth and emptiness. Utterly resonant, mysterious, open, deep. From here, we can do what situations ask for. Which may be to simply be.
Copyright© Jeff Bickford, Mahakala Radio, Colorado Springs, CO
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