Mark Epstein

Elemental Emptiness Month 10: Love and Longing

7-18-09 I got a comment on my last entry on emptiness from a reader, who is a christian, who said I should turn to the christian god to fill up my emptiness. I wonder if she really read the entry, or for that matter read any of the others or just decided on the spot that prescribing her religious beliefs would somehow make everything all right. It reminds me of the various times my mom has tried to convert me to her belief system, without really trying to understand my choices. Eventually she stopped and listened, but occasionally I still catch her trying to be an evangelical with me, instead of simply treating me like a person. It highlights my own issues with gods of any kind and any religion, and is one reason I favor the Buddhist conception of gods, at this point in my spiritual journey. Before I go into my commentary on that I do acknowledge that I have readers who have perfectly functional and happy relationships with the deity or deities of their choice. If you find yourself reacting to this commentary, I ask that you stop, take a breath, and then respond, with the realization that what I'm really presenting is my interpretation of relationships with deity AS IT APPLIES TO ME.

Truth to tell that comment embodies a feeling of objectification (and emptiness) via religion, in my mind. The belief that some exterior force can somehow solve all my problems or even just the feeling of emptiness is a belief I've not found to be true. In the end, the emptiness has still been there, and no god bandaid is going to fix it or make it go away. If anything, I tend to agree with the Buddhist concept of the Gods as powerful beings, who nonetheless are trapped in their very attachment to their own power. Certainly, looking at various mythologies, what most stands out to me is just how human the various deities are in terms of their emotions and actions. And how often those emotions and actions seem to entrap them.

I think deities have their place, but I don't feel the need to be 'saved' by any of them. If anyone is going to save me, it'll be me, as in the end, I am responsible for myself.

7-19-09 There are times when I feel very distant from my wife. I feel like I don't get her, that I don't know her...and I wonder then how she ended up with me, how this relationship even still exists, and whether I will ever "get" her. And then I read Epstein who discusses his own awareness of the distance between himself and his wife, and I read an online friend's feelings of emptiness and unhappiness with her relationships, and wondering if she'll ever find someone who "gets" her, and I realize this feeling is far more common than just the insides of my own head. It's likely a feeling that everyone experiences at some point or another. I also recognize that even if S wasn't in the picture I'd still feel this way sometimes (and have in the past). Her relationship with him highlights some of the feelings I have, but they'd be there regardless. For what I'm really dealing with is the feeling of emptiness that I feel when I recognize the distance between this person and I.

Lupa tells me that it's my expectations about connection that makes me feel this way, and Epstein would seem to agree, in discussing his own awareness of the emptiness and distance he felt with his wife. And I can see it as well with other people, because there's a cultural belief in finding "the one", as if there is some person out there that can complete you or fill you up, similar to what I mentioned about gods above. Yet, I can't say for myself that it's really about having someone fill a hole, so much as being with someone I feel I can relate to...which doesn't take away from the fact that there could be some projections/expectations, etc involved. What I'm really aware of however is that whatever sense of emptiness I feel about this ultimately is my own. And when I stop trying so hard to bridge that distance that I perceive, it actually can become less, because I'm no longer allowing it to control me. I can appreciate the moments of connection I do have, instead of trying to find some idealized connection.

7-20-09 In further discussion with Lupa, I was able to voice something I've felt, but not spoken of before, which was feeling a deep feeling of unworthiness for this person, and realizing that the basis for that feeling originates from so much of my early familial interactions, where I was treated as being unworthy of whatever I got. Recognizing that and voicing it was liberating.

7-25-09 As I've been working with the element of emptiness, I've been able to identify situations that bring it out more and in those situations, work with the feeling proactively. Feels pretty good when I can take that kind of control over what I'm feeling. I'm not stopping the feeling or repressing it, but I am finding healthier ways to express it and let it go.

7-26-09 There was a point tonight where I realized with vivid clarity something about a situation in my life, which allowed me to see that situation in a completely different light and realize that continuing to put energy toward it was needlessly wasting my energy and mental and emotional health on something which didn't matter. But until you have those realizations, you do put energy toward whatever bothers you about a situation. I've done it, other people have done it, and it will happen again and again. But you challenge the patterns that inform that direction, the history, and you can begin to change the pattern to something different. That's how I feel as I've continued working with my emptiness. I've challenged and changed the patterns, instead of continuing to act in the same old ways I used to.

7-27-09 Been mulling over the last nine and a half months of this emptiness working. It's an interesting experiment for me, as much as it's a chance to continue refining who I am. The conscious choice to shape my identity, and also to sit with my emptiness. The last couple couple of days has given me ample food for thought about my family and how they've influenced my life, up to and including my emptiness, but also how much of that can be changed by being able to recognize the influences...and also my own role in sustaining and passing on those influences.

7-30-09 Yesterday, I felt really empty inside at one point. I looked at everyone around me and I felt like they all had something I didn't have. I know that's an illusion, because I'm sure at least some of them feel empty as well. After sitting with the emptiness for a while, I stopped dwelling on it and focused on interacting with the people. Later that night, Lupa and I had a long talk about our relationship, and about the distance we sometimes feel towards each other. It was a rough conversation at times, but it was a good one, because we put it all out on the table. Afterwords, I felt closer to her, because I felt like we'd acknowledged something about each other. And thinking about it further, I have to admit that sometimes the distance I might feel is perceived distance, which doesn't make it less real, but does mean some of it's in my attitude/approach to the relationship. But I'd rather admit there's distance and know I need to talk about it, than bottle it up and not resolve anything.

8-04-09 Spending time with a partner shows you what their good and bad aspects are, as well as your own. For me the last weekend was tough because it was hot out and both Lupa and I were irritable with each other. Even so, every time after I felt that irritability, I also felt recognition of the bond that connects us. I have been doing some thinking, though, about what I'm looking for in another partner. I no longer feel that I'm trying to fill up or cover up my emptiness with relationships. I know, realistically that'll never happen. But when I still feel desire to have a companion, I can now be more honest about that desire with myself, and others. I know what I'm looking for in a partner and why that's important to me, and I've decided that it's time to put some magic into the process. It's always worked before, and I'm ready to handle whoever manifests in my life, because I no longer am trying to fill up my emptiness with someone.

8-06-09 Had a nightmare this morning where I ended up alone and could not find my way home, because every road lead south and my home was to the north. I woke up, feeling alone, scared, wanting to reach out and touch my partner, but also not wanting to wake her up. Later today Lupa offered to do a soul retrieval for me, noting that when people feel emptiness, it could indicate that they have lost part of their soul. While I agreed to let her do so, I did point out that a lot of the stigmatization toward emptiness focuses on trying to fill it up, as if it should not exist, instead of trying to simply acknowledge and accept it. As much as I have struggled with emptiness, and I have, and still do, that lesson of acceptance has repeatedly been what has helped me come to moments of peace with it, moments which are slowly growing, as I learn to struggle less. I think emptiness is part of the human condition, something we all experience, even if not all of us will admit it. It is easier, on the surface, to just fill it up with activities, consumer goods, sex, lovers, friends, etc. But to feel really feel it is some times the most exquisite experience I have felt. And other times the most painful.

8-09-09 This month has been interesting to observe for I've seen it essentially as a month which has really forced me to focus my awareness of emptiness on my relationship with Lupa. I don't think this is a bad thing, if anything it's been quite an enlightening experience. It's fair to say that I've come to feel a better sense of appreciation for her presence or are relationship despite, and perhaps because of some of the adversity we've been dealing with. It has been helped by coming to closure about how I feel about other relationships that impact our relationship, and recognizing from those other relationships where I've been and also where I no longer am. Getting clear on my feelings, in concern to those relationships has taken a long time, and a lot of thinking, consideration, and feeling. I feel like I'm starting to arrive, which probably doesn't make sense to most reading this, but makes perfect sense to me...I've been in the zero of emptiness for just about ten months, gestating...I'm just about due.

7-10-09 One of my favorite anime series is Rah Xephon and part of what I like about it is the music. All of it is very evocative music. Some of the music is very sad in its sound. When I listen to this music, I listen to it at times when I feel melancholic...and find release in what I hear. The same has been true of a lot of the music I've listened to with emptiness. I'm evoking emptiness through that music and coming to a place of emotional closure.

7-11-09 While I was visiting an acupuncturist I'm doing a business trade with, I did my daily meditation and ended up meditating about a conversation that focused on sex magic and the traditional role vs the contemporary role of the woman in sex magic. What I realized was just how idealized the role of the woman in sex magic is, regardless of whether it's traditional or non-traditional. There's this kind of approach, for male magicians, and I include myself in that, where the female is idealized, but also objectified by the idealization...and for me realizing how much of that idealization has really been a desire to somehow feel completed by this person, as if everything would become perfect through the union of opposites. Maybe it would for a second, or maybe it's just a delusion fed to the self as a way of trying to strive for something. But whatever is attained, still more is wanted, because there is no sense of satisfaction...that's my conclusion about the idealization of women in sex magic, but also in some senses just another layer of recognition, another set of scales falling off the eyes (though this particular set had already mostly fallen off).

7-14-09 I find guilt to be  mostly self-indulgent feeling. I know some readers will recoil when they see that, for isn't guilt supposed to show that you feel bad for whatever it was you did? And I suppose it shows you feel bad, but if guilt only does that, it seems to mainly be a way of flagellating the self, for the self's benefit and perhaps to show others that yes I recognize I did or didn't do something. At the same time, while guilt puts on a good show of displaying how bad someone feels, unless action is taken, it's ultimately superficial. You can feel bad for not doing what you could do, but if you choose not to change it, all that feeling bad really does is give you an excuse to say, "See I know I'm bad." Great, you know that...and?

Different people, in the past, have argued that displaying and feeling guilt is good...that it shows that the person is aware of what s/he did...but guilt without action is merely a reaction and self-indulgence for getting caught in the act. It is only when you decide to take a course of action to change the behavior that caused you to feel guilty that you can then say guilt has served a purpose...motivating you to be better because you don't want to hurt someone the way you did before. I say that with the weight of experience, for this emptiness working, and the other workings of the past few years have all been motivated by a desire to change from who I didn't want to be, to someone I could like and respect...and someone who would do his best not to hurt the people he cared about. I think I'm much closer to the latter person than the former, which is something I couldn't have said even a year ago, but all of this work is tempering me, and the dross which falls away is left behind, not really needed anymore.

In thinking about the emptiness working, I've realized that I haven't actively worked with the entities I associated with it for quite a while. At some point, I realized I couldn't continue to hold on to their hands...I had to let go and fall, and hit bottom. Xah is still a distant background presence, but the emperor is gone...he served his purpose and left, on to others to teach what they could learn. But Xah is both near and far...he doesn't need to be directly involved, but at the same time, he keeps a watchful eye on me. Given that he is me, I shouldn't be surprised...but all the same I do feel alone in this working at this point, and I'm rather content with that. The last few months has also seen my magical practice not so much fall to the side as take a backseat to my business. My business is where my manifesting energy is going...and while magic is still important, I also feel it fits the emptiness working. Everything that previously had meaning in my life has in some form or another gone away, become empty, because you can't really experience empty you've given away what had meaning to you. I know, I'm busy with my business, which must have some meaning to me...and it does, I won't deny that, but my business, the actual business really came into existence during my emptiness ritual...I see it, ironically, as a manifestation of meaning that brings me the greatest level of comfort I've ever felt. I couldn't find that comfort in the arms of others, or in the usual distractions I provided myself. I could only find it in exercising my skills and talents, while also substantially changing the superficial layers of myself to reach into the depths and pull out the meaning I really needed to myself and in what I can meaningfully offer to others.

7-17-09 Seems kind of appropriate that this entry ends on the first day my wife is gone on her first of two trips. This month has felt like the emptiness perspective on my relationship with her. It's been a hard month for me, and her, for various reasons. Yet at the end, I can't help but note that I do miss her and her presence. My house is empty right now. There's something missing, something essential to the equation of this home. I know it will come back, but I also know it is not there. It's a good reminder that no matter what tribulations you experience with someone, what you miss when that someone is not around speaks louder than any of those tribulations.

Element Emptiness Month 9: Craving and Desire pt. 2

6-19-09 I'm feeling out of sorts today. This is one of those days where there's missed connections, where everything feels slightly off. It's a day where I feel the craving to be filled a bit more sharply. A day where nothing I do really satisfies and underlying everything is a feeling of loss. I hate those days. They don't happen often, but when they do occur, no matter what I do that day, it feels like nothing got done. Sad though, measuring the day by what got done or didn't...yet I do it all the time. There can be benefits for doing it, but is that really the only way I find worth? 6-22-09 Envy is one of the shadows of desire. Feeling envy is like feeling pointy, sharp knives being stabbed into you...Each stab is a fresh reminder of the pain you feel. Just one of those nights.

6-27-09 I'm alone this weekend. My wife is off with her boyfriend and I have our home to myself. In someways, though, I've felt fairly alone lately, because the emptiness working is intensifying and I've also been letting go of a lot of my cravings when it comes to wanting other relationships...letting go, but also feeling.

It is the act of feeling which allows for the letting go. I've never realized as much as I do now how much I sometimes have found value in myself through the relationships I have with others. I think some of that can be healthy, but can get unhealthy if the value is only because of those relationships.

I want to be involved with someone dating someone...and I acknowledge that. But I also accept that if and when it happens, it will occur because it's the right moment...which doesn't mean I'm not looking...just means I'm less frantic about it.

And more appreciative of the relationships I do have with wife, family, and friends. It's wonderful to have people hwo genuinely care about you and love you and want you in their lives. I appreciate that more than ever because having those relationships is what's helping me get through this emptiness working.

6-29-09 As I've continued doing this emptiness working, something which has come into my consciousness more has been an awareness of other peoples' emptiness. It's consequently made me more aware of what I am comfortable dealing with and what I'm not comfortable dealing with. I think every person has some degree of emptiness in them and I think it's not unhealthy to have it, but how it's expressed can be unhealthy. When I'm around someone and that person wants something from me, in a way that tries to fill that person up, I know it's a case of trying to fill up the emptiness. In some ways, it's a kind of psychic vampirism. And until people get comfortable with their emptiness, and understand how they are reacting to it, it will cause them to act out in ways that involve trying to fill themselves up. I know this, because it's been that way with me, most of my life. Only recently have I come to a place where I'm not acting out that emptiness...but because I'm aware of that emptiness in myself, I can also feel it in others, and see it in the behaviors they exhibit.

7-01-09 Sometimes an event will occur, which triggers issues for me from the past. Frex I give someone a gift and that person doesn't exhibit as much enthusiasm or interest in said gift as I hoped (expected) s/he would. On the one hand, Lupa's pointed out that I tend to build up some expectations as to how someone will act when I give that person something. And there's some truth to her observation. I do sometimes build up an expectation on how I think someone will act or react to something I do and that can lead to disappointment and isn't fair to the person either.

But in thinking about it, the root of this issue is in feelings of neglect. My honest feeling wasn't so much disappointment, as a feeling of neglect, of not being noticeable enough, worth enough to be shown consideration to. And yes that issue can lead to high expectations, but when I trace it back to myp ast, I trace it to my childhood, where I was essentially an indentured servant. I was expected to do a lot of chores, and was rarely, if at all thanked for what I did. In fact, I was usually only acknowledged when I did something bad. Everything good I did wasn't worth noticing or paying attention to. And sometimes...I still feel that way. Now, that isn't the fault of anyone I know. It's my issue to deal wih, my issue to own, but part of owning it is acknowledging it, being honest about it, and recognizing what triggers it. And also recognizing what I need to do, to decondition that trigger.

7-3-09 I recently added a new business to my entrepreneurial gig and in the midst of doing that got some real gems for my emptiness work: Humility is believing in yourself and in abundance. It's believing you have everything in the world to offer and also believing that everyone else does too." It's an interesting definition of humility, and one I find compelling. And what does it have to with emptiness...Simply recognizing that everyone does have something to offer. It's a shift in thinking that focuses on recognizing the value that each person has. And for me, this is a shift which has been occurring for a while, since the advent of my entreprenurial focus. And when I've come to this view, it's changed some of my feelings about emptiness, because I recognize more and more what it has to offer to me as well.

7-03-09 There are times where I still find myself struggling with being completely open and upfront. I want to be open...but there's also that part, which doesn't want to be open. That part is the part that learned early on that being open was a bad idea, that it would be used against me.  And rationally I know I'm not in that place anymore...I'm not that child anymore, but emotionally my issues with the authority that someone could have with my life is one that makes me feel uneasy. That uneasiness brings its own contributions to how I handle situations where I want something, but might have to get someone else's approval to get it. Sometimes I really have to muster up my courage to bring something up, because of that uneasiness. It's gotten easier to deal with over the last year, but its still something I have trouble with occasionally.

7-06-09 This month so far has been quieter than all the other months. Sure some stuff has come up, and there is still an awareness of emptiness, but at the same time there's also a quietness, a kind of calmness...and not the calmness before a storm, but more like a calm centeredness of knowing myself and knowing emptiness and feeling collected and grounded with both.

7-10-09 Sometimes I will catch myself in a stream of thought that is focused around desire and in that moment acknowledge just how much that desire occupies my thoughts. It's useful for recognizing just how much I want something, as well as asking whether that focus is really helping or not. It's showing me as well the place desire has in my internal landscape, and now I'm learning how to sit with that comfortably. It's not always easy, because sometimes I feel overwhelmed by how much my thoughts can sometimes go toward desire, but learning to sit with it is teaching me a lot about how I feel when I feel desire and can't act on it. I'm seeing what underlies desire, which sometimes is a feeling of emptiness and fear, and sometimes is a desire to connect.

Some further realizations. Some of my desires deal with taboo, the desire to do something forbidden. When I thought about that and traced it back, I found the root, of course, in my past. Because I lived in a very disciplined household, one of the things I did to get power in those situations was to go behind my parents back and to lie to them. If I could get away with something, I took it as a triumph. And I see that same behavior in my life, over and over again through my twenties, and to a lesser degree my early thirties. Never mind that the root situation is gone...there's still this desire to do something forbidden, and the pleasure of getting away with it. I'm not acting on that desire now, but it doesn't mean I don't have fantasies about it. Today when I had such a fantasy, I spent a lot of time thinking about it, sitting with it, and figuring out where the desire originated from. And having done that, I can say that it makes a lot of sense to me, but it's no longer needed. I'm not in a situation where I'm dealing with some authority over me restricting me from enjoying what I like. I'm in a situation where I have that authority and ultimately responsibility for what I do. Needless to say, that gives me a lot of incentive to continue working on this stuff, instead of acting out on it.

7-12-09 I've been re-reading Epstein's works on Buddhism and psychotherapy. Seemed appropriate for the emptiness working. In one of the books, Epstein talks about realizing that the pain, anger etc., isn't something you can remove, that instead you've got to sit with it and work through it. The same is true of desire. You can't remove it, and you do need to work through it. It's something which needs to be experienced, but in a manner that allows you to know that you are truly at peace with how it makes you feel. You can't eliminate the emptiness, the desire, the anger, because it's something which is part of you. We treat it as the other, because we don't want to deal with it. But it's only in sitting with those feelings, that we can find peace with them.

7-13-09 I am simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable with my desires. I am comfortable in the moments I express them, but uncomfortable with having them...and it's fairly easy for me to figure out the root and where it all came from...but sitting with it and being present with is something else I'm still learning to do.

7-17-09 Sitting with my desires today, I realized just how important it is sit with them and be silent in that sitting. And by silence, I don't mean not talking, so much as I mean really listening. I still don't feel any more comfortable with it, but I do feel like I'm finally ready to listen as opposed to frenetically acting.