Every day there is another tragic story in which someone has ended up dying or destroying their life due to drugs, food, sex or just plain despair. One week we discover Amy Winehouse is dead at 27. The week before the Olympic skier, Jeret “Speedy” Peterson had violently ended his life. In another story we read about a 700 pound woman who is on a quest to gain another300 pounds. Two years ago Tiger Woods, clearly one of the greatest golfers, went on a sex binge and has pretty much destroyed everything he valued and still hasn’t recovered.
From my perspective in being a psychotherapist and a relationship doctor for many years, I propose that all of these people and many more like them have more in common than you might think. In order to see this commonality, you have to look beneath the usual easy, superficial answers that we typically attribute to these tragedies such as grew up too fast, couldn’t handle fame, depressed, bad parents, or exposure to drugs. There also needs to be a realization that behaviors such as drugs, obsessive eating, and chasing sex in all its forms are not problems, but in truth, are the solutions to what all these people dread and consider worse than any of the consequences resulting from their addictive styles. Yet unless we are willing to face this so-called negative aspect of our humanity, we are left living on an endless treadmill with the same deadly results.
What is our greatest fear or our worst enemy?
This fear is always present but it is the last thing we want to look at. It is the fear of emptiness. Can we think of anything more painful for us to hear from others than,“You are nothing”? From the moment we are born, we are directed to become SOMETHING. We chase one thing after another in hopes that we don’t have to experience the dreaded sense of emptiness, and we find the holy grail called happiness. There are some of us who believe that they have found “it” and will never have to feel empty again. In the case of the people I mentioned in the beginning of this article, they were possibly under that illusion, only to discover that the nagging emptiness had returned and was alive and well. Yet many others never even reach that point and just feel lost in the despair of their consuming emptiness.
The running from emptiness is the reason that we see so much divorce in our culture. People often marry in hopes that their spouse will forever fill that deep loneliness and emptiness. At first it seems like they will, but then after several years, we feel the emptiness returning, and we assume that there must be something wrong with our choice in mates. We begin to believe that our real love lies elsewhere, and before long we are divorced and off on our search.
The great influence
What makes this fear of emptiness even more real is that the entire society we live in supports the belief that emptiness is something that no one wants and is something that we need to be forever trying to overcome, even if it is only for brief periods. We constantly seek out anyone who seems to profess that they have an answer for this negative dilemma, such as religions, gurus. or those who promise great wealth. While drugs and many addictions are looked on by others as dysfunctional solutions, there are many answers that our world advocates that are no less addictive. Earn more money, get a better job, buy a bigger house, find a better-looking mate, strive for greater sexual performance, not to mention owning the lastest and greatest gadget. The list is endless. It is very hard to stand up to this quest to erase emptiness as a key to happiness when everyone around agrees this is the solution.
Exploring these mythical answers to our emptiness
One might think that given our different backgrounds and education that there would be a variety of ways to resolve our emptiness. However, the one and only method I see mankind following is to seek something external to fill our empty hole. No matter how we pretty-up or wrap our external solutions, it all comes down to the one trap most everyone gets caught in. We fail to recognize that the empty hole in us can never be filled from the outside since it is bottomless and insatiable. So it could be the person who eats an enormous dinner, filled to the brim, and then hits the fast-food drive-thru on the way home. Another whose wife is open to sex once a day, yet he is unhappy that it’s not three times a day. Or in a third instance, someone who spent six hours a day watching porn and trying to convince me that he needed that. Lastly, I hear women chasing after men to love them more and yet whatever he gives it is never enough. For those who at least realize that they can never fill their emptiness from the outside, they are way ahead of most people.
The keys to emptiness and real fullness.
For those who want to end the endless trip to nowhere that plagues our society and merely creates temporary fullness at best, there are several things to keep in mind.
1. Emptiness is part of our nature and is not a problem to be fixed. It is part of our living process in that everything starts with emptiness and ends with emptiness. Life begins in an empty uterus and then we become someone and in the end we turn to dust and back to nothing. This needs to be accepted as our natural process in everything we do whether we eat, drink, sleep, or make love. All reflect a continuous cycle from emptiness to fullness and back to emptiness. It is not a problem; it is the way we are.
2. Life involves a relationship of space and form. The space reflects the emptiness in which all forms emerge. Only through the emptiness can we appreciate that form even exists. Without emptiness we would have no idea that there is a form. In order to make intimate contact with another person we need to allow there to be a space before we immediately answer. Yet frequently we violate this and talk on top of each other as we continue to value forms over emptiness. The goal is to appreciate both in harmony with each other.
3. Real fullness comes when we accept being empty. Everything significant and important in our lives only occurs when we stop rejecting ourselves, allow the emptiness, and let true meaning emerge. When we fail to do this, we get seduced by temporary fixes.
4. Real peace is through emptiness. As long as we fear emptiness, we can never rest, and we have to always wonder when emptiness will show up again. However when we can accept the empty hole as our best friend, like the couple in the fable “The Hole” did, then we no longer need to look over our shoulder.
If as a society we can support a consciousness and a journey where people no longer reject their emptiness , then more of the Amy Winehouses would be alive today, theTiger Woods types would still be winning tournaments and going home to their families, we would cease stuffing ourselves with food, our divorce rate would drop dramatically, and sexual obsession, pill-popping, or working excessively long hours would no longer carry the day. We would then see a real freedom and a culture that has nothing to prove and nothing to defend.