The idea of emptiness has recently become part of yoga teaching for me in a most roundabout way. I was asked to give a brief dharma talk from a yogi’s perspective loosely based on the Heart Sutra, a popular sutra in Mahayana Buddhism. The focus of the yoga class was to go beyond emptiness in a positive way to benefit the planet and all the beings on it.
Luckily, the fact that my studies are rooted in yoga, the union or yoking of our self and others that’s not about Buddhist philosophy, didn’t turn me away from the task at hand.
I’ve been taught that it’s okay not to know all the answers. In fact, when this occurs I often discover that I learn the most when I am a student while simultaneously taking the seat of a teacher. It’s scary but it’s true. Forever students often make the most insightful teachers. So here’s what I learned.
My Thoughts On Emptiness
I don’t know about you, but for me, the word emptiness can bring up feelings of dissatisfaction within. In the past, my opinion has been, a full dish of dessert is always so much better than an empty one! I think about how I feel when my stomach is truly empty, turning me grumpy and irritable. The correct term is hangry now, which means behaving angry due to the fact that you’re so hungry. For many of us, when this occurs all we want to do is fill our bellies up and get some relief from the discomfort that the emptiness created.
I think about the mind and the act of meditation, where we practice quieting our minds, looking for moments of stillness and often getting frustrated when we have to continually begin again. And I think about the heart center, where we strive daily through our yoga practice to grow our acts of loving kindness creating a heart full of love and bliss.
We all want a full heart, not an empty one. For many of us, that is what brought us to yoga.
Words from the dictionary that define emptiness are: void, empty space, hollowness, hole and lack. Not exactly pleasant words we wish to define ourselves with. How many of us view emptiness in this negative way? I hope I’m not alone here. How then can we change the way we see emptiness, to use it in a positive way for growth and expansion? The key is flexibility, and more specifically, the flexibility of the mind!
Emptiness vs. Creating Space
My yoga practice includes a monthly focus where students and teachers alike can contemplate many topics of yoga philosophy. The month prior to emptiness was flexibility. So I’ve blended the idea of flexibility of the mind with the idea of emptiness in a positive way to expand my understanding and see things in a whole new light.
If I can see emptiness as a way of creating space and of letting go of what no longer serves me, I can use that new space for growth and expansion in the areas I most wish to see cultivated. I am beginning to view emptiness as spring cleaning. When we spring-clean, we get rid of what we no longer need by donating/recycling or throwing it out, so that our home becomes more spacious and uncluttered. Then when we find a true treasure to bring into our homes, there is an empty space to place it so it can be enjoyed and appreciated.
We can apply this idea of emptiness to our yoga practice and to our daily lives as well.
Yoga and the Art of Creating Emptiness
We can take this idea of spring cleaning within to create emptiness and apply it to our yoga practice through our breath, thoughts, words and our actions. We can practice mindfulness to notice the empty spaces between our breaths. These moments of stillness are beneficial for clarity and insight, while calming to our parasympathetic nervous system.
When working with the mind, if we can clear out even a fraction of our monkey mind by letting go of negative thoughts such as anxiety, worry and fear, we can create space and time to focus more fully on thoughts of kindness, compassion and unity. Slowing the whirling of the mind, the citta vrtti, leads to a quieter mind and produces inner peace and clearer thinking.
We can look for the empty spaces between our words and actions, begin to speak and act slower and with more mindfulness, and notice the situations where not speaking or acting at all may be most beneficial. I’ve found it be true, that less is always more! Emptiness should always be considered beneficial and worth cultivating. Yoga and emptiness are both practices that will lead us to a more peaceful and healthy body, mind and spirit. When applied, both these practices create new spaces which can nurture kindness and compassion for all beings everywhere through letting go of our avidya, or unknowing, while moving us deeper toward an understanding of oneness of being.
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- Spring Cleaning From Within: A Yogi’s Path To Emptiness - August 4, 2017