How to Empty Yourself
While there are a number of problems that arise from this accidental perspective we have inherited, one significant issue that comes from thinking of ourselves as vessels is that things tend to accumulate inside that vessel.
In Zen and some other traditions, there is a teaching of emptying. We benefit from emptying ourselves for the same reason a flute benefits from being hollow or a mirror from being clean. Our value and in particular our peace and happiness do not come from what we accumulate.
Although the teaching may be called emptying and emptiness, it could also be called de-accumulation and nakedness.
By de-accumulation, we recognize that we have accidentally accrued a garage filled with sentimental junk. Instead of defending that junk and using it to remind us of who we think we are, we surrender it.
Here is a brief list of junk:
- Thoughts and Emotions – These are the building blocks of the structures on this list. We give too much legitimacy to these phenomena. They are meant to flow through us like water through pipes. When they get trapped in us, they become the things on this list.
- Beliefs – About ourselves, other people, “the world,” the universe, etc, beliefs are like pinning butterflies to pieces of cardboard. It is an attempt to capture something beautiful but just winds up killing it.
- Personal History – The story we tell about where we are now, how and why we got here, and where we’d like to be and go. The Narrative is a trap.
- Justifications – We use justifications for current struggles (”personal flaws”) as a means to resist change. Would you rather be justified or free?
- Derived Identities – We don’t need the perfect descriptor or identity in order to be who we are. We don’t need the body or the mind or the lifestyle or the culture or the job or the art or the hobby to define us.
- Conditioning – Our predictable reactions.
By nakedness, we experience that when you empty yourself, when you de-accumulate these elements of junk, you don’t actually lose anything. A flute or a mirror being cleaned loses nothing. They become more themselves. They were never lacking, never unwhole. This nakedness lays bare that inherent fullness.
So, how to make this happen? I submit to you two approaches that work together: Daily Meditation and Self-Inquiry.
The technology of daily meditation acts to loosen your attachments to anything that comes and goes. Every thought and emotion that presents during meditation requires you to redirect your interest away from them. Instead of analyzing, pushing away, or grasping thoughts and emotions during meditation, you continually re-orient your attention with whatever the meditation technique requires. For example, in Jangama Dhyana, you rest your attention on the space between and slightly above your eyebrows and if you get distracted, you keep bringing your attention back to that point.
The practice of self-inquiry consists of using curiosity and attention to look within yourself and ask with all sincerity, “Who am I?”. It can be an exercise in which you sit and look within and also it can be engaged during moments throughout the day. All of the junk on the above list are things you have mistaken to be you. By deliberately inquiring within, you get to examine each thing in turn as it arises in response to that question. The question itself is not intended to produce a final answer but rather expose all the lies and falsehoods we have been wearing unknowingly.
While at first self-inquiry may begin as a mental exercise, it eventually becomes an exercise in direct experience. The reality of your existence is a direct experience and thus your identity will never be contained on the mental plane any more than a piece of paper can contain the full dimensions of a bubble. For it to be effective, you must pursue this question of “Who am I?” with genuine interest.
Where meditation is structured, self-inquiry is fluid. As such, inquiry can be difficult to learn. Excellent teachers to read on the practice as Sri Ramana Maharshi, Master Nome, and Adyashanti.