15 November 2008


"To hear, one must be silent." ~Ursula K. LeGuin

It seems that some form of 'existential dread' is common in most societies; some fear a sense of emptiness, or of meaninglessness. Sometimes dubbed the "god-shaped hole", I think the best name I found for it is 'the ineffable ache'. The thing that I find strange is that most people either try to deny that the ache is there or try to cover it over somehow. Sometimes the covering over is a symptom of the denial, particularly in people who avoid introspection at all costs.

What I have to wonder, though, is why people do not explore this emptiness that they find inside themselves. It's there, a part of the identities of many people, yet they refuse to acknowledge it except in trying to hide it or escape from it. It's also odd that they assume emptiness is a bad thing.

Thirty spokes converge on a hub but it's the emptiness that makes a wheel work
pots are fashioned from clay but it's the hollow that make a pot work
windows and doors are carved for a house but it's the spaces that make a house work
existence makes something useful but nonexistence makes it work

~Dao de Jing, 11, trans. Red Pine

That emptiness inside, that sense of no-self, of a void, maybe that's telling us something, and maybe we need to be quiet enough to hear it. Not paper over it. Not cover it with music and chat and games. Not blind ourselves to it through the false comfort of religion. Just experience it, and listen.

It can be difficult going at first. We're so used to the constant chatter of our thoughts, of the people around us, of the television or radio or computer. Allowing the mind to become still so that the world can be reflected in it goes against most of what society tries to ingrain in us. Many people work so hard to cover up that ineffable ache that they don't even notice who they themselves are. Their very self-image comes from the constant chatter.

What is that you hear, when you allow the mind to be silent? I don't think it has a name. Giving it a name just reinforces our tendency to chatter chatter chatter. Some might call it 'God', but what is gained by that? Invariably, people begin to argue about the proper label, and claim that they've found the one true religion. Calling something the 'one true religion' makes about as much sense as going on about the 'one true science' or 'the one true toaster oven.' Reality never fits into the small box of any 'one true religion' (or any 'one true toaster oven', for that matter).

So stop trying to cover up that 'hole', and you may be surprised at what you hear.

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