The Fear of Empty Space
The predominant emotion in today’s culture is feeling overwhelmed. Most people complain about not having enough time in their day or space in their home. Our life is cluttered with time clocks, technology, and trying to maintain it all with our home reflecting this back to us. This is why we are undergoing a cultural clutter epidemic. But it’s not really about our stuff. It’s about what our stuff is covering up.
While we complain about not having enough time or space, we stay busy trying to fill up both. Most of us feel a need to fill any bit of empty space we find. Silence in conversation. An empty wall. A painting with just a brush stroke. An empty calendar. Empty space is uncomfortable for most of us.
In art, empty space is called the negative space. In music, it’s the pause just prior to a crescendo. In homes, it’s the area where the space breathes. In meditation, it’s the pause between the inhale and exhale. In Japanese art (one of the few cultures that value empty space) the void is called ma and highly revered. In all art forms, the beauty lies in the empty space. Why then are we so uncomfortable with it, while also craving it?
People complain all the time about not having enough time and yet they have created their life in this way. Fear breeds in empty space. It’s where we can hear our thoughts. If forces us to look at our life. We have to witness the choices we’ve made. We have to remember the ungrieved past. To avoid this, we fill our homes and lives with stuff. We fill our calendar. We put a console on the empty wall. We fill quietness with chatter or TV noise. Before long, our lives become cluttered all in an unconscious attempt to avoid the emptiness.
Another word for empty space is the gap, the void, the liminal, or nothingness. This scares the hell out of us. In this state, the ego clamors for reassurance that it exists. There is a rush to fill the space with anything, even if it’s not soul-filling. Anything not to have a black hole reflected back to us. Like walking down a dark hallway with no end. And so we begin to fill our calendar and home with people, places, and things. Before long, our life is cluttered and we feel overwhelmed. The ego is validated, but at a high price: I am overwhelmed and therefore I exist.
The void is also where creation is born. The same place we find our fears is also the place we find our soul. Follow the fear and you will find your authentic self. This is what we’re truly afraid of. Finding our true self comes with moving out of our comfort zone, changing family beliefs, taking risks, being seen, and vulnerability. The more these words scare you, the deeper your piles of clutter.
Clutter is shallow, space is deep.
Filling empty space where the breath is gasping for air is like filling the lungs with black balloons. What I don’t see, I don’t have to deal with. The more I distract myself, the less likely I will have to see the truth. This only works for so long, though. We all have a different standard of how much stuff we desire – in our home and on our calendar. It is individual and unique to each of us. The key is to know when too much is too much for you.
Do you feel stuck or do you feel free? Is your vision clear or clouded? Are you filling space out of fear or joy? From ego or soul? Out of anxiety or creativity? What are you really covering up? Whatever it is, there also lies a portal of beauty underneath.