The beauty of the empty space

I have a mug on my desk with blue stars on it. Each star occupies an empty blank space in the shape of a star. Some blank spaces lack their star. I had this silly feeling that those spots had not yet found their match. But then I saw them for what they really are: empty spaces full of possibilities where anything can happen. It reminded me of the empty mind. Not eager to be filled, just peacefully empty, awaiting nothing. One could say this is my cup of tea…

As I read the Glass Bead Game (Hesse) and I patiently enter its slow but relentless flow, I am forced to take time and contemplate. Hesse really wants me to stop and reflect, to wait, to take time, to appreciate the small things of Life. Somehow the empty spaces in my cup, like the waiting passages in the novel in which not much seems to ‘happen’, shine with the brightest light. As it often happens, I wish I can believe my own words. Maybe not so much believe as live.

We feel the need to fill every second of our time, which will otherwise feel wasted. I wonder if we are not wasting those seconds, minutes, years, by filling them artificially. My favourite teacher at school, who taught philosophy, once asked us if we were able to sit with our silence. That was way before the invention of smart phones. No, of course we weren’t able, and we haven’t improved much since. Silence is not a void to be filled. It is beauty in itself. It exists not because of the absence of noise, but because it has its own presence.

It is ironic that we try to fill our inner void with yet more external stimulation, when the most satiating solution might be to sit in silence for a while, not doing anything at all. I wish there was a verb for ‘not doing’ that implied an active state, rather than the absence of an action. I guess one can always say ‘meditate’ or ‘rest’, but I would avoid saying that I just sat in silence. Contemplation is an active state, but it took me decades to realise that.

I realise why I failed to finish the Glass Bead Game in my three prior attempts. A book comes to you when you’re ready. You cannot force yourself into it. Your mind will block it and force you to escape. This time, I guess, the book has found me in the appropriate state of mind to appreciate its… slow flow. The book, which circles around the conflict and interrelationship of opposites, is almost a meditating exercise. Or maybe one of those lake tours that you find annoyingly slow at the start but that after a while grow within you, soothing you, and leaving you with the sensation that they ended just too soon.

If you comprehend the darkness, it seizes you. It comes over you like the night with black shadows and countless shimmering stars. Silence and peace come over you if you begin to comprehend the darkness. Only he who does not comprehend the darkness fears the night.

Carl G. Jung, The Red Book

Silence is empty and at the same time contains all possibilities. There is beauty in silence, an intrinsic magnificence that I miss every day, obsessed with my endless to-do list. It would be nice to have a not-to-do list with just one item: sit in silence and actively listen. The ability to listen actively is a rare skill. I wish it were taught in schools. Maybe it would be impossible, at that age the brain is starving for stimuli and knowledge. I guess it comes with age for a reason, like the Glass Bead Game.

One of my favourite things about books is how they strike a different chord in each of us. The same words, different meanings, our inner self projected on those pages like a mirror for each of us to see ourselves.