Reflections on Emptiness

Reflections on Emptiness

    I must say that I’ve been enjoying this week’s reading a great deal.  It covers much the same ground that I teach and address in my client work.  For instance, the conceptual frame of the empty self (Cushman, 1995) is similarly expressed in Buddhism as “the hungry ghost”.  Bringing this concept into the proper contextual relevancies of our time, I’ve been speaking of it as an insatiable seeking; seeking ‘that’ which seems so elusive – consuming everything in an effort to fill an inexplicable void of emptiness.  Coming at this topic from the perspective of nonduality, I always follow this statement by explaining how, when we fill that emptiness with emptiness itself, we discover our true fullness. 

     Here is where I find a bit of mirth.  How radically different the same word can be when approached from radically different perspectives.  On one hand, we are talking about feeling empty, incomplete, lacking somehow – what Cushman powerfully describes as “an absence” (p. 225).  On the other hand, we are talking about dissolving our conceptual boundaries until we have been rendered empty of concepts (or rather they’ve lost their solidity).  I don’t mean this literally of course – it’s just one way to describe something indescribable. Now the interesting problem that emerges, in saying this, takes on two very relevant forms.

     First, Cushman rightly and repeatedly warns of what can happen to those who abandon their own ability for critical reflection and succumb to the will of another (pp. 211-278).  In many ways, asking a person to confront their perceived perceptual boundaries is tricky work – work that must be handled thoughtfully, compassionately, and ethically.  Second, as both Cushman (1995) and Daniels (2021) highlight, giving something form gives something form.  By this, I mean Daniels’ example of self-actualization as something that created the idea of self-actualization as a ‘thing’ to be ‘achieved’ (pp. 124-130).  In the same way, anything we might say about emptiness gives emptiness form and is no longer truly empty. 

     Those are my reflections for the week.  As I said, I’m really enjoying the reading.  I loved the historical portrayal of self over time (Cushman, 1995) and cautionary reflections on the unintended consequences of myth-making (Daniels, 1995).  I also appreciated how Berkhin and Hartelius (2011) took a steadfast position on defending specific Buddhist teachings from transpersonal misunderstanding and misuse.  And, of course, exposure to a number of feminist perspectives was also insightful and thought-provoking.  To summarize, I remain deeply appreciative of the path that brought me to this program – and to this class.  All I hear are voices of great wisdom ringing through.   


Berkhin, I., & Hartelius, G. (2011). Why altered states are not enough: A perspective from Buddhism. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 30(1-2), 63-68

Cushman, P. (1995). Self-Liberation through consumerism. In Constructing the Self, Constructing America (pp. 210–278). Da Capo Press.

Daniels, M. (2021). Shadow, self, spirit – revised edition: Essays in transpersonal psychology. Imprint Academic.


Getting Started: First Things First

Getting Started: First Things First

     My starting point for this class is well summarized by Laughlin and Rock (2013) in their description of mature contemplation, natural attitude, and the transcendental epoch that appear within Husserlian transcendental phenomenology (pp. 266-268).  Indeed, some of the key points made are the very reason for my interest in completing the ITP doctoral program (with a concentration in consciousness studies and contemplative neuroscience).  My focus, for the past several years, has been on teaching contemplative wisdom practices that help clients clarify, for themselves, the “numerous realizations pertaining to the essential structures of consciousness” (p. 269) that tend to emerge from experiential nondual insight. 

     The core challenge, as I have come to see it, is also reflected here (p. 273) – an acknowledgment of the inherent difficulties in communicating a wordless understanding, using words; combined with the general disinterest that most people have in the kind of rigorous, and often deeply confronting, self-reflection that is required.  This, at least, characterizes early elements of the deconstruction process that usually occur for one’s cup to be made empty.  Once empty, the use of language, models, and liberating concepts become vehicles of conveyance rather than a literal description or interpretation of reality, truth, and being.  This, in turn, becomes a doorway to further integration and embodiment, where nonduality reveals itself as something akin to a lived mystery that is celebrated with curiosity and appreciation in our everyday experience.       

     This reminds me of a paper that I came across, a couple of years ago. Hanley, Nakamura, and Garland (2018) conducted a study of nondual awareness that attempted to identify the traits and states of consciousness that correlated with the subjective experiences of its participants.  After this week’s reading, and my introduction to the formal study of phenomenology, I am quite excited to see how the new models, methods, and approaches that I am learning about now can be applied to defining, measuring, and communicating esoteric principles such as those that become obvious and undeniable through contemplative practice but are impossible to convey through the limits of language.  In essence, I am learning new linguistic and symbolic references that can be used to further peel apart the common misconceptions that create so much inner and outer conflict in the world.   

     Given the sample discourse between Pinker and McGilchrist (2013), for instance, what we are observing is a conflict of perspectives that appear somewhat entrenched and positional.  Yet what is really being argued here are deeply biased, conceptual, and perceptual maps that differ in the way they approach the intersection between the sciences and humanities.  If we adopt the use of model agnosticism introduced last week (Erickson, 2020) perhaps discussions such as this could be more fruitful.  No longer so deeply identified with the content of our various positionalities, we can be more open to discourse without personalizing (or needing to defend) our varied interpretive stances.  This is where I want to take my own research work, so this class is already very exciting for me. 


Erickson, J. (2020). “Model agnosticism” in Imagination in the Western psyche. (pp. 12-18). Routledge.

Hanley, A. W., Nakamura, Y., & Garland, E. L. (2018). The Nondual Awareness Dimensional Assessment (NADA): New tools to assess nondual traits and states of consciousness occurring within and beyond the context of meditation. Psychological Assessment, 30(12), 1625–1639.

Laughlin, C. D., & Rock, A. J. (2013). Neurophenomenology: Enhancing the experimental and cross-cultural study of brain and experience. In H. Friedman, & G. Hartelius (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of transpersonal psychology (pp. 261-280). Wiley Blackwell.

Pinker, S., & McGilchrist, I. (2013, August). Science and the humanities. Channel McGilchrist.