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.