How do you deal with emptiness?
My first reaction is to panic. I woke up today with nothing on my plate until the evening. Same thing tomorrow and the next day and the next. I’ve never been so not busy in my life, except on vacation. When I’m on vacation, I allow myself to be OK without things to do. To be OK with non-doing. But outside that context, those empty swaths of calendar terrify me.
My typical morning ritual looks like: black coffee, a bowl of raw cereal (I don’t like putting milk in it for God knows what reason), and furrowing my brow as I check emails, social media, any medium where someone may have wanted my attention overnight. This need to feel needed runs through my core. It’s the first emotion I experience most days. If I’m busy that day, my time occupied, then I feel good. Or at least content, chugging along without feeling or thinking much about the emptiness inside me.
My emptiness is like a jug that drips constantly out the bottom, unless life refills it from the spout. I have an external locus of control — I fashion my self-esteem to how the world thinks of me at any one particular moment. I live off the ever-changing identity of my Ego. I don’t have a buffer of knowing who I am, or how I value myself, or a reserve of pride in my accomplishments. I wake up empty every morning and hope that life will refill my well, make me useful, and make me worthwhile.
A year ago, when I was running a comedy theater in NY, I’d have many emails waiting to attend to every morning. My distract-and-delay tactic worked back then to keep me from experiencing difficult emotions, like regret or shame. I was avoiding being in relationship to my fears. Now, I am a freelance artist, teacher, performer, and guy with too much time on my plate. Too many possible avenues, too many different giant dreams in one subconscious, calling on me to manifest them. It is terrifying to attempt a new big dream out of the blue. Much easier to delay working toward the big hopes you have inside. Rather busying yourself with small day-day doings. Easier to make excuses for why you aren’t yet the person you want to be than actually attempting to become that person, a version of yourself unimaginably strong, fearless, joyful. It is terrifying to imagine becoming the person you want to be if not for you getting in your own way.
I bet I could occupy my life with small day-day things on auto-pilot for years without examining my fears and suffering. I think over time a certain bitterness and panic over lost time would pervade my mornings, like it’s starting to do now at age 31, not knowing what my next career step is or when I will find love. Doubting my hopes. Scared that I am missing out on a fuller-led version of my life.
Books on Buddhism are full of this time-bomb warning. That the only commodity we as humans can never replace is time, and it is urgent that you wake up now. You will be suffering samsara until you do so. These authors pray you don’t wait until you are very old to let go of running from your fears. Your fears will, of course, catch up to you at some point before the end. Unless I suppose you die of all of a sudden; and then blip — life will just finish like one of those day-day errands you constantly checked off lists.
YOUR LIFE — √
So this morning, I tried something new. I meditated first thing when I woke up. I did something I told myself I would do for months but instead took the easier routine of checking my emails and drinking black coffee and raw cereal for breakfast (this image looks like bitterness when I picture it). But this morning, I put on a ten-minute countdown on my iphone’s Buddhify app, listened to a string quartet begin the meditation with a long, held harmonic chord. I sat and tried to experience my anxiety. Tried to breathe with it. I think I ended up trying to push it away instead of simply accepting it. But at least I got in direct relationship with it. Instead of ignoring it — the needs of my soul.
I have gratitude for my life. It is a beautiful summer day in NY. Windows open; not too humid today. Next to me sleeping is my Labrador Retriever Star, who brings me joy in subtle moments every day. Who I hugged as I fell asleep last night. I have unconditional love from my family and friends. I danced the last three nights in a row in fever dream celebrating Gay Pride at The House of Yes, shaking my body like a demon. I was honest with a new partner about my feelings and fears for our relationship. I am proud of the things I have self-started in the last year and all I got going on right now. I accept I’m jealous of what I don’t have yet and of others who seem to have it. I know I get bitter at imagined slights of people closing the door behind them after I opened it. I can practice forgiveness of myself and others. I appreciate those who value me as an artist and collaboratively create with me. I am lucky and privileged to have so much and will not take it for granted. I am most grateful to be alive and still learning. Still experiencing growth in fits and starts and two steps forward and one step back. Still suffering a sore heart from the pain. Still trying new things, almost every day. Like waking up, meditating and writing about this experience honestly.
I’m able to look at my emptiness, without judgment or anxiety and fill my own well up, no matter what happens each in the comings and goings of every day.
As an addendum to this story, I went and re-read a bunch of old drafts of essays I’d written on Medium. They were nearly identical in subject to this essay I wrote this morning! It was amazing to realize I’m in an infinity loop, where I will keep facing the same fears, until I move through them. The difference with what I published today as compared to past writing was that I made an actual change to my routine: I meditated this morning. And I only did so because my friend Henry, who I had lunch with yesterday, encouraged me to try and meditate every morning. He shared his story with me and what meditating offered his journey, and I listened. This shows to me that we grow most in concert with others. We grow in community and friendship. So, a short shout-out and thank you to Henry, for being my friend, and giving me the courage to make a lil’ change.