Valuable Voids

Posted on January 4, 2011


Moses said something really interesting about Adam and Eve that’s had me pondering for a couple of days. Figuring that he had a fair amount of time to think about this job of writing down the first couple of thousand years of recorded history, I think he made a good show of it. I’ve long had a fondness for Genesis, with its sparse wit and surprising depth and flat refusal to make moral pronouncements about events. So it’s interesting to me how he tells his story.

After stating that everything that needed doing was done, even before man arrived on the scene and started pulling his weight, God makes an observation about man. Hmm, he says, he needs someone. And then he proceeds to give Adam a job, in which Adam becomes painfully aware that he needs someone.

So even though God recognized that plants don’t just water themselves, and he provided for that; he operates differently with men (and women – this isn’t a feminist thing) by letting them have a discovery moment  before he provides for them. Interesting.

In eastern philosophy, the void is as crucial to balance as the matter. The emptiness precedes and must naturally follow the fulfillment. Everything is organic, breathing in and out, a recognition that process is as important as structure.

Years ago I moved and because of the particular circumstances, I had no living room seating. We had what we needed, except a couch. I wasn’t in a position to replace it, so we went without, and we were happy enough. It was a stark thing, an empty room, and while we were comfortable enough, it was quite obvious that something was missing. A couple of weeks later a friend came by to ask if I would like a sectional. A friend of hers was replacing theirs and she immediately thought of me. She was even willing to deliver it.

When it arrived I marveled that it precisely fit our room and was exactly what the room needed. I could have put together something else, but in waiting the most ideal way to fill that room presented itself. It became best full precisely because it  had been profoundly empty.

We are uncomfortable with emptiness. We hurry to fill voids because we can. It’s very western of us, and we are sometimes like balloons that only breathe in, stretched tight and fragile. There is such peace in breathing out and sensing the boundaries of our particular void unhurriedly. The answer that is delayed, the unfolding that occurs slowly, the piece that, perhaps for a long time, is obviously missing provides a perfect process.

As I studied about asthma recently to figure out how I was going to overcome it, I learned that carbon dioxide serves a vital purpose: it is a lung relaxer. While asthma feels very much like an inability to get oxygen in, in fact it is a condition of too much oxygen. Healthy lungs breathe in and out, with a little storage of carbon dioxide between breaths to keep everything loose. With that in mind, I am working on yogic breathing, which entails learning to hold the breath going in and out to the same rhythm, no matter what I ask of my body, breathing always through my nose which functions like a jet turbine to drive air deeper into my lungs. Inside, the panic is constantly threatening, that I don’t have enough air, that I must gulp and gasp, and I am firmly reminding that I do and that I will not. I am learning to be as relaxed on the exhale as on the inhale.

My life has had a lot of voids, and in retrospect, as Moses did, I see a delightful pattern of preparation. God saw the voids long before I did and had everything in place except my epiphany. He saw the things I would need, and provided an opportunity for me to learn to appreciate them before he mentioned them to me or provided the fulfillment he had always intended.

Holding onto what we have, while it rapidly grows less useful, has taken on new meaning. I’m not holding my breath anymore.

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