Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form

February 10, 2008

This morning I found myself in my Morning Pages describing the place that I go when I meditate.   Later in the morning I tried to describe it to John, and discovered that it’s such a personal thing that you cannot hope for anyone to understand it unless they’ve been there themselves.  We humans communicate to each other in inaccuracies.  We can only express coarse approximations of ideas, thoughts and feelings.  So I would never expect anyone who reads this to understand unless they themselves have experienced it.  And yet it’s profound enough that it deserves mention as a fundamental part of my journey to strip the roadblocks away and find the creative part of myself.

I’ve been meditating off and on for 7 years now.  Mostly off.  When I was going through cancer treatments in 2001, I attended meditation classes through a group called Rigpa, taught by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Sogyal Rinpoche.  I was introduced to the group through his book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying which I found amazingly comforting during a period where I was forced to confront the very real possibility of dying for the first time in my life.

I attended the classes for about 6 months even though I only meditated on days when I felt a desperate need for comfort and release from all of the various stresses that cancer and its treatments bring.

It seems that, regardless of how casual you have been about meditating, every time you sit, it generates some sort of tiny piece of memory that stays in your brain.  I’ve been sitting daily for the past 4 months or so now.  I started off with once a day, and then increased to twice a day when I began doing my Morning Pages about 3 or 4 weeks ago, usually 10-15 minutes in the morning, and about 20 minutes in the evening, nothing seriously hardcore.  Now, after 7 years of off-and-on meditating where it has been mostly off, I’ve finally reached a point where I’m beginning to understand some things.

Nobody can actually teach you how to meditate since each of us is a unique individual.  The classes give you tools and guidance, but then it’s up to you to sit every single day and study your mind and figure out how to use the tools to clear your mind of the thoughts and emotional manipulations that seem to consume our very beings day in and day out.  The tools include things such as sacred spaces, candles, verbal guided meditations, mantras, a group of people to meditate with, etc. etc.  The real learning is that which you do on your own.  You take the tools in the toolkit and take yourself into the real learning space where you are both teacher and student.

Rinpoche used to say a phrase over and over and over:  “Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form”.  It’s something that in his classes you hear so much you have it etched into your brain, even though you may be otherwise clueless as to what it means.

This place of meditation is a place of nothingness.  It’s a place that has no beginning and no end, no up nor down, no past nor present.  I have no body and no mind there.  There are no other things or beings or thoughts in this place, because there’s a sort of a filter that keeps all that out.  It’s almost like it’s a separate dimension that is completely devoid of anything perceptible of this world.  It’s not a high, it’s not a scrunch-the-eyes and imagine sort of place.  It’s a place of infinite space and yet nothingness.

If you strip away all, and you’re left with this infinity of nothingness, what you have left is complete and utter peace.

Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form.

7 Responses to “Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form”

  1. nedjlawrence said

    What an excellent and insightful post. I’ve been the same way about meditation. Life keeps bringing me back to it, though.

    I agree with you. Someone can show you the basics, but after that it’s up to you. The teachings are hidden in the practice of meditation and not the Dharma talks and sutras.

  2. freeingmyself said

    Ned, thank you for this comment!

  3. TawnyHare said

    Thank you for this lovely post. Would you say that ‘Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is form’ goes some way to express pure ‘consciousness’, that which is left when everything else is stripped away; our absolute centre-of-being? All-that-is?
    I am on a path to finding this centre within myself too.
    Keep writing, its great!!
    Are you doing the Artist’s Way (I guess from your Morning Pages)?
    Good luck with your journey,
    and thanks for the post

  4. freeingmyself said

    Hi, Tawny, thank you for the comment and the compliment! Yes, I’m doing the Artist’s Way. I’m actually doing exercises from about 7 different writing books, but the Artist’s Way is how I started this journey, and I look to it as my primary travel guide for this journey.

    I do believe that ‘Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form’ is what’s left when you strip everything else away. But then attaching words to it make it something, and it’s really nothing? How could any of us humans ever hope to describe something like this in such as way as to not impose deception to people who have never experienced it?

    It’s interesting that the way I remember Rinpoche, my teacher, talk about it, I only remember him repeating it over and over and over again, and never really defining it. It used to piss me off big-time that he was so elusive. But it was almost as though he knew that if we worked at it, one day we’d attach our own indescribable meaning.

    Who knows? 🙂

  5. TawnyHare said

    Hmmm, this is very interesting!
    Yes, how can we possibly describe something like this in words?

    It reminds me of the shaman Don Juan (through
    the writings of Carlos Castaneda) who called this idea ‘nagual’:
    “Since the Nagual is a concept of something truly unnameable we can never accurately understand it through the use of words alone it is believed necessary to experience it.”

    I found this page:

    The ‘inner silence’ paragraph is interesting:
    “Castaneda was taught various techniques to induce inner silence including walking while gazing at single point in the distance while at the same time using your peripheral vision to see as much of your surrounding as you can.”
    ha, this is funny, this is exactly a technique I have been trying out recently on my daily walks – I’d never read this about Castaneda before!!!
    Amazing what things one can discover whilst commenting on a post isn’t it?!

  6. TawnyHare said

    p.s. I did the Artist’s Way, oh perhaps 5 years ago – it was great!! I was a designer (that’s what I studied at college) but went through a very ‘lean’ period where I was very confused about what I wanted in my life and profession, I did the AW to help things ‘along’ a little. It actually helped me to realise that I needed to follow pimarily a spiritual path and use my writing as an outlet for my creativity therein. It also showed me that things like being a mother, a provider, a nourisher are vitally creative and just as fulfilling – (I try not to get too caught up with labels!! Just as the Artists Way shows us not to do!). The Morning Pages were a struggle for me. 😉
    hope they are OKAY for you!!!

  7. I’m humbled by your blog, and am even a bit embarrassed at my reply to your question about ‘Emptiness is Form; Form is Emptiness’.

    What you say about Carlos Castaneda is fascinating. Different teachers, completely different parts of the world, different philosophies — all using the exact same words! I can just picture all of the ancient cultures of our world doing their searches for life’s true meaning and all of them coming to a single point of intersection. That’s just awe-inspiring to me.

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