There’s nothing more intimidating or hopeful than a blank page.
Maybe this is what we both fear and are attracted to in meditation. The words ‘blank’ and ‘empty’, like the word ‘poor’ are misleadingly negative because they fail to capture the all-important quality of potential. Is emptiness a lack or absence or the spaciousness in which a new plenitude can emerge once we enter and embrace it? Does blank mean nothingness, the faded image left behind on the screen after you have deleted everything? Or does it mean the opportunity for a new and richer content?
Because we are a culture of consumption and over-consumption, addictively using up more than we need, these apparently over-subtle ideas of potential and opportunity fail to engage our imagination. We are better satisfied by the full page or, preferably, multi-page document, packed with bullet-points, high-sounding jargon, illustrations, words like ‘compelling’, ‘sustainable’, ‘exciting’ and ‘innovative’. We know they mean very little but they reassure us that at least we have filled up the void, covered the virgin snow with many footprints.
Meditation intrigues professional people who are caught up in systems of work that are increasingly characterised by such excessive patterns of communication. Their stress-level often leads to their feeling imprisoned in a maze of activity, clashing flight-paths of meetings, reviews, reports, travel and little time for real reflection or actually implementing what has been “decided”. They struggle at first to find time for meditation but some do discover the quantum truth that the time given to meditation increases the quantity of time in one’s daily life. This is absurd to the stressed-out mind but a sweet truth, liberating to those who have tasted it.
Our two types of Lenten practice: what we give up and what we do extra can provide the much needed escape route from compulsiveness to freedom. But it does demand a bit of will-power. Just as exercise will involve a bit of sweat and a some initial muscular aches and pains.
I was recently talking to the young son of a non-religious family. He goes to a faith school and has been attracted to the rituals and even to Lenten discipline. In imitation of his schoolmates he decided to give up chocolate. At teatime, when I was visiting, his mother offered him a chocolate-spread sandwich which understandably he could not refuse. I had no wish to make him feel guilty about this but I felt it was a lost opportunity to help him develop an essential capacity and life-skill – self-control and abstention.
We all find excuses. Not to meditate. To write a longer document to conceal how unclear we really are about what to do. To give up giving up. To postpone the extra thing we wanted to do. The only way to turn it round – and to our advantage – is to ‘repent’: which means, avoid guilt and start again from the beginning.