Editor’s note: the original version of this article was first published on the C2C in 2010.
When I finished the first draft of my novel, my first impulse was to dive right into revision. I had been on a roll for months and thought: “Hey? Why stop? I’ll just keep writing!”
But I couldn’t get myself to do it. I started to push myself harder, and keep writing, but then I caught myself. I was doing it again. I was demanding more than the situation called for. I wanted to fill in the empty space, before the empty space made itself known. You know what empty space I’m talking about, right? The empty space that comes between the end of one phase, and the beginning of another? That empty space.
I didn’t want to dwell in that empty space, so I tried to force my writing. But it was no use. I couldn’t move forward, no matter how hard I tried. So I let go. I let the novel go and now I’m dwelling in that empty space.
I’m starting to realize that my habit of trying desperately to fill in the empty spaces of life was learned from growing up in a culture that demands that its members fill in EVERY empty space in life.
For instance, if we are not busy talking to someone, we’re texting. If we’re not texting, we’re twittering. If we’re not twittering, we’re facebooking. If we’re not facebooking we’re watching TV, or listening to music, or surfing the web, or watching YouTube, or working, or exercising, or reading and if we’re not doing any of those, we try to frantically search for the next thing to do that will fill in the empty space in between one thing and the next.
We are desperate to fill in every silence, every piece of stillness, with something–something we deem more desirable, more worthy than that stillness. Something we think is more important and urgent than that damning quiet underneath everything–that damning quiet that always exists. That quiet that starts to drives us crazy when we first notice it, in those brief moments when we accidentally drop our guard, and all the clamor we worked so hard to create dies down.
It’s as if we are afraid that the empty space in between things is so large and so vast that it might swallow us up. Sallow us up into what, we don’t know, because we’ve already filled in the empty space we would have needed to think of an answer to that very question.
Stillness makes us nervous. Quiet is disturbing. The empty space is seen as the enemy. In that empty space, boredom can sneak through. So can laziness, apathy, sadness, depression… Or at least that’s what we fear might happen. Inaction is like a death to us. If we stop, we think we will die.
If you believe this is an exaggeration, then you might start to observe some of the people around you. Notice how they frantically move from one thing to the next, never allowing for an empty space. As if they fear that if an empty space was allowed, they’d die. In fact, you might notice that these people do the very opposite of allowing room for an empty space: they will cram two, three, even four things into one, single moment. Texting while listening, while typing, while watching TV, while cooking…
I wonder if the more clamor we bring into our lives, the more this might be a sign that we are trying to run away from that empty space, and what it might reveal to us.
Because empty spaces are revealing. They reveal how you feel and what you think at any given moment. They bring you to observe the life around you.
You fear that if you put on the breaks and look around for just a moment, that your life might reveal to you something you were already starting to suspect: that there is no need to rush, or to be frantic, or to be busy. Everything will still be there if you allow for an empty space. Nothing terrible happens in that empty space, and most importantly, you notice that if you stop, you DON’T die. In fact you feel a little more ALIVE.
I’m beginning to learn that, more often than not, life begs us to stop. Not go. We rush forward, and life pulls us back. We get angry and say: “Why are you asking me to stop, Life? I’m on a roll!” Life responds by saying: “Because you need to stop.” But we’d rather not listen to life’s advice. We always think this advice is wrong and that we know better. We think we have to do what everyone else is doing: keep busy, fill in the empty spaces or else–or else what? No one knows, because we don’t have any empty spaces left that will allow us to think up an answer to that very question!
But as much as we ignore life’s urging for us to stop, life will keep pulling on us until we are dragged to the very bottom of the ground, and at that moment we will have no choice but to let go of all of our frantic busyness. We will have to give ourselves a chance to rest in the empty spaces of life.
We will have to surrender.
Of course, surrendering takes courage. You have to trust something not many people want to trust: the empty spaces of life. Others would rather battle it out until they are near dead–even if they know all their fighting is useless. To surrender and let your work and your life flow to where it has to go, is a scary thing. You have to release your need to control and have faith. You have to be a tiny bottle carried by the flood. You have to become a delicate piece of glass that has to spin whenever and wherever the raging current takes you, and trust the journey.
If you are forcing something, fighting against something that is only causing you to become fatigued and drained of your energy, if you are locked in a battle that has not produced any results, then maybe it is time for you to surrender.
Surrendering is not putting up a white flag. It’s not giving up. Not necessarily.
It’s letting go of something and trusting that this something will come back to you, when the time is right, and when you are ready.
Is there something or someone who you need to surrender to? How do you find the courage to let go and dwell in the empty spaces of life and the writing process?
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