Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Taxonomy of Naught, part two

            Following part one, this part is much more difficult to talk about, as it involves kinds of emptiness that I’ve only recently (the last 10 years) become aware of, and feel nowhere near resolving. These are the kinds of emptiness experienced when I consider my relation to other people.

            Again, some terms I expect to come up: space, silence, solitude, loneliness, opening, possibility, uncertainty, unpredictability, need, desire. This time I will present three observations and illustrate with some experiences.

  1. I am not enough.
My initial experience of this is usually boredom. While I am an avid consumer of media and have a nice variety of personal hobbies, there always comes a time when I’ve been alone too long and grown tired of entertaining myself. This sounds like a superficial kind of emptiness, and yet it comes up over and over.

A somewhat deeper experience has been my growing awareness of my need for acknowledgment—that I’m good, that I’m funny, that my creativity is valuable, and that my thoughts and feelings make sense. This is a fundamental human experience, and yet something I didn’t really understand until Hegel pointed it out. It turns out that it’s difficult/impossible to know myself unless I feel known.

So, this emptiness is not so much a space, as it an incompleteness (another appropriate word would be loneliness). In the last post I was calling this a lack, but it feels more correct here to call it a need. I am incomplete such that I am brought to greater fullness in connection with others.

   2.   Not all connections are fulfilling.

A social opportunity or interaction can feel empty in a lot of different ways:

A)   Sometimes it’s because I’m at a bar or a party, and the environment (loud, dark, shifting) leaves no space for the kind of interactions I enjoy.
B)   Sometimes it’s because I feel like I have nothing to say, or no interest in the topic of conversation (or the other person in general).

C)   Sometimes it’s because I feel like one or both of us (or all of us) are treating the other(s) as functions, as props for playing out personal desire or drama.

D)  And a lot of the times it’s because I feel like we are only making a connection to cultural interests, and not to each other. (I still love discussing cultural interests, and believe that a cultural interest can serve as a tool for making authentic connections.) 

How to typify these experiences as emptiness? In A and B, the failure to connect can feel like a shortcoming (my own, someone else’s, or of a social space). In C and D, I guess the best word is inauthentic—which I think is an emptiness best illustrated by the word hollow.

  3.   A fulfilling connection requires space—in so many ways.

Recognizing that I have a need to be filled by relationships is not enough; I also have to create an opening for those relationships. Confusing, right? I explained the need in #1; now I’ll talk about this opening. Authentic relationship requires me to effect a stance of openness:

A)    In conversation-- being silent in order to allow them to speak, creating a space in myself for their words by listening, inviting them to fill that space by asking questions.

B)    In activities— letting them decide what to do when and how.

C)    In being influenced, challenged, and changed—recognizing that what makes sense to me is not the last word in knowledge, opinion, priorities, and paths.

In all of these instances, the challenge is to remain open to another person in all their otherness—being more than my image/use of them, being unpredictable, and being divergent from me in so many ways. In all of this I strive to be open to the possibility for self-improvement (feedback) and, for lack of a better word, awesomeness—that awesomeness that emerges sometimes when two or more people come together to share and create in a graceful way. The uncertainty that awesomeness will occur (and with that, the possibility of its opposites—awkwardness and awfulness) makes this especially challenging.

And yet this responsibility to create space is not absolute, and thank goodness—sometimes this activity feels threatening, and very often exhausting. So, it has a limit:
In order for all of this to work, I also have to be a thing; I have to be solid, taking up space, sometimes even pushing back if necessary. While active emptiness is a key component in relationships, it’s not ultimate—I should never strive to make myself into a nothing or merely into a function. I have to empty myself in order to make space for others, and yet never do so completely. Balancing this tension feels like a life-long skill.

Now that I’ve laid out the varieties of emptiness in my life, I hope to write one more post pointing out some patterns and types, and maybe come up with some wisdom about comporting myself around each.

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