How to Handle Empty

Have you ever removed something big from your life?

A relationship, alcohol, a job? A palpable emptiness sits in it’s place. It’s not there, and yet it is more there than ever because the emptiness acts as a neon light. The emptiness is a silent call for more. And in learning to do without, we can become overwhelmed with the bareness. That’s why we avoided it in the first place.

There’s an emptiness experienced when we begin new routines: less t.v., new diet, renouncing our smartphones. When we try to give ourselves more time or better health (which should be so easy), we are crushed by a silence, a white space, an in between moment. We reach out to grab something. 

There are scary questions we must answer when moving toward a more minimalist lifestyle because that void can be haunting.

At first, a bit of downsizing and organizing is nothing short of a relief. Maybe even a heartwarming triumph. Life begins to get easier, we feel calmer, and our unburdened space becomes a joy. But as we continue to peck away, we see that we’ve left ourselves fewer distractions. That’s the point of this, and yet it in itself becomes a new challenge. With less distractions, how do we survive the weaker, emotionally tired times?

We start to see our sparser space and less busy schedules as something less, as something difficult to sit with (and without). We start to think that perhaps this whole idea was a silly experiment and why not acquire whatever items we damn well please? Or maybe in these vacant moments, we fill them with other not-so-good habits and other items that take us down the “less bad” trail to mediocrity.

Let’s ask more of ourselves instead. That’s the corollary to living with less.

Sit in the empty moments or sparse room, and just sit. Or stand. Or lay. But experiment with this whole “being” thing. And before you reach for a guided meditation app, or turn on the music, or grab a book (all wonderful and healthy activities), stop within the deep silence and take a breath or two. Feel the discomfort, if it’s uncomfortable. Feel the peace, if it comes to you quickly. Notice what happens.

What un-things do you wish to fill your life with now that you have room? Use this newfound time and space wisely. Even if your minimalist journey hasn’t directly touched your time and activities, a space unburdened by possessions, with established habits and systems, is a time saver within itself.

How to handle empty is not the sidebar to minimalism, it’s the point. It’s our resistance to empty that lead us to an overstressed, overstuffed life. It was the physical distractions and busyness that influenced our purchasing trends and overscheduling. 

There are tools that can buoy our practice of less: mindfulness, journaling, seated meditation,  and physical meditations (yoga asanas, tai chi, walking, etc.). But we must first recognize that the handling of empty is of supreme importance, and be intentional and honest with ourselves when choosing these tools.

[I offer a podcast, Words for Wednesday, as one of such tools. Try out a few episodes. A new one is released each Wednesday morning as a midweek pick-me-up to inspire mindfulness, creativity, and philosophical thinking.]