The Unappreciated Value of an Empty Life

The Vastness of Space

“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.”

~Carl Sagan

Space comprises 96% of the known universe. Our human bodies are 99% space.

Yet, despite the prevalence of space everywhere, we humans focus primarily on the 4% we can see out there, and the 1% that makes us visible to others.

It’s not that we don’t value or recognize the benefits of space in theory. We know we “need space” to collect our thoughts. We recognize the value of white space on a piece of paper or blog post. Good public speakers employ pauses and know how long to make them and how often to include them. We say things like, “silence speaks louder than words.”

But when it comes to the kind of life we lead, we tout the benefits of living a “full life.” We share what can be seen—our accomplishments, our titles, our roles—rather than what is unseen, or what exists only as raw, pure potential.

To live a full life forces us to stuff as many empty pockets of time with activity as possible. It means “adding value.” It means clogging our days and our calendars with activity and busyness.

Because we value what is seen over what is unseen, we fear the silence. We avoid solitude. We fight any perception of being deemed “lazy.” Unfilled space in our life is deemed as “wasted time.”

When creating a new business, I bristle at the suggestion that I should write a business plan only after studying blueprints of other existing, similar businesses. I believe this stifles the potential. Why work from the 4% that’s visible when there’s 96% of pure potential to draw from?

To live a full life forces us to stuff as many empty pockets of time with activity as possible. It means “adding value.” It means clogging our days and our calendars with activity and busyness.

As a new author, I was encouraged to find “comparables” for my book, and perhaps even let one of those guide my own structure or style. I resisted. I wanted to write my book from pure imagination, and only afterward look around to see if any others lined up.

Whenever I seek to solve a conflict, I like to run it by someone who has no idea of the existing situation to bring an outside, blind perspective.

We sequester juries so that they cannot be influenced by existing opinions.

In relationships, we take time apart, we take time outs, we let things sit, we mull things over.

In all areas of our lives, from our professional life to our relationships to conflict resolution, we value space and its metaphors—silence, darkness, emptiness—for its power and potential. And yet, we believe that, as Aristotle told us, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

But maybe it’s not Nature that has a problem with space. Maybe it’s just us humans.

Better yet, maybe when we create space within ourselves, the vacuum can then be filled with creative inspiration.

“Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.”

~ Dee Hock

The Original Idea: Does it Exist?

An extract from a letter from Mark Twain reads:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of coloured glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

A Medium author says:

“Creativity is a process of stealing and pulling influences from things you’ve read, seen or consumed before.”

I reject the belief that there is no such thing as an original idea, or that creation is nothing more than a rearrangement of existing creations. Yes, there is plenty of creation that imitates, mixes and matches, or improves upon something that already exists. These are the “pieces of coloured glass” Twain refers to.

In these instances, we are creating from the data in our human collective consciousness—a database of all human thought and every idea since the beginning of time. There is power in this kind of creativity, to be sure. But, is this the only way to create? Are the only possibilities, creatively speaking, merely different combinations of the same recycled content?

I can’t accept this, based on the qualities of creativity itself.

True creativity calls for a wondrous state of mind, a curious, receptive mind that is open to possibility, to the unseen, to what could be.

True creativity is an act of accessing riches from the unseen, like tapping a maple tree.

True creativity is trusting that the idea, while not mainstream or “normal,” has come at the right time, to the right place, through the right person.

Believing that there is no such thing as an original idea likely stems from our belief that if we can’t see something, touch it, or measure it, it doesn’t exist. Imagine if we felt that way about a maple tree.

Just where did we collectively get this idea that there is no original creation? I blame Rene Descartes, the father of modern philosophy.

When Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” he was valuing his existence solely on the fact that he has thoughts. Apparently, we are like light switches — existing and then not existing — as thoughts come and go. When we’re not thinking, what happens to us? Do we cease to exist? Is the only value in the universe—are the only things alive and vibrating with power—those that can be seen or measured?

How demoralizing to think that all we are doing is remolding ideas and creations from the 4% of the visible universe. How disappointing to truly believe that there are no more wheels to create and that the 96% that cannot be seen is essentially worthless.

What actually is more devoid of energy: the belief that there is no creation outside of what already exists? Or the void from which the entire Universe was created?

Space, Space, Everywhere Space

I find my best ideas—or more accurately, they find me—when I become still.

I find my healing in silence and solitude.

I hear the answers I seek when I let ideas and questions breathe.

In Indian Ayurvedic philosophy, ether is the container from which all the other elements—air, water, fire, and earth—arise and in which they thrive.

In meditation practice, we seek the clear our minds and seek the space between our thoughts.

In yoga practice, we seek to make space between our joints.

In our cultural origin and creation stories, we believe that everything that exists came from ex nihilo (from nothing).

Every philosophy from every culture points to the power of the void both within and outside of us.

What if, even in our minds, there is more space than thought? And what if in that space between our thoughts we can capture and connect to the 96% of the universe that is unseen?

Do we still exist in the space between our thoughts? Do we exist in that space between our bones, our cells, our atoms? Who are we, when all we can or will try to identify with is what’s been already created or can be measured by instruments or by eye?

I believe it’s possible to get behind the curtain of our collective consciousness and pull ideas directly from the same void that created the universe itself.

Tapping the Power of Space in our Lives

“Touch your inner space, which is nothingness, as silent and empty as the sky; it is your inner sky.”


Everywhere around us and in us, space dominates. When we devalue space, we also devalue its characteristics: potential, possibility, healing, deepening awareness, and so much more.

The universe values space. It understands its power and mystery. It’s time we did, too, by bringing more space, and the creative potential it promises, into our lives.

Here’s how:

  1. Become aware of the space between our thoughtsWe might think that we’re thinking all the time, but actually, thoughts come and go. Behind our thoughts is pure awareness and consciousness, what the ancient yogis called cit. If we watch our thoughts, we will see how they arise, exist for a moment, and then dissolve. Like clouds covering up a blue sky, they are nothing but brief, transient manifestations. The more we watch them come and go, the more we will begin to notice the space that holds them. In other words, without space, thoughts cannot exist. Once you find these spaces, you can begin stretching them out and come into a state of no thought. Explore who you are in these moments. Do you still exist? What is here waiting for you?
  2. Become aware of the space between our breathsAs you watch yourself breathe, notice that, even without trying to hold your breath, there is a natural pause at the bottom of every exhale and at the top of every inhale. Simply notice this, without trying to change your breathing pattern.

    Then, as that becomes comfortable, start to extend and elongate those spaces. Do so without causing discomfort. Simply let the pause extend until the next breath arises naturally.

  3. Coordinate #1 and #2 Find the space where there is no thought and no breath— when they both happen simultaneously. Now, only pure awareness is left. We are now effectively “behind the curtain” of the collective consciousness. What does this feel like?
  4. Pay attention to the space between people and objectsThis helps me when I feel claustrophobic in the airport or some other crowded space. I pay attention not to all that I can see, but to the emptiness that exists between people and things, and this reminds me that truly, there’s far more space than we imagine. It gives me room to move.
  5. Listen to the pauses all around youFor fun, go back and watch movies from earlier decades. Note how much more they were willing to play with space. How they drew out the scenes. How they lengthened the emotional tension.

    By contrast, today’s media and entertainment seek to fill up every space, and yet, the space still exists. It always will exist. It will exist long after all the “stuff” disappears. Notice the pauses all around you—from conversations on the street to the blowing of the wind.

    Begin to notice where more space and emptiness would add, not subtract, to the value of the moment. Know that this is where true inspiration comes from.


I could be wrong about all of this. There really could be “nothing new under the sun,” and all of our creations truly might be little more than scrambled iterations of previously-seen-before ideas.

But, how sad would this be? I personally can’t swallow it. It doesn’t jive with what I understand about creativity, or inspiration, or genius.

Yes, I believe that we tap the collective consciousness of each other’s ideas, but each creation also has its own unique spark, something that is impossible to recreate or replicate. A simple example: two people playing the same song on the same guitar cannot recreate the same sound.

There is always some ounce of originality in any creative act—some piece of the 96% that comes through the veil for the first time.

I believe that the universe models for us how to create. Like the universe, then, we create from stillness. We create from impulse and inspiration.

And yes, we can create from nothing.

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