The Virtue of Emptiness


“Early Christian monks went out to live in the desert in order to find emptiness. Modern life is becoming so full that we need our ways of going to the desert to be relieved of our plenty. Our heads are crammed with information, our lives busy with activities, our cities stuffed with automobiles, our imaginations bloated on pictures and images…our homes cluttered with gadgets, and conveniences. We honor productivity to such an extent that the unproductive person or day seems a failure.”

Psychotherapist, author, and former monk Thomas Moore holds that in our culture it verges on the sacrilegious to claim that less is more, that slow may be preferable to fast, or that doing nothing can be time well spent. We seem to have made a religion out of information, accumulation, and acceleration. We worship at the altar of productivity and fullness, and have lost any appreciation for the value and virtue of emptiness – the spaciousness our souls require like our bodies require air.

It has been said that nature abhors a vacuum; and so it seems does human nature. We fill the void of silence with noise, the void of inactivity with busyness, and the void of simplicity with more things than we need. Having fallen prey to the culture’s dictate that more is better, we would do well to heed the message offered by minister and peace activist William Sloan Coffin who stated that there are two ways to be rich, one is to have a lot of money and the other is to have fewer needs.

There can be a great deal of beauty in deserts, but as a metaphor, they usually symbolize those times in life when we experience dryness and difficulty, struggle and hardship; deserts of this sort are “places” from which we would rather escape than linger. But if we value the life of our soul, if we learn from the example of monks and others who recognize the importance of emptiness, we come to realize that deserts can be times of quiet, inner peace when we reprioritize where we put our time and energy, and get back to the basics of living a simple life, one devoid of the fullness that does not satisfy.

The wisdom of living a simple life is beneficial not only for each of us, but for all of us, a truth reflected in the saying “live simply so others can simply live.” Despite differences and distances ethnically, religiously, politically, and geographically, we are  connected to one another; how we choose to live, impacts both the planet and its people.


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