By Darren Chittick
Being young, for many of us, often included older-than-us folks telling us we weren’t living up to our potential.
I remember wondering what exactly it was I could be that I wasn’t being. I didn’t wonder in a deeply existential way; I wondered, as most teenagers did, in an “angsty” and intensely self-righteous way.
I hadn’t thought about potential in this way, or any other way, for a very long time. It was while I was recently reading The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Strategies for Managing Your Business and Your Life when the idea actually coalesced back into something to consider. In the book, Geshe Michael Roach explores the Buddhist understanding of emptiness in a way I hadn’t before considered—or at least not with the language he used to express the concept.
The concept of “no thought” is not the same as not thinking.
For many, the notion of emptiness in the Buddhist context brings to mind hours of sitting on a cushion while thinking of nothing. However, it is more an experience of no thought limiting that which is being thought about or experienced.
What is sometimes called “beginner’s mind” isn’t a mind that avoids thought. It is a mind that is immeasurably curious about what is without a limited expectation of what will come. Instead of what will come, the curious mind finds excitement in what can come.
The beginner’s mind observes without judgment of good or bad.
Geshe Roach takes the idea of emptiness and turns it on its side by inviting us to consider emptiness not as a lack of some thing, but as a fullness. For him, it is the fullness of all potential—albeit, hidden potential (Roach, p35). The emptiness is simply the truth that there is no meaning in any thing from the perspective or side of the thing itself.
“It’s neither good nor bad, it just is.”
In A Course In Miracles, the first lesson of the workbook leads us in this same direction with its insistence that no thing in the room where we are currently sitting, or ever have sat, has any meaning other than that which we have given it. It is, in other words, empty.
For some, I understand, this is quite bothersome. This idea that there is no innate meaning in the world at large brings a sadness or a disappointment to the walk of their life. Within this revelation, though, if we’re willing to really look, we can find deep and satisfying excitement for life. When we get past the fact that we’ve manufactured the perception of negativity or “bad” in the life we’re living, we have the opportunity to plant different seeds. It is the seeds we plant in thoughts, words, and actions that determine the experience we have of life. This is not some idea of meritocracy that finds us “earning” good into our lives. This is the simple truth that what is right in front of us, in our past, and waiting to unfold all has within it the fullness of hidden potential.
We have a choice.
We have the choice to look for it and see it. Once we’ve understood this and begun to consciously plant the seeds of our own consciousness, the seeds must be tended. We tend them with our deep and honest spiritual practice. We do not tend them with the kind of practice that simply allows us to feel good about everything, but the kind that calls us to a deeper understanding and commitment to who we are as people.
It needn’t make us feel badly. That is not the point. The point is that there is kind of gentle honesty and deep engagement that force us to consider what it is we’re experiencing. That practice avoids knee-jerk reactions. It refuses to apply meaning to a situation or experience based on some similar walk from our past.
Instead, it sees the current moment for what is and not what is imagined. This type of spirituality opens us up to our own hidden potential in ways those adults in our lives when we were children never would have imagined.
Potential, when we consider it like this, is not about our own, personal “potential for success” in a world of change. Potential, in this way, is the truth that, as long as the story is still unfolding, we have within us the opportunity to have a constantly new and fresh experience. In the midst of upheaval, grieving, joy, and wonderment, we can find ourselves on level footing by walking our talk.
Emptiness is the presence of all potential.
Endeavoring to do this as individuals allows us to bring our true selves to our community. Committing to this practice as a community brings the power of responsibility and the experience of equanimity to the world around us. We simply have to be willing to have faith in the hidden potential in all things and in all beings.
Article originally published here.
Darren Chittick is the pastor of The Church Within, a Sensei at Broad Ripple Martial Arts, and resists calling himself an artist even though he does dedicate time to making art. He and his husband grow food in their yard in Indianapolis, IN and live with two seemingly-immortal cats. Hear recordings of him teaching on Sunday mornings at thechurchwithin.org. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak