The Terror of

          Deficient Emptiness



     Western culture has a negative perception of space to begin with--as if it
in itself is deficient, having no value. And so whenever we encounter a gap,
a lull, a space--even in a conversation--we try to fill it up. We think, "nature
abhors a vacuum."

     Whereas, in the East, space doesn't tend to have this negative connotation.
Instead of having a dissociated or devaluing attitude toward it, space has
been viewed as an essential element in itself.

     For in the Buddhist view of the five elements--which is slightly different
than the Chinese or the Hindu version, the Hindu term for the 5th element
(or "aether") in Sanskrit can also mean "sky" or "clear space"--in
other words, the equivalent of "emptiness" (Shunyata). And so in the
Buddhist system of the elements, the 5th element is often termed "space"
or "void." 3


     In Buddhism, there is the understanding that unconfined space--or
"emptiness"--is not only an essential element of "nature," but it is the nature
of our essence itself.
This clear, spacious, sky-like quality of the mind (that
also has an unconfined capacity for knowingness and compassion) is
recognized as our essential nature, what the Tibetans call rigpa.

     Further, there is the sense here of space as being the mother of
everything. Everything comes from it and returns to it. And so in
Buddhist spiritual practice, the encounter with emptiness or primordial
space, is in a sense a coming home.

     Whereas, in the West, we see the Mother Of All Things as Chaos.
("According to Hesiod, first there was Chaos, a formlessness, a nothingness.
Then there was Gaia, Earth: the first form, the first principle, a something, a
given." 4).

     There may not be any difference between what is being recognized here
as the primordial matrix, the "mother" from which everything comes, and
from which everything proceeds to differentiate itself as a "something." There
is, however, quite a different shading to the way this "mother" is personified.
And when the mother is seen as being Chaos, something chaotic, then there
is something inherently
threatening about her.

     And so for us westerners there is something a little terrifying about space,
about the Ur Mother, as if the primordial mother might fragment or undo us,
along with our best laid plans; as if we might be undone and revert to a state
that is frighteningly "untogether" and chaotic, a state totally lacking in

     Rather than as a bountiful mother from which all things come, we see
space as that mother's shadow, something witch-like that might cause us to
disappear forever. Space becomes equated with the negative dissolution of
form, as a chaotic regression--what western psychology might recognize as
pathological "depersonalization." In this way space becomes equated with the
disappeared and abducted, as a Void that might swallow us up, like a womb
that might suck us back to where we first came from.

     This sense of space is thus also a devouring mother, a vagina dentata, a
womb with teeth, a potential tomb--something that might chew us up and
bring annihilation. Since it is where we might disappear, it becomes equated
with the realm of invisibles, as is the Lord of Death, himself. We're back to

     And so for all of us, to approach the spaces we have been avoiding is no
small thing, for it carries this background whiff of annihilation. Here is where
Pluto the god of death makes an appearance, Pluto in his frightening form,
Pluto the patron god of eliminative processes--who stands behind all that we
would want to disown, disavow, and eliminate from our experience.

     Here we ourselves would attempt to protect against some version of the
Pluto-Persephone encounter, pushing away (repressing or devaluing) all
our avoided experiences into an underworld of void-ness--that we might be
protected from having to undergo this disappearing ourselves.

     Here we would disavow all those dastardly spaces where we feel
awkward--or exposed--exposed as a someone who feels deficient, a someone
who takes himself to be something other than the space itself. The whole
western impulse toward "individuality" setting itself apart, differentiating itself
from, the Ur Mother--Ma Space.


     So a Nine's fear of conflict has behind it a deathly loveless-ness, a deficient
discomfort that will be resisted and avoided as a four resists and avoids her
sadness, as we all avoid the spaces where we have felt our deficiency, our sense
of insubstantiality.

     And what is avoided by Fives is the insubstantiality, that is, emptiness itself,
the gap, space, or hollowness that might be experienced if one were to lose one's
tenacious grip on being a familiar somebody, the familiar if deficient somebody
one has taken oneself to be, the deficient somebody that has been clung to and
hoarded so that one won't fall into a space where one might feel even more

     And so this clinging, this hoarding impulse that at least something might
remain, something that one might have some control over, something other than
the death space in which one might disappear into a void of ultimate wispiness,
ultimate insubstantiality.


     Beginning with Type Four we earlier noted an ironic or paradoxical kind of
logic that comes into play with all of the personality styles--namely, that the very
thing that is being avoided might also be a gateway to that type's greater capacity
for depth and authenticity, a depth one can't get to as long as one is in the stance
of avoiding.

     The "logic" of a transformed perspective is thus very different than the logic of
the ego. And we can see this "paradoxical logic" in the enlightened version of a
Five-Shakyamuni Buddha.

     The mind of the Buddha is the manifestation of vast space. Here "emptiness"
(unconfined space) is not being avoided or feared because it is realized as one's
native condition.
Neither is conceptual knowledge being hoarded or held onto--which
is part of why such a mind is so empty and spacious. One isn't clinging to a self or
anything such a self might know.

     And what's ironic or paradoxical here for the Five is that it is precisely the
vastness of a completely empty mind that gives rise to Gnosis, to transcendental,
self-arising knowledge, a knowledge that doesn't need to be acquired or retained,
a knowing that is spontaneously available.

     As I've earlier said, the emptiness and the knowingness of our essence turn
out to be part of the same phenomenon. They are co-emergent. And so the
unenlightened Five is ironically and unknowingly working at cross-purposes--
in wanting to
know, but not wanting to experience emptiness.

     Rather than the egoic version of a Five who is afraid of being seen, wanting
instead to hide in some way from being more fully known by others, the
enlightened version of the Five embodies "the Holy Idea" for this type. And the
Holy Idea for Type Five has two names.

     The first name here is "Holy Transparency." Holy Transparency means there
has been a dissolution of the egoic shell, you are completely yourself­that is,
completely spacious and with nothing to hide. The dissolution here of any
protective shell or wall also makes it possible for you to know anything with the
spontaneously arising wisdom of non-duality. With no separation between you and
the rest of reality it becomes possible to know everything like it is the back of your
own hand--which brings us to the second name for the Holy Idea here: "Holy




     I've been suggesting that there can be a paradoxical fear, if not terror, in
experiencing our avoidance, and its attendant feeling of deficient emptiness, a
space in which it may feel like the familiar or defended self could be annihilated.
And in a sense there may be something "real" about this annihilation, but not
in any way that needs to continue to terrify us. For here it seems we have
literalized something that is actually a metaphoric experience.

     It is true that allowing the experiences we have had such aversion toward
might lead to the end of the self we have known and identified with. But any
sense of "annihilation" here-akin to what the Sufis call fana--is an annihilation
of the egoic will and perspective, a transformative "ego death," and as such it's
an important threshold one has penetrated--even if that penetration, that
threshold-passing, is not as complete as someone like the Buddha, nor as
permanent in most cases as the term "annihilation" might imply.

     Thus, that which annihilates us--and that which becomes annihilated--are
not elements to fear or ward off. For we're speaking of a natural process of
dissolution here, a kind of molting, like a mollusk that has shed a shell grown
too small for what it is becoming, for what it is its nature to be. In other words,
this would be good news, not some ultimate horror show.

     For once we have passed through the gap, and connected with the dimension
of experience that exists on the other side of our shelled perspective, it turns out
not to be anything "bad," in fact nothing like we thought. For what usually
develops from here is the felt-sense of our being completely safe, completely

     But the support we might come to experience here is not something that
comes from without, not something we have to fight for or manipulate to receive.
It's a different order of "support," for example, than a Two might attempt to
procure through her "giving to get." And what is being supported here is different
as well.

     For the support that comes when we are living from our essence is intrinsic,
effortlessly innate. It's the self-sustaining support of Reality upholding and displaying
itself--as it supports what's essential, that which is most real in us.

     Essential support is already here in some way (regardless of how it has been
objectified, personified, or portrayed by the various religions--whose deities are the
metaphors for this support). We just need to align something in our own awareness,
something that is also already here--so that we can get on the same wave-length
with that which might support us.

     To the best of my knowledge, it's not that this essential support ever turns away
or becomes neglectful or punitive toward us--or wants to chew us up. That seems
more a transference projection that goes back to the way we might have emotionally
experienced our holding environment when we were young.

     And so, in a spiritually oriented psychology--at least as I view it-- the function of
"therapy," the function of the psychological work that we do, is simply to work
through (dissolve) such projections and object relations that they no longer continue
to color, distract, and deflect our reception of what is more primordial, what is more
innately the case.


     But in our ambivalent, conflicted relationship to space, and in our aversion to
the prospect of experiencing a deficient emptiness, we have turned away, or made
ourselves unavailable for this intrinsic support.

     What we are holding onto or continuing to identify with--our own object
relations, our own self images, our own avoidances, etc.--become filters that prevent
us from being able to better receive something new, something that is fountain-like,
something that is here right now, something that is always freshly arising--from space
Our own presence, and in a sense life itself, is the display of space. Yet in some
way we have learned not to trust it.

     And so we don't want to make any changes in the way we are running our "trip"
until we know with absolute certainty that there's going to be a better holding
environment than the structures we've constructed over the space, on top of the
ground of our own being.

     The wide variety of these mental "structures" are quite well recognized and
detailed in every school of western psychology. Id, ego, superego, shadow, persona,
aggressive fused part object, mother complex, father complex, Oedipal complex, etc.,
Such structurings comprise our personality itself, and all of these structures might
be seen as confinements of an underlying, unbounded awareness.

     And even if these structures keep our awareness confined or deficient in some way,
there seems something familiar and comforting about them. They comprise and keep
intact "the world" ­the world, that is, as we have thus far known it.

     And to the extent we continue to identify, be in aversion, or (in clinging) perpetuate
these structures, they keep us from what lies deeper. They keep us from falling into
(unconfined) space itself. And toward this latter kind of space, it seems that western
psychology has something yet to be resolved--its own "negative mother complex,"
it's own witch-like projections toward Ma Space.


     Don't kill the messenger. I'm just reporting what wiser people have found: that
the ways we hold onto, or hold back from, or remain in ignorance of these mental
structures, is not usually the way we heal into a vaster perspective, a larger or
transformed kind of view.

     A more spaciously essential view certainly doesn't happen by virtue of what we are
clinging to or holding onto--nor by what we're in aversion to and attempting to ward off.
(That's usually part of the recipe that keeps our awareness small and confined, that
keeps us in the old, defensive structure--our upside down cake where the universe
doesn't seem quite right for us, like some rejected porridge in a fairy tale).

     Certainty or trust in the deeper reality can only come after we have experienced it,
after we have managed to emerge from these "structures" we've been inhabiting, these
barriers to a more naked experience of space--and found this to be perfectly safe, quite
liberating actually.

     Certainty (an un-obscured knowing of reality) arises from an increased familiarity
with "unconfined space." And this "increased familiarity" with the unconfined nature of
awareness is also the ultimate purpose of spiritual practice.

     And even if we are already credentialed as guides, trainers, or teachers of this spiritual
system or that, without this first-hand, freshly arising "familiarity" there is apt to be
something a little deficient, a little lacking in what we bring to the party--something a little
lacking in the form of support and guidance we are capable of providing for others.




     (On a more personal note, sometimes I feel like a ventriloquist's dummy and become
nervous about sounding like I'm pontificating from a elevated perch. I am a proponent of
trusting one's own knowingness and giving it wide rein, and at the same time there can arise
the memory of my own history of idiocy.

     The daimon, Plutonic archetype, or muse--I'm not sure which--or at times the very kind
of knowing I've been attempting here to describe has me in its arms and seems to be
vocalizing on and on unconcerned and not deflected by my previous image of myself, and
the memory of my own tenuous understanding of these matters. If you, my reader, are still
with me, thank you for your attention. I feel in the midst of an unsuspected process, that
of teaching myself as I write.

     And so before resuming from this lectern--if it is not a pulpit--I needed confession, to
get this off my chest).




3 Kelly L. Ross, Proceedings of the Friesian School, 4th Series (
4 Patricia Berry, Echo's Subtle Body, p.2


Excerpt continues

return to selections from forthcoming works

return to the Point Bonita Books home page