“The heart regulates the hands.” 2 Corinthians 8
Ok, I admit it, I’m exhausted. A year of this, even though there may be a little glimmer of hope now, has taken its toll. And talking to friends, family and work colleagues, I’m not the only one. We are keeping going, we know we do not have it as bad as many other people in our country let alone the world, but we are just plain tired. And so, this meditation comes to you with vulnerability and honesty: I feel I come before you empty handed, that I have nothing to give.
In traditional Buddhist philosophy, emptiness is something to be valued. It is seen as the ‘door to liberation’. Writing in the Huffington Post, Lewis Richmond says “I do not mean voidness. There is something, but that something is something which is always prepared for taking some particular form … Emptiness is like being at your mother’s bosom and she will take care of you.”
Take a look at the first image. it shows a picture I made a long time ago based on a grave in a local cemetery. The life size sculpture on the grave depicts a mother holding her baby and is moving in its tenderness. What strikes me on seeing this image again for the first time in a long time is the emptiness at the centre of the picture, in between the hands. The baby is there, but it is the space between those fragile weather worn hands that I find poignant. Sometimes, even though we hold many things and people, we feel empty handed.
The second image is called Sun in an Empty Room by Edward Hopper. What strikes you most in this image? This is one of his last works, having started his career depicting isolated people in social settings. His people pictures depict a sad loneliness and disparateness that might well resonate in our times of social distancing. But his later works, without people, are somehow fuller. There is a rich calmness, even joy to this empty space.
Of course, the space isn’t entirely empty. The sunlight creates the drama, artistically it warms the tonal quality of the picture and breaks up an otherwise boring wall. Maybe this is a visual version of the Buddhist idea that emptiness is actually ‘always prepared for taking some particular form’. And just maybe, the emptiness I feel is doing the same. Just maybe it is a holding place between the hands of the divine, and a space in which things can take form.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- Where do you feel empty at the moment?
- What might be taking form?
- How are you held? What holds you?
You will need your hands
- This is a meditation based on Tai Chi, which has strong links with Buddhist philosophy
- If you can, stand, feet hip width apart. If you are sitting, make sure you are supported and straight in your chair, feet planted firmly on the ground hip width apart.
- For each movement, you need to mirror it left and right. Start with your left foot forward and then repeat with your right foot forward.
- Hold hands at chest height. Sweep out and up to make a bowl shape. This is your emptiness, receiving light, form and hope. Make sure your hands are palm outwards away from you. Repeat this both sides, left and right.
- Now hold your hand as if you are pushing away at chest height. Gently push away from your body letting go of tension, negativity and violence. Turn your palms upward, so that they are slightly cupped and draw them back towards your chest. Breathe in grace, peace and abundance of life. Repeat this both sides, left and right
- Finally hold both arms with hands upturned at chest height and circle them together in a clockwise direction away from the body and back. Breathe in and receive what you need. You can also use this as a prayer activity asking for others’ needs. Repeat this both sides, left and right.
This meditation is commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission