Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


I am caught up with, consumed by, crazy about, the notion of emptiness of late. It's that same lifting-up of non-existence, nothingness, that runs through so many ancient traditions, in different names and forms, yes, but always the same basic idea.

It's Buddhism's anatta, or non-self, the recognition that since we exist only in relation, our selves are contingent upon the creatures that surround us; it's Pali's sunyata, the rich void that is expectant fullness; it's Christianity's kenosis, the self-emptying that recognizes letting go as essential to the practice of being generously in the world; it's Taoism's oxymoronic recognition that completion comes only through incompletion (as evidenced pop-culturally in Tyler Durden's inadvertently Taoist Fight Club prayer: May I never be complete); it's yoga's neti-neti reminder that we are not this body, not these thoughts, not this breath; it's a deliberate stripping-down, a hollowness, an echo, lack, silence, darkness, void. Choose any synonym there, in any language, and find in it a reflection of so many of the themes resonant in mindfulness traditions, antithetical to much of Western psychology, which encourages the building-up of the Self as the means to maturity and actualization.

I've never flirted with getting a tattoo; with my musical theater stuff, there was always that fear that an unfortunately-placed tat would keep me from getting a role that required a rockette costume or a period corset; but were I to brand something into my skin for all perpetuity (or, at least, these few fleeting years in this particular body) in a grasping approximation of permanence, it would be neti-neti, that reminder of essential emptiness, scrawled there, on my inner forearm, that soft skin, the drishti meant to catch my eye when I'm reaching sky-ward in trikonasana or shaking a martini or digging my fingers into a pot of soil, sleeves rolled up to reveal the Sanskrit scrawled in thick ink on my inner left arm. For months now, I've made it a practice to ink that mantra on my arm every day, and in some ways, that daily practice makes it feel even more real, more present, more living than a permanent tattoo might; the ink sweats off in a Bikram class, it washes off after an evening of scrubbing wine glasses in the three-part bar sink, it rubs off when I wear my wool 3/4-length sleeved vintage jacket. And that requires an ongoing engagement, a conscious re-writing of that tattoo-of-sorts every morning, leaving me with an inability to take it for granted, a perpetual reminder that all the things we are, even our ideas, our passions, our particular inspirations, are impermanent in and of themselves.

But — back to emptiness. Stuck on this theme, yes, so much so that it rides along on my inner forearm every day, wherever I go. So imagine how thrilled I was to find this web exclusive on Tricycle Magazine's website the other day, entirely focused on emptiness. Take some time to swim around in the many rich offerings here. And in so doing, make sure to read John Tarrant's beautiful piece on "The Erotic Life of Emptiness," in which he describes the "discovery of emptiness as a kind of falling in love," a "vertigo" of sorts.

Tarrant quotes the Heart Sutra, writing that "Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form. There are no walls in the mind." His piece explores emptiness's relation to "the theater of ownership, gifts, and generosity — how we love to receive things and how they begin to own us, and also how we can be free of them and in some way step into emptiness by passing them on."

Whew. Amazing. Read the whole thing. And make sure to check out my man David Loy's piece on The Dharma of Deconstruction offered there, too. Dreamy.

Emptiness: All or Nothing (Tricycle)
The Erotic Life of Emptiness (Tricycle)

Comments

shjohnson said…
I love your impermanent tattoo! Thanks for an amazing and always thought-provoking blog!
Rach said…
Thanks so much for reading! I'm so glad you can find something to connect with here.

I was reading about the Hindu god Shiva tonight and ran across a question about the appropriateness of religious symbols as tattoos in Hinduism. I couldn't help but chuckle on reading the expert's answer:

"In Hindu culture it is supposed to be indecent having a tattoo and showing it off, especially when it is something about the god's sign and picture, etc.

But people from the old time in India have their own names written on their forearms in small font. So I think it will not be a disrespectful thing if you have your own name written as a tattoo on your body (preferably at a part which does not look indecent)."

So the small script on the forearm might have an ancient precedent after all, without even knowing it! Love it.

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