Posted by: Zane Maser | August 5, 2012


Because self-forgetfulness (moving beyond the “little self”
of the outer personality) has been a lot on my mind lately,
I share the following excerpt from our book,
“The World is in My Garden: A Journey of Consciousness.”

The “I” voice speaking is my husband, Chris.


Emptiness is letting the chatter of the mind die away
and productive hands be idle. In emptiness one accesses
the law of Wu Wei, which literally means
“without doing, causing, or making.” It is understanding
that in the emptiness of inner solitude, where one
melds in consciousness with the heartbeat of the
Universe, there is nothing to do, hence nothing left
undone. In this place of “effortless effort,” of utter
stillness and inner silence one hears the great
universal sound, the Voice of the Divine.
It is here that all sages and saints have
knelt to receive the Grace of the Holy Grail cup.

When I walk through the gate of the high cedar fence surrounding our garden, I enter into a secluded place, a sanctuary of the soul, wherein worldly knowledge, incessant noise, frantic motion, aggrandized stimulation, and competitive ambition fall away. “If a man can be absolutely quiet,” a Chinese teacher once told his students, “then the Heavenly Heart will manifest itself.” Here, in the solitude of our garden, is the heartbeat of the Universe palpable.

It beats in the rustling of dragonfly wings about the pond and in the cold North Wind blowing far from its Arctic home; it is felt in the rain coming off tropical currents of the Pacific Ocean and is seen at sunrise and in the twinkling light from distant stars. It is in the howling fury of a Winter storm and the silence of a Summer’s day when the world hangs limply in relentless heat. In this “wise silence,” as Emerson termed it, is the eternal center, “the still point of the turning world,” which is best expressed in the Sanskrit word purnata—a stillness that is completely full.

The antithesis of our garden’s hush is the disenchanted outer world, where it is sadly, more often than not, absolutely imperative to get somewhere and produce something. Rush, rush, rush in haste and frazzle… Yet, as Thomas Moore explains in The Re-enchantment of Everyday Living, time spent in a garden gets us nowhere.2 “A garden,” he says, “entices us to slow down and stop,” which, he adds, is an important dynamic of the soul, for anything of the soul requires time and a lowering of productivity and effort.

Gardening is thus a monk’s way of nurturing the soul, which Moore calls a “fruitful silence,” where movements of the soul are amplified. A life that honors solitude is a requisite for self-mastery, living with a sense of direction, and discovering the true song of one’s own soul.

When I thus enter into our garden I am on holy ground at the center of the Universe, for all relationships begin and end therein as they are gathered up and given forth from the spirit of my being, which is diffused throughout the Cosmos. In Muslim countries, the old part of their cities was called medina—a “holy place.” And so it is when you enter into your own garden of holiness, the center of the Universe is everywhere and nowhere.

One of the great classics of the East states that “the universe turns upon the axis of silence.” It moves when we move and rests when we rest. If therefore, I am simply content to be in the moment, I am filled with the vast emptiness of inner solitude, which I long ago experienced in the deserts of Egypt when I was too young to understand. There is a silence in the deserts of Egypt that wraps like a cloak around the heat by day and the cold by night when the wind is still and not a grain of sand stirs. On such a day in the Nubian Desert east of the Nile, one piece of ironstone dropped upon another can be heard by a Dorcas gazelle a mile away.

It is there, in the silent splendor of the desert, that the early Christian monks went to live that they might experience emptiness. This is the contemplative life to which monks are called. The word “contemplative” means to cut out a space for divination, to set apart space for sacred use, for the building of an inner temple, as noted by Thomas Moore in Meditations.3 “Contemplation,” explains Moore, “is the primary work of the monk if he or she is to achieve the necessary emptiness in all things.”

The early Christian monks, according to Moore, were experts at doing nothing and tending the culture of that emptiness. Their existence denoted a complete absence of drivenness. In the exact measure to which they were empty so were they in like measure full, for emptiness, instructs Brother David Steindl-Rast, is the necessary condition for fullness in all its forms.4

Long ago in Egypt, when I sat down to rest on a large boulder of ironstone, surveying the enfolding magnificence of the Nubian desert, I watched the waves of heat dancing in the distance. I had a profound sense of company. Looking around, I discovered that I was sitting on the same rock on which a Paleolithic man sat more than 15,000 years ago as he chipped hand axes from the ironstone. One of them lay at my feet.

Picking it up, I discovered the tip was broken. I could almost feel his frustration at breaking the tip just when he thought he had a finished ax. I felt a kinship with this artisan of antiquity and intuitively knew that time was only an intellectual construct that trapped my worldly mind, that behind the veil of illusion in complete stillness was the Omnipresent, Unitive state. Because I felt so keenly the ancient one’s presence, I also felt the roots of all humanity embodied in and passing through the craftsmanship of one man stored in the apparent timeless silence of the desert. In that moment, I entered the emptiness of eternal solitude as one liberated in timelessness. All that existed for me was the presence and the touch of my Paleolithic brother.

I had thus entered an alternative place of being, which the mystics have called a retreat or vacatio—an emptying of ordinary life, which affords the opportunity for a different kind of experiencing.5 In the emptiness of this “lucid stillness,” the mystic is able to live on a deeper level in order to be keenly attentive to messages that come from God, as Thomas Merton puts it.

Before you can experience such lucid stillness, however, you must empty yourself, as a university professor discovered when inquiring about Zen from Nan-in, a Japanese Zen Master. While Nan-in served the tea, he poured the professor’s cup full and kept on pouring. His visitor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself: “It is overfull. No more can go in without overflowing.” Nan-in replied, “like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Some years ago, I read about the Buddhist concept of the “Nothing” from which everything comes and into which everything returns, but I did not understand it. That night I had a vivid dream in which I actually entered the Nothing and found everything, a reality that I am not sure I can explain. In my dream, I passed gently through some kind of border or boundary and found myself without form in a formless gray, the color being more of a sense than an actuality. Blending into the formlessness as pure energy, I had ceased to exist in the morphological shape of a human being. I felt totally at peace, a kind of peace that permeated everything and merged seamlessly into and through me, leaving room for nothing but itself. So, I too became everything.

I awoke the next morning with an incredible sense of peace and without fear of losing my identity beyond the veil because, when one has absolute peace, there is nothing else of value and so one has everything. To this day, when I still the motions of my mind, I can enter the Nothing, and, for the eternity of an instant, find everything in the enfolding, seamless peace.

Attempting to explain the Nothing reminds me of an Emperor in a far away land who, wanting to adorn his palace with a new and original painting, held a contest in which the greatest painters of the day were commissioned to paint a flock of geese just taking wing. Although many great painters presented the Emperor with works of delicate beauty, he chose for his palace the painting by a Taoist whose canvas was blank except for the upper right-hand corner, which held the foot of the last goose to take flight.

In the thinking of German poet Johann W. von Goethe, emptiness has an invisible power from which patterns emerge, much as a vase on a potter’s wheel forms itself around the active presence of a hollow, without which the vase could not exist. The vase is simply the external shell of a specifically shaped void, which holds emptiness within itself.6 From India, the Heart Sutra adds:

. . . form is no other than emptiness,
Emptiness is no other than form;
Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form,
. . . all phenomena are emptiness/form.

I am myself such a vase, as are you, and life is the wheel upon which the Master Potter is molding and emptying me. And it is my singular goal in life to serve the still small voice within; thus, I must learn to empty myself of my small self. And if I can find a single-minded purpose within, then I might also find complete emptiness or self-forgetfulness, and achieve both fullness and fulfillment, in keeping with the Sanskrit word apuruamanam, which means “ever-full.”

Although I began as a solid lump of clay, I am discovering, little by little, what in life is of authentic value and what is not—the spiritual gold we will all one day attain when we reach the Summit of Consciousness. I am discarding the false and the unreal, with no desire to fill the space left empty by the sorting out and relinquishment. “Give up what you do not want,” suggests A Course in Miracles, “and keep what you do.” Each time I discard the valueless, I find that spiritual peace not only abides within me to a greater degree but also fills the emptiness to the joyful exclusion of all else.

As I mature in spirit, and the sorting continues, I find, as Thomas Merton wrote, that to be truly silent, one must let go the yearning for recognition and cease worrying about making the right impression.7 Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross adds, in verse that has a Zen-like flavor:

In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything,
Desire to have pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything,
Desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything,
Desire to be nothing. . . .

Finally, to be filled with and enveloped by total peace and the wanting of anything worldly becomes a foreign country, is to abide in Divine emptiness, with its absolute stillness and silence, in which there is nothing—yet everything of eternal worth is contained. Now when I rest in the sacred space of our garden and simply sit with it, there are nourishing moments when the material world fades entirely, and I enter once again into the Nothingness of my life-changing dream. This is the fulfillment of Divine Emptiness, within which perfect peace transcends the outer, everyday self and becomes the illumined Self.

Related Posts:

• Gone Gardenin’

• Slow Down!

• What Value A Gold Nugget?

• The Fellowship Of Joy-Full-Ness

Empty Boat Day

• Free Association: Peace

• The Timeless Trek

• The Lily-Work

• Being Self Centered

• Why is “S” Sacred?


1. Chris Maser with Zane Maser. 2005. The World is in My Garden: A Journey of Consciousness. White Cloud Press, Ashland, OR. 303 pp.

2. Thomas Moore. 1996 The Re-enchantment of Everyday Living.. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY. 396 pp.

3. Thomas Moore. 1994. Meditations. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY. 107 pp.

4. Brother David Steindl-Rast. 1984. Gratefulness and The Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness. Paulist Press, Ransey, NJ. 224 pp.

5. Thomas Merton. 1974. Cistercian Life. Cistercian Books, Spencer, MA.

6. James Hillman. 1966. Growth Revisited. Resurgence 176:8-10.

7. Thomas Merton. 1974. Cistercian Life. op. cit.

Text © by Zane and Chris Maser, 2012. Photos © by Chris and Zane Maser, 2012. The photo of Kuan Yin is from the garden of my dear friend, Jeannine Otchis. The Theresa of Avila photo is from WikiCommons. All rights reserved worldwide.

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My editorial guru and technological wizard is Chris Maser, my delightful husband.

If you are interested in an astrological consultation and/or a specific question answered by a horary chart, please visit SunnyCat© Astrology.

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