grief spirit

Turning Toward Emptiness

In turning toward emptiness my life begins to take a new shape.

My first art class I was a freshman in high school. I loved my art teacher – also a first. A first crush on an older man – Mr. Brock. He taught me about Zen (claimed he was a Zen Catholic), Hegel’s Theory of Dialectics, and drawing. Not just any drawing – beginner’s mind drawing. I didn’t realize that until I was much older and more immersed in Buddhism and practicing Zen. Those moments in class 33 years ago are as clear and true as if they happened yesterday.

One gorgeous fall day we went outside for class to learn the exercise of drawing negative space. Instead of focusing on the object, we were to draw the shape around it. It took awhile to comprehend what he was saying. It was an exercise in seeing anew. I chose to draw the spaces around the lanky telephone poles and their sagging wires. I rarely looked down as I focused on completely following the lines and letting the idea of what I was seeing fall away in order to really see.

Now, I use words like a pencil, following them around the places where the dead ones used to be. Mom’s empty space looks like a coneflower and dad’s has taken the shape of fish, a crappie, from a Minnesota lake.  Ryan’s is here too. Hers is surprisingly large for being so young. Then the one for Grandma Jo is shaped like a rosary. There is a negative space for Marty Brock too. The teacher who sharpened my sight but died of a massive heart attack in the middle of a golf game on the 17th hole.

Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to keep a certain shape to this life of mine by paying attention to what I think I know. Truth is? I know nothing. It’s when I focus on what is missing that my life has shape. It’s new and I don’t fully recognize it, but as long as I put one foot in front of the other it’s slowly coming into view.

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  • Reply
    Paula Williams
    October 20, 2016 at 10:13 am

    I am continually brought to tears by your writings about loss, grief, and mourning. Thank you so much Jen for creating this space for us to work through these most profound human experiences in such a gentle and ongoing way. With gratitude, Paula

    • Jen
      October 20, 2016 at 11:08 am

      Thank you my dear friend. Love you.

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