text and photo © Jonathan Zap
Both the ego and life abhor a vacuum. The ego fears unplanned emptiness and would like to fill up all the unformed spaces with stuff, activity, people and places. But the more the ego fills up all the unformed space in our lives, the less chance there is for life to find its serendipitous ways to fill that space with something new.
One of the most obvious cases of the ego’s compulsive space filling is on the interpersonal plane. Some people are terrified to have a space in their life where there is no romantic partner. When space opens up, their ego anxiously asserts itself: Well I have to be going out with someone, maybe I should try this person or that one. Maybe I should register with an online dating service. Maybe I should… One of the last things the ego would be likely to consider is that maybe it should do nothing. When the interpersonal space in your life is already filled up, then there is much less room for some new and unexpected person. There is also less room for something that is not interpersonal, but which may need that space to grow. The ego tends to be anxious about any empty spaces in any area of your life and interprets those as deficiencies and deprivations that urgently need to be filled up. In conversations it may tend to view silences as anxious “dead air time” that should be filled up with chatter. But a few silent moments between persons can be a thoughtful, soulful time, a chance to reflect before reentering the word stream.
Similarly, with the creative process, no one should expect access to the creative muse all the time. Much mediocre art is created by people who have built an ego identity around being a writer, composer, artist, etc. They feel they must always be doing their art or else they experience a catastrophic loss of identity. For example, some writers will talk about “writer’s block” and will talk about being “blocked” as though they were undergoing a major illness. But “writer” was not stamped on their birth certificate. No one gave them a guarantee that they would be filled up with stuff to write about all the time. There are fallow periods in the creative process, and if you try to fill up those spaces you end up churning out mediocrity rather than channeling inspiration. In the past, I used to try to force access to Parallel Journeys, the epic story I have worked on off an on for a very long time. I felt that I “should” be working away at it, and ended up “shoulding” on myself when I wasn’t. In writing my essay on the creative process, The Path of the Numinous, however, it became much clearer to me that following the creative muse meant also following it into empty spaces. When I let go of Parallel Journeys as the thing I should be working on, I found that the muse filled that space with all sorts of other stuff. Also, I aim at being a generalist and refuse to identify myself as specifically a non-fiction writer, a fiction writer, a photographer, a philosopher and so forth. I want my creativity to be motivated by content, not identity. When one form of creativity dries up for a time, I usually find that another springs to life in the unformed space that opens up. In other cases, what comes in to fill up the unformed space is relationship, travel, or taking in the creative work of others.
Consider this a propitious time to invite and welcome open spaces in your life.