The Power of Emptiness: Why Less Can Be More

The Power of Emptiness: Why Less Can Be More July 9, 2024

less can be more
Emptiness clears the way to experience the new. Photo by Birger Stahl via Unsplash.

If I were to ask you “would you rather feel empty or full?” what would you say? I know my first instinct would be to respond full. That may be because we’re a society that seems to yearn for fullness. We like our bellies to be full, our calendars to be full of activities, our homes and garages full of stuff.

In The Eloquence of Silence: Surprising Wisdom in Tales of Emptiness, Thomas Moore makes the case that there’s a problem with all this fullness. It leaves no room for emptiness, which is more than the absence of stuff. It’s a place of discovery where we can find new possibilities and perspectives and come to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

You probably need to empty out as much as you fill up.”

Moore is best known for his many books on the soul, but in The Eloquence of Silence, he rarely mentions “the soul” by name. He doesn’t have to. His teachings on emptiness (or any subject he tackles) reach beyond the head and heart to somewhere deep within us, shining a light on the deep, dark essence at the core of our being.

In The Eloquence of Silence, Moore’s short chapters on emptiness read like written meditations, in that his words put you in a different state of mind. The world around you may temporarily slip away as your focus turns inward. He then acts as a tour guide, lighting the way along a darkened path until you reach a clearing, a vast emptiness that is not to be feared but to be embraced.

Emptiness clears the way for something new.

Moore believes our modern lives are too jam-packed. Too full of information and activities and material possessions. He opines that “perhaps we produce too many things and use too many words and even think too many thoughts.” And that poses a problem. Because when are lives are filled to the brim, we have no room for growth.

That’s why Moore advises us to “resist pressures to frantically fill every minute with activities or explanations or purpose.” When we begin to honor the emptiness inside us, we’re like the farmer clearing a field for new crops. We’re making room for growth and become “open and awake” to life. Moore asks us to consider:

How many aspects of our lives have run their course, yet we keep at them anyway? Some things are not significant like an old, frayed shirt in the closet or a pair of shoes with holes in them. Other things are significant: a rusting career or relationship. We keep them and don’t realize how they stop up the flow of life in general.

Moore urges us to “learn to appreciate emptiness and make it part of your daily experience. It can give you peace and comfort, especially when your life is full and active. It balances out any tendency to do too much or even to think and feel excessively.” It gives our souls room to breathe.

Is it time to reevaluate the things filling up your life?

Moore instructs us to let go of things that are “no longer worth the effort” and that may not add the value and meaning to our lives that they once did. Consider your own life and you may come to realize:

The house you have been living in may no longer be appropriate and meaningful. The way you have been eating may not be healthy at this new time in your life. The way you spend your holidays and leisure time may be showing its limitations. You may have ideas and opinions that are getting old and frayed. It may be time to release them.

We also need to ease up on our constant search for new experiences. Quite often our lives are already filled with people and things that can awe and inspire us. We just need to step back and look at all the good that’s around us with fresh eyes. This involves seeing them as if for the first time, using our “beginner’s mind.” Moore advises us to:

  • Try to forget what you think you know
  • Simply be in the presence of whatever it is you are concerned with
  • Aim for “total comprehension” and not just acquaintance

Less can be more.

How can you achieve a state of emptiness in your own life? As a start, Moore tells us that “emptiness might mean clearing your desk and cleaning your house, getting rid of clutter and developing a clean sense of beauty.” It may also mean eliminating any unnecessary activities or goals from your life or moving on from anyone filling your head with misguided opinions or negative ideas.

The result may be, in Moore’s words, that “when people meet you, they see the emptiness in your relaxed manner and in your absence of anxiety. You may look healthier and more approachable. You have empty spaces in you where people can enter. They won’t feel as though they are disturbing you or interrupting your perpetual anxiety.” Moore continues:

If you have empty oases in you, places for refreshment and pause, you can more likely enjoy a happy life. If you see a stunning mountain or lake as you travel, you can stop and take time to do nothing and look. If you see a child in need of attention, you can let go of what you are doing and be of assistance. If you need to just sit in a chair, you won’t be tempted by a habit of hyperactivity to avoid the welcome rest.

Additionally, when new people enter your life, you can warmly receive them, giving them the attention they deserve. When a new idea appears in your head, you’ll have the room to entertain it. When a new opportunity arrives, you can better examine it and, if merited, pursue it. As Moore suggests, “be empty so life can happen.”

A different version of this story appeared about a year ago. Neither is included in my book Wake Up Call: Daily Insights for the Spiritually Curious.

About Tom Rapsas
I've been writing the Wake Up Call column at Patheos since 2012. My latest book Wake Up Call: Daily Insights for the Spiritual Curious was released January 2024, by Wildhouse Publications. I'm also the author of the spiritual fable Thaddeus Squirrel and the book Life Tweets which were self-published. I live at the Maryland Eastern Shore with my wife and a small herd of cats and can be reached at You can read more about the author here.
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