The Hollow Place and The Wisdom Of Insecurity


How often do we try filling the hollow places with stuff?

We’ve been exploring some of the ideas from The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts in The Haven. In particular, the “backwards law”, suggests that the harder we attempt to control, limit, and oppose the natural course of unpredictability and change, the more we suffer.

This resonates with this month’s theme of “Tranquility”, which is about preparing environments and conditions to help us effectively and calmly move with life’s pressure and noise.

To resist change, to try to cling to life, is like holding your breath: if you persist, you can’t live.

Watts says, “struggle as we may, “fixing” will never make sense out of change. The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

But what does this mean and how does it work in practice?

The hollow place and the wisdom of insecurity - sunlight pouring into a chasm

Creativity And “The Hollow Place”

He points to creativity as a demonstration of how we process life’s “perishability and changefulness”. Not only as a way to cope but as a source of “liveliness and loveliness”.

“This”, he says, “is why the poets are so often at their best when speaking of change and “the transitoriness of human life.” “

This reminds me of something I came across earlier this week. The actor, Mark Rylance had a beautifully poignant reply to this interview question:

“So many of your recent cinema, stage and television roles have been about tragedy. Plus, you have experienced terrible personal tragedy in your own life, including the death of your stepdaughter and, more recently, your brother. How do you recharge your batteries – physical, emotional and spiritual?”

He replied: “It’s interesting the way this question is phrased, as if those events drain one’s life batteries. I feel hollowed out by loss but I don’t feel the need to refill that hollow place. Initially, there’s a temptation to drink too much or smoke too much or work too much to try to fill the space with something else. But then you realise that empty spaces can be good. Miles Davis’s trumpet, Jacqueline du Pré’s cello would be nothing without the emptiness inside, carefully carved out by someone. And eventually you realise that emptiness is something you feel comfortable with.

This person I adored is gone and now there’s a space there – but in a way they also live alongside me in spirit. And if you try to fill that space they left, it won’t work and the effort will wear you out. Better to think of it as a beautiful thing. Again, I think of artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, how the air moves through those hollow spaces and makes beautiful music.”

Coming To Terms With Acceptance

The hollow place is the silence, space, and stillness between the forms we see, hear, and feel. It gives rise to the ache that opens room for connection, beauty, and love.

The hollow place can be uncomfortable, scary, and awkward. But it’s where mystery meets humanity and turns into something magical.

When referred to in the stages of grief, acceptance isn’t about getting over loss. It’s about coming to terms with it. In other words, it’s when we can look into the hollow place and rather than trying to plug or fill it, we can live with it.

Acceptance isn’t something that plugs the hole, it is what happens when we come to terms with hollow space. It’s the gap, out of which beautiful, real, heartfelt things tend to grow.