Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 11
Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore, profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.
The Tao Te Ching tells us that the emptied places are the useful places, but for women who have spent twenty or more years mothering–taking care of the eggs and the chicks that are in their nests–that advice is difficult to fathom. In looking back over the course of my own life, I realize that I focused entirely too much time and energy on mothering, and I am not really sure that it worked out for either my children or for me.
My youngest child was born when my oldest child was 13-years-old, and I was a mother, with chicks in my nest, for many, many years. When my youngest child was three months old, I found myself single again; therefore, most of my mothering was done alone, and for too many years, I quit developing myself, to focus on my children.
When I was a young mother, the philosophy of mothering was different than it is now. At one time, mothers were expected to be nothing more than a mother. They were not supposed to work outside the home. At that time, a mother’s single purpose was to take care of the home. Thank goodness, I became a mother after that time, but there was still an overtone that the better mothers were those who committed almost all of their quality efforts to mothering. Unfortunately, I did do that.
In essence, I did what many mothers do. For thirty or more years, I quit developing my own interests. Trying to be the best mother that I could be, I myself quit growing, and suddenly, the inevitable happened. Everything that I had worked to accomplish flew away, and I was left, sitting alone in my empty nest.
For many women, an empty nest is thwarting. If nothing else, it is shocking and frightening, but it does not have to be that way. Consider the words of the Tao Te Ching. Emptiness is the best beginning for something great.
People live long lives now. It is possible to start something wonderful at the age of fifty or sixty–or even later. Certainly, it might have been better to have developed oneself all throughout one’s life, but getting a late start is entirely fine. Here is the best news: there may be some advantages to that.
In meditation, we strive to empty our minds–to expel what is there. This emptying process is very advantageous for artists and for writers. Invariably, when I empty myself, the fresh that floods in afterward is more brilliant than what was there before. I compare emptying myself to the action of a bellows that is used to fan a flame. When I push what is inside outside, the flame grows. Then, I draw in something fresh and I push that out. With the emission of that fresh air, the flame grows even higher. With each drawing in and emptying, the flame reaches greater and greater heights.
Many mothers will be sending their children to college in the fall. In fact, many mothers have just watched their last child graduate from high school, and they have already begun to panic about what they themselves will do, once that last child is gone. I want to assure everyone that an empty nest is not a death sentence. In fact, it may actually be the beginning of a new life. An empty nest is a great place to look around oneself and to decide what it is that you really want to do with the rest of your life. Then, draw in a big breath and blow. Now, begin.
©Jacki Kellum June 22, 2016