Running On Empty

You know the awful feeling when the car starts to sputter and then rolls to a stop? The first thought is, “What’s wrong?” and the second thought is, “How could I have let this happen?” I have run out of gas and been a passenger when other drivers have. It happens when we get too busy, become distracted, and aren’t paying attention to what’s important. What we sometimes do in cars we also do to ourselves, and our lives, when we become so depleted we feel empty. And, just like our car, we can’t go anywhere until we have refilled ourselves.

Psychologist Dr. Margaret Paul believes that inner emptiness is caused by a lack of self-love. When we don’t love ourselves we look for approval from others at the expense of our own needs and feelings. It’s the peril we face when we listen to what others tell us about who we should be, and ignore who we really are. We waste our time and energy by filling our emptiness with distractions such as work, food, shopping, unhealthy relationships, phone time, or TV binging. We don’t run any better than a car does when the tank is empty.

Ranata Suzuki writes, “Contrary to all logic and reason – emptiness hurts. You would not believe the pain and the suffering that can come from a thing which, by all accounts….is not even there.” But it is there, and when we find our self in that difficult, empty place, we need to become aware of what is missing and what needs to be changed. We all have needs, and the painful part happens when our needs are not met. 

It’s time to pay attention. If we’re having trouble clarifying what we need, it can be helpful to talk to a trusted friend or respected counselor. Filling our empty selves begins with identifying what we value about our self and our life. That will help clarify priorities so we can begin to refocus and rebalance. When we embrace our values, we begin to move from empty to filled. This allows us to live what author Trudi Griffin calls a “value-congruent” life, where our choices reflect our values. This is living in fullness.

Emptiness can be a messenger telling us that we are starting to become more conscious of being ready for change. It’s one of those experiences that qualify as a blessing in disguise. As K. Hara writes, “Emptiness is the possibility yet to be filled.” A helpful place to start is with forgiveness for our imperfections. We’re human and we’re going to make mistakes. Let’s give ourselves a break and practice mindfulness, which means being aware of our thoughts and feelings without judgement. We can experience the present moment, whatever it holds, without judgement. Judging ourselves empties us, but research shows mindfulness refills us because it can reduce stress and anxiety. This is a beautiful way to love our self.

Emptiness turns to filled when we practice healthy self-care seen in balancing sleep, diet, work, exercise, play, and relaxation. This is more of a challenge while we’re dealing with COVID-19, but even small improvements help fill us. Establishing a strong spiritual practice creates a peaceful mind that is focused on positive thinking. Spiritual practice is essential to what fulfills us, and makes our hearts sing. It is the source of love and deep inspiration.

We fill our empty places when we find beauty and meaning in everyday life. It’s the small, everyday things that put the larger context of our life into positive perspective. Giving our full attention to whatever we’re doing makes a big difference. This can be a simple as preparing a meal and noticing all the colors, textures, and tastes involved, and turning it into a feast of appreciation. We fill ourselves when we keep our home environment pleasant and clutter-free so we feel lifted when we enter our front door.

Appreciating what we have is another way to heal inner emptiness. Practicing gratitude centers our focus on what enhances our lives, creating positive energy. This means treasuring who we are right this moment. We can express our gratitude in our inner thoughts, journal writing, or out loud to those around us. Gratitude transforms whatever is happening and fills us to the brim.

When we feel we’re running on empty, it’s important not to become discouraged. Refueling takes time, and loving ourselves takes practice. It happens when we pursue what is important to us by taking small steps, one day at a time. What we go through always has a purpose, so let’s pay attention to what life is trying to tell us. Let’s keep each other encouraged as we all keep moving toward loving ourselves more fully. Life feels so much better when we stop running on empty and live out of fullness.

Until Next time – Sylvia      

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