Full in emptiness

Full in emptiness

Every year we travel a month to our beloved Sicily, to go back to life in all its beautiful simplicity, where the clock goes back 25 years. Not to do ‘something’ but to reflect on what has been. Experience shows that this rest period makes space in my head and brings me back to my base, time and time again, back to the things that are important to me, in my (working) life. Creating space for new insights, for what is new.

This time the Etna, the highest volcano in Europe, has shown me what emptiness actually is and what effect it can have to be ‘full in emptiness’ for organizations if you pay attention to it.

Back to the ‘real’ life

For the third time in a row we load the car for our annual stay with our Sicilian family. I notice that in the preceding weeks I have worked to this point more relaxed than last year, but at the same time I also feel that I am ‘ready for it’, which indicates that my head is fuller than I would like. Practice makes perfect, so I learn something for next time.

The winter tires are fixed on the road surface that slides away from us. The drive of 2,272 km in the last month of the year, proves to be a good opportunity to switch off and to pass over the past few months. En route, enjoying the beautiful landscapes in all their diversity, passing through the borders and contemplating the sunset, we arrive at the magical island the next day at midnight.

We stay in a 200-year-old wine bar converted into a holiday home. Between solid walls of almost a meter thick lava rock, you feel safe for the elements that, at 700 meters at the foot of Mount Etna, often show their rough side. In the time that we come here, now already about 12 years, we think we have experienced everything once; the deafening wind, the thick fog that sometimes lasts for days, the pouring rain that provides gushing water flows over the road towards the lower landscape and a thick layer of snow.

We go back to nature, to the ‘real’ life. Not to do ‘something’ for a month, to be inspired by the magical nature, through the breath-taking views, through the ancient culture, through the unlimited hospitality of the Sicilians and their honest and delicious food.

A burst of energy

During my morning walk I see the sun rising from the Ionian Sea, giving a pink / orange glow to the landscape behind me, ‘the campagna’, with rising high above us, the Etna, also called the heart of the Mediterranean. The sky is so clear that even the coast of the mainland can be clearly seen. I hear in the distance behind me a rumbling, humming sound and see that more ‘steam’ comes from the mountain than I am used to. Muntagna Etna (Mount Etna), loved and feared by all Sicilians.

After my morning rituals we get in the car to our favorite coffee bar a few miles away. At a spot we stop and find that the Etna is indeed more active, we take a picture for the home front and continue our way. On our way back an hour later, we pass the same point. Surprised and quiet we stare at an ever-growing cloud party; the sweet white clouds have made way for a huge gray strip of clouds with a shimmer of salmon color. The Etna suddenly seems much smaller compared to this gigantic cloud power that continues to expand in width and height. What will this be a fantastic view from an airplane!

A volcanic eruption of earthly energy is what we are looking at and what we can smell. With all the visible violence that comes from the crater I now really understand that the Etna is feared, I see a natural phenomenon that I can only have deep respect for.

Nightly commotion

26-12-2018 03.19 o’clock: our dog jumps out of nowhere and starts barking around, the bells ringing from the window mobile, the church bell rings and the thick walls just stagger on their foundation. I suddenly lie in a waterbed, the otherwise so solid ground now feels messy. The earth has moved, leaving behind an indefinable sound and I realize that we were just witnesses of an earthquake.

A moment of awareness follows, I do not know how exactly I feel at this moment, am I startled, anxious, excited? I stay calm while all the cells in my body are in supreme state of alertness, I feel literally and figuratively shaken up. What is left behind after all is the feeling of nullity. The earth is in charge, the human being, if he already had that idea, is not ‘in charge’. Etna is the best-monitored volcano I hear my Sicilian friend say. It only has very little effect, the moment and the place to discharge and rearrange, nature decides itself. Nature ‘is’ and therefore unable to steer, to organize. We can learn a lot from it.

Sleeping does not really work anymore, the realization that I have felt the basic energy of the earth, the belly breathing of our planet, is at once euphoric as frightening. My mind says that it makes sense that the cavity in the earth filled with magma was relieved by pressure and thus caused a volcanic eruption. And that that empty cavity can cause a shift of the earth’s crust. So far everything can be explained and understood. But there is also something else, something which is not visible but tangible: the energy. The primal energy of the earth that gives life to everything that lives on and in it, and connects everything.

Overvoltage and discharge

The Etna has shown me her strength in optima forma that everything has a continuous rhythm of tension and discharge, of effort and relaxation, of contraction and expansion, of fullness and of emptiness. With a moment of rest in between. Just like the natural rhythm of the breath, where the inhalation and exhalation alternate each other continuously. And in every cycle there is a moment of rest, a void of doing nothing. With this emptiness, the quality of the rhythm, of the respiratory cycle, stands or falls. If you do not use the moment of rest optimally and you inhale too quickly or too deeply, you start hyperventilating, if you breathe out too short or too fast your breath will be too short.

This continuous rhythm is necessary to neutralize and balance tension and relaxation. With a surplus of energy, the energy leaks away, with a surplus of relaxation, the energy is not used. In a world where it seems that everything needs to be more, bigger, faster, we have lost sight of this natural rhythm. We continuously put ourselves and our organizations under high voltage, there is too little space for emptiness, for discharge.

An eruption comes from an over-voltage. It is the logical consequence of a surplus of accumulated energy that at some point leaks away from the earth’s crust to the crater. I see the comparison with organizations, here too a lot of things play underground and if you just let it simmer long enough, an eruption will occur. A fierce, sudden discharge of everything that has not been said, has not been seen, has not been heard or has received no value. If you are in the over-tension long enough, if you are constantly ‘on’, there is no space left in your head at any given time, your energy is burning and you are also not functioning properly physically. Discharge is then the only thing that helps.

Planning emptiness

We cannot avoid an overvoltage of Etna, that is how nature works, but we can act preventively for ourselves in our organizations, in our thinking and doing to prevent too much tension. By investigating where the energy leaks away in your own (working) life or in the organization where you work, by just going to the stress and observing what is actually happening, instead of walking away from it. By paying attention to the rhythm of tension and relaxation and the moment of rest in between. To create peace and space, literally and figuratively: in your body, in your mind, in your work, in your organization. Space for just ‘being’, for personal development, for the expansion of qualitative values ​​of the organization in which you work.

It is precisely the moments of emptiness, of which we think in advance that they are not so necessary, but which are afterwards the most essential of everything we do. Think back to your last ‘eureka’ moment, the moment when you got an important insight, where were you, were you in the tension or in the relaxation, or in the middle? In the emptiness you find what really matters, what is worthwhile to live for, to do work for.

The planning of emptiness requires in itself a continuous effort, discipline and dedication; for yourself, for your organization. And above all: the more you want to become proficient in something, the more time you have to invest in training. Emptiness must be planned in our busy schedule. Daily a few minutes, weekly one hour, monthly one morning, annually a few days. Emptiness that you commit to sincere attention, deep connection, presence, inspiration and creativity.

I am curious to see how much emptiness you give yourself and your organization and what discipline you bring to that. I wish you a good 2019 full of emptiness!

Marita van Herpen

Step out of your daily environment to reflect on your personal purpose and the purpose of your organization, Expedition RAW.