Non-Doing: The Space Between the Old and the New

By Charles Eisenstein

The Gifts of Nothingness

The problems we experience in our lives and in the world (whether relationship issues or world hunger) stem from energetic weakness and disconnection, from our lack of capacity to feel ourselves, each other, the earth, and how life seeks to move and evolve through us. The issue is not whether or not to act and “do something,” but what actually prompts us to act. — Dan Emmons

Before they are able to enter a new story, most people—and probably most societies as well—must first navigate the passage out of the old. In between the old and the new, there is an empty space. It is a time when the lessons and learnings of the old story are integrated. Only when that work has been done is the old story really complete. Then, there is nothing, the pregnant emptiness from which all being arises. Returning to essence, we regain the ability to act from essence. Returning to the space between stories, we can choose from freedom and not from habit.

A good time to do nothing is any time you feel stuck. I have done a lot of nothing in the writing of my book. For several days I was trying to write the conclusion, spinning my wheels, turning out tawdry rehashes of earlier material. The more I did, the worse it got. So I finally gave up the effort and just sat there on the couch, a baby strapped to my chest, mentally traveling through the book I had written, but with no agenda whatever of figuring out what to write. It was from that empty place that the conclusion arose, unbidden.

Do not be afraid of the empty place. It is the source we must return to if we are to be free of the stories and habits that entrap us.

Visiting the Empty Place

If we are stuck and do not choose to visit the empty place, eventually we will end up there anyway. You may be familiar with this process on a personal level. The old world falls apart, but the new has not emerged. Everything that once seemed permanent and real is revealed as a kind of hallucination. You don’t know what to think, what to do; you don’t know what anything means anymore. The life trajectory you had plotted out seems absurd, and you can’t imagine another one. Everything is uncertain. Your time frame shrinks from years to this month, this week, today; maybe even to the present moment. Without the mirages of order that once seemed to protect you and filter reality, you feel naked and vulnerable, but also a kind of freedom. Possibilities that didn’t even exist in the old story lie before you, even if you have no idea how to get there.

The space where the old world falls apart but the new has not yet emerged.

The challenge in our culture is to allow yourself to be in that space, to trust that the next story will emerge when the time in between has ended, and that you will recognize it. Our culture wants us to move on, to do. The old story we leave behind, which is usually part of the consensus ‘Story of the People,’ releases us with great reluctance. So please, if you are in the sacred space between stories, allow yourself to be there. It is frightening to lose the old structures of security, but you will find that even as you might lose things that were unthinkable to lose, you will be okay.

There is a kind of grace that protects us in the space between stories. It is not that you won’t lose your marriage, your money, your job, or your health. In fact, it is very likely that you will lose one of these things. It is that you will discover that even having lost that, you are still okay. You will find yourself in closer contact with something much more precious; something that fires cannot burn and thieves cannot steal, something that no one can take and that cannot be lost. We might lose sight of it sometimes, but it is always there, waiting for us. This is the resting place we return to when the old story falls apart. Clear of its fog, we can now receive a true vision of the next world, the next story, the next phase of life. From the marriage of this vision and this emptiness, a great power is born.

I wrote, “Possibilities that didn’t even exist in the old story lie before you, even if you have no idea how to get there.” This is a pretty good description of a place we are approaching collectively. Those of us who have, in various ways, left the old ‘Story of the People’ are the organs of perception of the collective human body. When civilization as a whole enters the space between stories, then it will be ready to receive these visions, these technologies and social forms of interbeing.

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