Occupying Space


A man should be so poor that he is not and has not a place for God to act in. To reserve a place would be to maintain distinctions.

Meister Eckhart quoted in Merton, Thomas. Zen and the Birds of Appetite. A New Directions Book, 1968, 26. iBooks.

I am reminded of Seneca’s De Brevitate Vitae notion of “occupying space” on this reading of Eckhart. My good brother Bratzo and I have spent time recently in dialog on how Seneca distinguishes between merely existing (occupying space, if you will) and fully living.

If we are ever busying ourselves doing this and that, occupying our mind and body with obligations, we are always adding to our collection of things. Indeed, the space of our existence fills to overbrimming with unmet desires and overpromised obligations. In the sense that wealth equals accumulation, we become rich in how much space we occupy. Yet if we see wealth in how much we value life, such habits are nothing less than the impoverishment of our life-time.

This is the warning given to us by Goethe in his Faust, The old professor and great magician wagers his soul that he will never cease wanting more. Throughout the text, from the romantic tragedy of the first section through the archetypal phantasms of the second part, Mephistopheles delivers more and more to the ever dissatisfied man. This devouring desire reaches its apex in Faust’s great building project whereby he wills to reconstruct and occupy the world itself–there is to be nothing left out of this “new space.”  Nonetheless, Baucis and Philemon, two humble peasants–fully empty yet wanting for nothing–become an obstacle to completing the Great Project. Their satisfaction–by which they have no space, not even the small hut in which they live–completely thwarts the dissatisfaction of Faust–by which he seeks to gain the world while simultaneously losing his life.

Why must we be called again and again to stop occupying space? Why must we be recalled to life?

As Eckhart teaches, by taking up so much space, there is no room for the Encompassing to act. Therefore, there is no life–and having no life, there is no liberty.

Do-without-doing: emptiness.
Emptied out, unbounded..
Without boundary, Encompassing action..

World open…
Liberation. .

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