There’s an old math joke says: a topologist can’t tell the difference between a coffee cup and a doughnut (pausing while you look up topology and doughnuts, or sigh and wonder what is wrong with me). To a Taoist however, the coffee cup has a useful sort of emptiness the doughnut does not, and that’s what this stanza is getting at:
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
It’s a hard concept (and a big Taoist one) to get your head around: the use of emptiness, the value of nothing. In a material culture with a high weighting on productivity it seems counter-intuitive, and often these Taoist ideas seems like lazy inaction and uselessness. Not so! It’s a ripe sort of emptiness, full of potential. If that pot was a big lump of clay it wouldn’t be useful for much (except maybe hucking at someone) but formed in a way to create some emptiness, then it becomes really useful.
People are like that too, we are material beings: all atoms and bonds and life circulating around; but it is the emptiness, the space we create within ourselves, what we allow to fill that space, that makes us really something. It is what makes us able to really DO something, it makes us fully who we are.
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
It’s the interaction of both that really makes us who we are. A piece I wrote ages ago: The Space Between the Notes, looks at Math and God and Spirit and the place where they all come together. It isn’t one or the other, it’s where they come together that the extraordinary happens.