The Breath of the Median Void

D E C E M B E R  2 0 1 3

“Music is what happens between the notes.”
                                         — Debussy

I sit here at dawn listening to the city awaken. My neighbor’s footsteps on his front stairs. A car door closing. The first traffic on the street, tires on pavement. A bus pulls up outside, the squeak of its brakes as it stops, a little hiss, and the rattle of its engine as it waits. The electric hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen.

horizonAbove my head a few dozen miles the air thins to nothing. It is quiet. The silence up there goes on into space forever. Beneath me, beneath this building, in the rock down there, it is quiet. My life is played between two silences. One silence, hidden from me.

My body breathes. I don’t do anything. This breath is not the breath that preceded it and it is not the one that follows. It is already gone. I don’t know where it has gone, or where it came from. Hidden.

I wonder what I am. I look, for the millionth time. Nothing there. I can’t find what’s thinking this thought. My interiority seems continuous, but there’s nothing in there. Whatever it is, it’s hidden from me.

I seem to be that which arises between something and nothing, between sound and silence, between what is revealed right now and what is hidden right now. My living moment is here — in this space — where the Hidden and the Revealed encounter each other.

Is it really a space? Here where the Hidden and the Revealed encounter each other, where my breath appears and vanishes, where I am neither something nor nothing, is there any dimension? I look. I don’t find any dimension. And yet it’s vast, beyond distance.

This is the space Taoists call the Breath of the Median Void. It is fundamental, they say, to the Great Breath (qi) that animates the living universe. The Breath of the Median Void arises where the Yang Breath — the power of the active (the Revealed) — encounters the Yin Breath — the power of the receptive (the Hidden). Here. Where I am, without being anything.

Everything that makes my life worth living occurs here, in the Breath of the Median Void. Everything. When I pick up my little grandson and he lays his head on my shoulder. That gesture meets the silence of the eternal — right there on my shoulder. He and I, nothing in ourselves, touch.

My body grows old. How beautiful this life has been — the pleasures, the awakenings, even the losses, the grief. All of it summed up in this moment now and swept into the Hidden. Utterly vanished. What is left is this breath, this Void, this love.