August 30, 2019

Empty Promise

This week I was asked about whether to sell a property with furniture or empty. Preparing a property for sale is about storytelling. It is “Imagineering” a lifestyle and a sense of home from both tangible and intangible elements in a home to invite a match from the market. It is about creating inspiration and offsetting the daunting nature of empty. 

Why is empty daunting? You would think that the potential of a blank canvas would create a world of possibilities for people to create their own story in a new space or with a new opportunity. But no. One of the first things I learned at art school was to take a blank canvas and prepare it by painting it a colour, any colour. Originally I suspected that this had something to do with the light. That paint applied over a base colour would take on a reflexive character giving the colours a richness from the background underneath. But no. I mean, sort of. But mostly it is about getting rid of the paralysis that comes from empty – the blank abyss of untouched perfection that is, I suppose, quite similar to the first line of every written page. 

Empty is paralysing. In his 2004 book, ‘The Paradox of Choice – Why Less is More’, psychologist Barry Schwartz tells us that this emptiness of possibility doesn’t increase our capacity to make a decision, but rather where there is ample choice – our brains become overwhelmed and it can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness but also to ‘suspended action’. How can the ability to do anything index to the tendency to do nothing? Humans are so weird, but also utterly fascinating.

In the Sanskrit language there is a concept called ‘acincana’ (ah-kin-cha-na). Akincana is the concept that God takes things away from us so that our hands are free, empty, to receive a greater blessing. Interesting. The ‘blessings’ that really count in the tradition of Hindustan are actually moments of extreme suffering because devotees believe that in times of distress it is most important and most easy to turn towards ‘god’. There is a character in the pastimes of that faith, Queen Kunti (Kooh-n-tie) that actually prayed to be given more hardship, to be kept in constant distress so that she would always feel close to god.

Not exactly the stuff of my deepest desires – I’ve built quite enough character for the present moment thanks big guy. But it is an interesting flip of the coin.