The Perfection of Emptiness

“Emptiness which is conceptually liable to be mistaken for sheer nothingness is in fact the reservoir of infinite possibilities.”—Daisetz Teitaro Suzaki

Dining by the harbor with my daughter as a celebratory send-off to college, I experience this good-bye much differently than a year ago when she left home for the first time.

Back then, I sobbed uncontrollably and could not walk past her bedroom for a week. That stage of motherhood, sending a child to school fourteen hours away, was unfamiliar to me. Plus, I was also dealing with many other endings, including the sale of my home (endings as gateways).

This time, I am calmer and more at peace, witnessing how we have each adjusted to our increasingly independent lives. Still, after parting, I race over to my favorite sanctuary, Crane’s Beach, and cry a new round of tears. For this letting go has a new edge to it, as I realize more fully that my adventure-loving, spirited daughter will probably never live under my roof again.

Hours later, moving through that grief and in talking with other mother friends, I come to understand more deeply that there is a plan larger than me and my will, just as there is a plan for my daughter’s life to which she will be pulled. Letting go of control and rigid standards of perfection are required. Instead, I invite in flexibility and curiosity.

Alone with myself in a new way, a sense of grace surrounds me. In this still point of life, between the old and new, I am accepting these moments of emptiness. No job, mate, or dearly loved child of mine can fill me up with the same sense of peace that is coming from this surrender of mine. This is THE moment when I turn my life over, knowing I have done the best I could in all circumstances, and gave as much as I could. I cannot control outcomes, only my thoughts.

I stand now in receptivity, allowing in a new sense of freedom.

The angst of loneliness has been replaced by increased openness. Tossing aside rules, I no longer live by pre-defined roles or expectations. The new jobs and relationships must be aligned with my values and nurturing nature, but how they are packaged is of less importance.

A friend of mine married a man of a different race, which is the last expectation she had coming from a family with many prejudices. She met him three weeks after declaring to God she was done trying to find a mate, and praying that she pleased be helped in accepting her aloneness.

Letting go of her initial resistance to dating this new man, she discovered that she found a partner who knew how to create a healthy relationship, which was a new milestone for her. Many friends and clients share similar stories of their significant other not looking like or having the stereotypical expectations of what they imagined.

Sitting in emptiness, embracing rather than fearing our sense of aloneness, clears the way for the new. For me, and others I know who became hyper-vigilant as a result of having to parent or protect ourselves at a young age, this new stage of letting go is trusting that we are being guided.

The still points of emptiness help us hear the guidance we so longed for. That protection was always there, but some of us were not taught to listen for and trust it.

Like the tides that go out and return in again, you must empty to fill up. The emptiness you embrace for yourself will be your gift to another as well. For, as M. Scott Peck, a leading psychiatrist and author, has said, ““We cannot let another person into our hearts or minds unless we empty ourselves. We can truly listen to him or truly hear her only out of emptiness.”

Another gift from allowing for periods of emptiness is the increasing sense of lightness. With burdens defined by the ego dropped, life suddenly seems more engaging and fun.

When I declare  I am done doing it “my way,” or “waiting” for others to be ready to join me on this great adventure, the sense of struggle disappears. More authentic conversations and appreciation for simple moments start filling me up. In place of grasping or reaching, new people, opportunities and possibilities for expansion, fulfillment and joy appear daily. Rushing to none of them, I choose instead to quietly listen and pace for signs of “rightness.”

My new round of emptiness has prepared me to live more fully, balancing delightful anticipation with greater skills of discernment.


1. I allow myself to see the perfection in the empty moments of my life.

2. I allow myself to trust in letting go of all I have known, that greater gifts await me.

3.  I allow myself to stay open to infinite possibilities.

Beth Shedd’s photo reminds us to allow our ’empty spaces’ to lead us to lightness and peace.

From Emptiness to New Possibilities:  launching a child to college 

Understand the internal process of this major life transition and its impacts on the entire family

 … you and your entire family are embarking on a major life transition, and Gail is uniquely qualified as an author, life coach and parent to guide you through the emotional process of “letting go” and recreating a fulfilling new second half of life for yourself as well.

  Sign up now for any of her related fall offerings:

  •  A six-session, one-on-one coaching package (hourly sessions, two times per month September to November), available via phone.
  •  A Saturday workshop, Sept. 24, 1 to 3 p.m., in the North Shore MA area (place to be determined depending on size of group).

 For high schools, parent associations, youth and family service agencies, and guidance departments, you can book Gail now to teach her four-part workshop series, “Transitioning Parents of Seniors for Life Beyond High School.”  The ideal time for this workshop is January through April.

 To sign up or learn more, contact Gail at 978-887-1911 or



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  • angela says:

    Hi Gail, what perfect timing this is for me. Tomorrow is my first good-bye to my firt born daughter. While she will only be two hours away, she won’t be home until Thanksgiving. We both agree that this is good plan as it will give us both a chance to adjust to our new situations. I will visit on Parent’s Weekend in October. My heart is breaking as we pack her belongings into the truck. I try to put on a brave face so that my 13 year old daughter and husband don’t feel as though they have to comfort me. I don’t want comforting. I need to feel this “emptiness” and come to terms with it. I am losing my new found “girlfriend”. Over the past year she has matured from a teenager to an interesting and introspective young woman who I am only now getting to know. She is so mature and so wise I can’t wait to see the beautiful, smart, empathetic, successful person she is destined to become. But I’ll have to wait months at a time to catch glimpses of this metamorphosis, and then savor those moments with her when come. She has been my inspiration and the wind beneath my wings. How blessed I am to have had her as my teacher these past 18 years.
    Thank you for your words, the timing is impeccable.
    Your friend,

    • Gail says:


      Thank you for sharing your wisdom, particularly your courage to face your own “emptiness” with such exquisite self-care and respect for your daughter. It seems paradoxical that these daughters of ours become our best friends, and relate to us at wonderful new levels, just before they must do the developmental work of separating so they can soar in their unique ways. I think it’s wonderful how you acknowledge your daughter as your teacher these past 18 years….the new lessons you will share will help you each grow even further. You have been an amazing role model. Hugs to you tomorrow when you launch your “baby” into the world to become all she is meant to be. Go pamper yourself with a massage afterwards, and acknowledge yourself for all you did to help her get to college. With much care, Gail

  • Mary Ann says:

    Hi Gail, This is the first fall that I do not have a child in college. I remember driving my third to college, we felt like we were the only ones without a father present (I too had just divorced after a 28 yr marriage and sold the family home)we felt so very different than all the other people there that day. But you know, my children have all accomplished great things while riding these waves. (One even graduated from URI !) I have learned to ask for help, and I have also learned to pay attention to signs that come my way….greater gifts do await us all! Thanks for your inspiration! I have had to make changes but I still have my gift that was given to me! I have had to make changes in careers to survive but no one can take away my true gift of being a talented painter and loving mother of three. Thanks so much for your sending this- Mary Ann

    • Gail says:

      Mary Ann:

      And what a gift you gave all my readers, particularly those from single-family homes where the send-off can sometimes feel even more isolating. Congratulations on following your path, too, to become a talented painter while also a loving mother of three. You certainly appeared to have claimed your empty nest in very fulfilling ways as your children soared in their unique ways. I love your line about learning to pay attention to signals that came your way, and for inspiring us to know that “greater gifts do await us.” When in a major life transition, it is sometimes challenging to see the rewards for all the growth that occurs. I so appreciate that you shared with us all the gains. Happy fall…and I hope to see one of your paintings soon. Gail

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