Distance to Empty

Most new cars have it; they show somewhere visible how many kilometers one can drive them until there is no fuel left. It’s simple. You know how much is in the tank and the consumption of fuel depends on the way you drive and on the additional features you use, like air-conditioning for instance. But everything is under control, except one thing: at some point and after some distance, the car will run out of fuel. You don’t panic, you don’t have an anger crisis and you don’t get depressed. This is how cars work and there is nothing we can do about it.

Same goes for our lives. We eventually run out of “fuel”. We die. It’s natural, it’s known, it’s expected. The difference is, however, that we don’t know the “distance to empty”, we don’t know how much fuel is left or the length we can cover until it’s all over.

This is one of those situations when your attitude makes the difference. The situation can’t be changed no matter what we do, or feel, or think. It is neither good, nor bad. It ‘is’, objective, real.

I’d say attitude is the way you underline this objective reality, what part of it you emphasize. It’s like a ray of light in a dark room; you can shed light on various areas or objects, and it is entirely up to you what you choose to illuminate. The objects or areas in the dark room will continue to stay the same, unchanged. Similarly, it is a matter of choice to emphasize the fact that there will be a moment when the fuel of the car will be gone, or to illuminate the fact that there is still some unknown distance left to cover until becoming completely still. And finally, it is a matter of choice to focus the light of your attention on the fact that you will die or, on the fact that you still have some time left and you are asked what you want to do with that time.

Life is about nuances, about subtle shades, it’s about what you put into perspective: death or the time left. The “distance to empty” or “the moment of complete emptiness”. While knowing, of course, that you can’t change the rules of the game, you can’t change what is objective, what is real, what is given.

The ability to adjust the ray of light in a dark room, or the focus of your attention in the car or in life, is more or less in your own power. It is your freedom. Some people who find it easy to adjust their focus say “life is a matter of choice” or “you choose your own life”. Other people find this ability nearly impossible to master; everything they do, they cannot defocus from emptiness or from the “distance to empty”. In other words, some people become obsessed with death and the void, and others are so much under the spell of life that they forget they are limited and finite, behaving like they’re never going to die. However, flexibility is the key. Looking into the abyss is sickening; living a continuous present moment of self-forgetfulness is also bad. Being able to focus and defocus – at you own will – is truly liberating.

How do you achieve mastery of focusing your attention? It’s about being proficient in the emotional realm, being able to resist, emotionally, to both the obsession of death and the obsession of living. It’s about observing how your attention switches from one area to another, it’s about knowing what you do excessively and what you find hard to do, it’s about working with yourself at a deeper level. Gradually, you can learn to master your focus, and instead of changing the world or changing yourself, you understand that you are actually changing your focal point and nothing more. It is like in that famous dialogue in the Matrix, the movie, when the boy says something like “you can’t bend the spoon because it’s impossible; instead, you bend yourself”. Similarly, you can’t bend reality; you bend your attention, moving back and forth from death to life and from emptiness to the road left.

Are you absorbed by death and emptiness right now? Are you completely absorbed by mundane pleasures? Take some time to ponder!

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