It is something that is most likely to happen right after something big has ended. Maybe you have lost a job, broken up with a romantic partner, or finished and delivered a big project. Maybe two or three things like this happened almost at the same time. The abrupt change has an obvious effect on your schedule. One day you were rushing to keep up and meet obligations and deadlines; the next, you had the unmistakable feeling of time on your hands.
And it does not stop there. With more time at your disposal, you catch up on other tasks that had been lagging or neglected in recent weeks or months. If you continue to work diligently, those too are soon finished, delivered, struck off your list. After a relatively short period of this, life can start to feel positively empty. It only seems emptier day by day as your backlog or to-do list gets shorter and shorter. This is an effect I have come to refer to as the cascade of emptiness.
Though it is likely to feel like a problem, this dynamic is actually one of the great moments of opportunity.
If this is the situation you are facing, here are seven suggestions for making the most of this kind of moment.
- Celebrate. You did it or you survived it, you succeeded or you succeeded in escaping a situation that ended badly, but either way, find a way to mark the moment — probably something that involves people, food, music, and bright lights.
- Rest and recover. Now that you have time to do so, get a full night of sleep. Take a bath with candles. Cook a real meal for yourself. Get real exercise. This is your day to live well.
- Embrace the emptiness. Spiritual teachers have told us for ages that quiet periods and places are where you can find your true self, true purpose, new possibilities, divine guidance, and cosmic understanding. Accordingly, don’t immediately look for a way to distract yourself or to kill time. Take time to meditate, visualize, and reflect.
- Keep working. The backlog might feel small, but is it gone completely? What obligations slipped your mind while your life was so busy? Remember to take the time to clean up any debris left behind by previous projects, or to shed any bad lifestyle habits you picked up under pressure. Even when it seems that you have little to do and plenty of time, it usually works out that you have just enough time to finish everything you meant to do.
- Look for the lesson. In any busy period, it is inevitable that some things go well and others go badly. Usually, think of just one thing that bothers you from recent events and see what it tells you about ways you could be better or do things better. Whether you are coming off a success, a failure, or an uncertain attempt for which the full results are not yet known, the experience is sure to provide motivation to improve in multiple ways.
- Reconnect. Find small ways to help the people around you. This surely includes some people you mostly didn’t have time to talk to during your previous busy period. While you are at it, take the time to understand what they are doing these days. See if they have suggestions for you.
- Dream big. It is easy to underestimate the power of creating something new intentionally rather than as a reaction to a crisis or unexpected event. That’s an opportunity you face only in moments like this when you have the time to do it. If this is your moment to create one thing, what would you want to create? Give it some thought. Then start!
In moments like this, I think of the words of songwriter David Pack, “Endings are only places where all things begin.” The emptiness that follows the conclusion of something noisy and turbulent can only seem quiet and still by comparison, and usually too quiet and too still. It is important to remember that everything that matters has its origins in silence much like this. Don’t fear the emptiness or the empty feeling, but work within it to create something new and better.