Full and Empty Turnings

     I call turnings full when they are conscious, lit by intention and empowered by a precisely timed starting gesture. I call turnings empty when we have them without knowing we are in them, or when we are not aware that an opportunity has come -- an  opportunity sets the groundwork for the future.
     In a full turning, one accepts reversal of fortune. In an empty turning, one resists it. In a full turning, a person makes choices from the heart of his or her vulnerability. In an empty turning, the person denies or resists the vulnerability, making authentic choice unattainable. In a full turning, a lover realizes the consequences of his actions on the beloved. However, in an empty turning, love lacks consideration. The heart of caring fails.   A full turning in wisdom serves others. An empty turning in wisdom seems to serve oneself, but really does not.

Empty turnings fail in five ways:

1)    When the turning comes it is entered, but without powerful affirmation and without clear consciousness. The turning resolves, but it is empty. Moving mechanically through our moments of highest opportunity, we generate only a weak fanning of possibilities. We come to rest on a low adaptive peak, with little potential energy for a next move. Environmental, cultural and technological forces drive the changes. The person, by long habit entrained to these forces, really follows the line of least resistance. However, he does not know it. He calls himself realistic.

2)    The turning is never fully engaged. Instead, one precipitates a premature turning from a shallow place along the way and leaves the scene too soon. Love stays love, but goes from approach to separation too early, in various combinations. Wisdom stays wisdom but goes from withdrawal to return too soon, or vice versa. The reversal in a premature turning is defensive in nature, a flight from the full force of life.

3)    Another kind of failure comes from delay. We stay in withdrawal too long, or in approach in love, fearing separation. We fear the turning because we know that different actions will be demanded of us afterward. We will have to confront the insubstantiality of our fantasies. We may be shamed before others for our weaknesses. We hang back from the transformational opportunity until it passes. Then we enjoy a depleted, late turning.

4)    Where in a full turning point there is one great moment of reversal, in certain troubled turnings we tremble indecisively. We go back and forth. We endure reversals and then reversals of the reversals. A rhythmic vacillation ensues, a tremor of intent. The competing personality parts struggle for dominance. Hours or days pass, or longer. We cannot establish order around a new set of passing rules. We neither change nor remain the same. Instead, we oscillate around a center, unable to enter, unable to leave, unable to retreat, unable to advance. We endure the experience of the Dark Night of the Soul continuously. Repeatedly we flirt with despondency. We cope with interminable fear. Finally, the disorder gets familiar. It wears us down and numbs us out. In love, Mr. Numbnuts cannot commit and cannot break up. He “can’t live with her, can’t live without her.” Something from outside eventually resolves the impasse. Someone, something, or some series of events chooses for us. Last of all, death makes the choice. If we are spiritually inclined, we may even delude ourselves into thinking, when we review our lives, we were Taoists and “went with the flow” – but we did not. We went in the direction imposed by the concatenation of forces.

5)    We cross over. A crossover is an abrupt and inappropriate jump from love to wisdom or wisdom to love.


     It happens close to a turning point when the temporal patterns are most easily disrupted. For example, there you were writing the great American novel, now you have suddenly fallen in love. Who has time to write? However, when the intimacy gets too hot you jump back, you are writing your novel again. Crossovers are defensive shifts: They let one escape from oneself just when the going gets tough. Instead of hanging in there, one jumps away. The defensive crossovers relieve the short-term physical stresses but they undermine the integrity of the process. Crossovers are usually made by jumping from the weak leg of one dynamic to the strong leg of the other. People who agonize over why they cannot experience deep love, or people who never have a satisfying creative accomplishment, may be avoiding the transformational turnings by crossing over.