Being Nothing in a Something World
So much of life is about being someone special—creating a persona that others will like so that they (someone, please) will love the beautifully constructed avatar we have meticulously created. Krishnamurti once said, “The ego is a ring of defense around nothing.”
I was thinking about how my sense of self began. When we were babies, we cried out for someone to feed us or change the warm, squishy pop in our diapers. We had real physical survival needs and relied on someone to help us. Then, at some point, we started to observe and mimic the psychological reactions of our caregivers. If we did something ‘bad,’ it was met with a frown, scolding, or smack. If we did something ‘good,’ the response was a smile, kiss, or positive affirmation.
In school, we were rewarded for the right answer and the correct behavior. Broken people and a broken system molded us. We learned to cognitively maneuver toward a desire to get a positive response from our environment and push our real feelings into the shadows of our subconscious. I pushed my feelings into a bottomless well inside myself, and I’m still pulling up the bucket of my heart.
For the most part, I followed the rules and did what my parents and teachers expected of me. I started to rebel when the tension inside became too much to bear. I wanted to test the boundaries and feel what was on the other side of being ‘good.’ I had no idea who I was, but I knew I wasn’t intrinsically who people wanted me to be. This was my first step toward knowing myself in a long journey that continues to unfold. It’s a rocky ride with twists and turns, two steps forward and one backward.
I traded one avatar for another—surfer, lover, entrepreneur, psychonaut, musician, author, poet, partner, friend—the list goes on. Deep down inside, who am I? When everything is stripped away, what remains? Could I be absolutely nothing, as Krishnamurti suggests? I sure feel like something.
I frequently sit with the Sam Harris meditation app Waking Up. There is this exercise where he snaps his fingers and asks us to find the person doing the looking—my answer is always, ‘Right here, Sam.’ I know the correct answer is that there is no center to consciousness, and nobody is looking, but I can’t seem to get there. In some moments of silence, I sense a glimpse of what this might be like. Mostly, I am right here waiting to catch the snap like an echolocation device.
Somehow, the heart feels like the key to unlock this puzzle. It definitely can’t be through the doorway of the mind. I keep reading about linking the two—heart and mind—but making that connection feels like a superpower. It is elusive and mysterious. I think being nothing has a lot to do with the heart and love—unconditional love, specifically, another mysterious superpower. Jesus seemed to get this one right.
They say that being nothing is everything. I’ve heard it my entire life from various sources and teachers. In Buddhism, they call it sunyata, or the voidness that permeates everything. Jesus said in Galatians, “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” Shiva, my latest fascination in the Vedanta lineage, “is the nothingness from which everything has come.”
So here I am, surrendering to my limited access to superpowers, praying for my next glimpse of the divine nothingness that is everything. I continue to explore how to drop into my heart, searching for that key to unlock my superpowers. It seems counterproductive to look for a superpower to nothingness. I still want to be special. I continue to look for love—both conditional and unconditional—as I forage through the jungle of my heart. But the real question is, if I become nothing, will you still like my Instagram post?