Encountering “nothing” as a freedom
Where would something happen if there wasn’t nothing? Everything would be static. There could be no motion between bodies, no music minus silence, no rhythm without pause, no meaning without space between words and sentences, no emptiness out of which new thoughts, new works, might arise. We find nothing in science. We find it in art. We find it in the philosophies of Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre…. We find it in the plays of Samuel Beckett. We find it in the poems of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Rainer Maria Rilke. We couldn’t calculate, compose, or create without nothing.*
The idea of nothing can sometimes be difficult, because we’re pretty much wired to perceive experiences, things, concepts as meaningful. The notion of “nothing” can seem antithetical to common-sense views held in our culture. We live in a world where meaning is attached to almost everything, but not as if we were the ones who assigned the meaning. The meanings we live inside of, and hold as fundamental, define our relationships with the world and give us a sense of who we are. To step outside that structure and encounter nothing as a freedom, we have to pass through and beyond (what to some is) the foreignness of the idea.
The “nothing” that’s available for us to experience is not nothing as a negation of self but rather as an opening for our selves, a clearing that leaves us with the full range of possibility that’s available to us in being human. Nothing is elusive—nothing, as nothing, disappears. While we may get it and then lose it again and again, getting it even once is an experience we never get over. It changes the game. When we are able to access nothing, we are able to create, design, and live with a freedom that’s not available when we create from something.
* Adapted from Joan Konner, You Don’t Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing.
Landmark Forum leader
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