Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash
Not long ago, in a moment of intense personal reflection, I realized that I suck at doing nothing. And this seriously concerns me. It does, because I find myself enamored with this concept and yet, I don’t seem to be moving any closer to it. I’ve tried perusing through serene images of Nature in the hopes of understanding what a sense of doing nothing might actually feel like. I’ve listened to well-intentioned people on YouTube videos who explain in great detail that getting to the point in our lives where we can intentionally do nothing, is essential to living a sane and fulfilling life. I get that deep down, doing nothing with mind or body (breathing and other autonomic systems excluded) may actually be the key to understanding who we are, what we are and where we are going. And still, I seem to be programmed at a very basic level to never stop moving. To assume ambition is a natural state. To revel in never ending accomplishments. To be unrelenting as I compare each and every day to the previous one and wonder – what can I do better?
I am not a man of many goals. And yet, I feel compelled to have them. And if I don’t, if I go weeks or months without being able to check one or two off a list, I sulk and peer inward, looking to see if I am still there and if so, what the hell have I been up to? I seem to be well-rooted in the present, appreciate who I am and what I have become, and while offering up all these high-fives for a job well done, I lament, this missing ingredient in my life and mourn what could have been.
And so, I wonder, how has the pursuit of nothing become such an empowering agent in my life? And if nothing, can be defined as an absence of something, how will I know when I have achieved it?
Many of the articles I read on Medium are definitely about something. Finding a job. Finding a partner. Understanding why current politics is so fucking exasperating. We propel ourselves from bed every morning with the intention of doing something worthwhile, right? Of engaging in something that steers us towards success in business or love or simply in the acquisition of things.
As a result of this continuous but largely invisible force, we have become convinced that something is far superior to nothing. That a small something is, intrinsically, spiritually and often financially better than a large nothing. Something, helps us pay the bills. Lifts us up when we’re down and thinking less of ourselves. Something, can even elevate us up the corporate ladder and line our walls with certificates of accomplishment that declare we have attained various states of it, while we scratch and paw for even more.
Are we genetically programmed to do, so that we can have something? To move in ever-widening circles that reach out into the universe and interact with an ever-expanding need, to influence not only ourselves, but every being we come into contact with? Or conversely, is nothing simply code for a place that we can all aspire to? A place, not so much like Newark or Los Angeles, but a metaphorical place where whatever we have, is fine. Where, whoever we are, is exactly who we should be. A location in time and space where every moment is like a beach chair settling into the sand as we watch the waves breaking. No judgement, no list of corrections. Just us, the universe and the subtle interchange that will never be right or wrong.
Okay, that’s a little scary perhaps, I admit. But why not? I think nothing, in terms of this article and perhaps others out there, is a lot like the concepts of happiness and success. In other words, there is no single definition that covers how we all feel about them. To one person, being a millionaire by the age of 25, is the only reasonable definition for success. And yet, for another, a child writing, “Best Dad ever,” on a Father’s Day card, may be all that one could ask for. And they are both right.
Since I started this long process of introspection, the word nothing has ceased to be so intimidating. It has gradually lost its power to push me around. To stand on the sidelines, like an angry dad shouting instructions to his kid, who is just trying to have a little fun. Nothing, as it turns out, is not the opposite of something. It is not, the lack of anything of importance. It is its own state of mind. A wild card if you will, that when push comes to shove, can be anything we need or want it to be.
I have concluded that I don’t actually suck at nothing after all. I simply have misunderstood its meaning all along. To have something, to place any value on the acquisition of things, or even understand what it means to do so, we must first be aware of its opposite and appreciate its importance. Simply stated, without hot, how would we know what cold felt like? Without a top, there can be no bottom; without failure, success would not have any relative importance. I have pursued something with such dedication and persistence throughout my life, because I was afraid that if I stopped, if I allowed this chase to end, I would be left with nothing. This rather quiet and unassuming word, cousin to anything and everything, became a pariah to many because it was often associated with the lower end of the scale, where scarcity, poverty and hardship lived and ruled.
So, as I wrap up this case file and put all the end notes in place, I am happy to report that me and nothing have embarked on a whole new relationship. We are at a comfortable place now, where neither of us are very demanding and where mutual respect is understood and enforced. And as an amusing byproduct of this inner search, I am having more fun with something than I have had in many years. In fact, we hardly ever argue at all. And if we do, nothing has proven to be an excellent arbiter, who has on more than one occasion, set us straight.