Nothing gained? Good!

image from Wikimedia Commons

image from Wikimedia Commons

Nothing much to say I guess,

Just the same as all the rest,

Tryin’ to throw your arms around the world.

– Lyrics to the song Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World , by U2

It’s been nearly two months since my last entry. Between then and now, a lot has happened. I had relocated – for how long, I don’t know – in a new country (Cambodia, to be exact), and also taken up a part time job teaching art-related subjects at a local college. And that is on top of the illustration and writing work I am still regularly contracted to do. (As for the book Trackless Paths, it is already printed, but the publisher and I have yet to finalize the date to launch it). And then there is the new relationship.

In other words, there’s scarcely any time to reflect. Until now, that is. And yet, if you were to ask me what insights, or lessons have I attained these past two months, I’d have answered, “Nothing.”

That wouldn’t be accurate of course, if I were to take it from the perspective of say, learning how to live alone (and sharing the apartment with a colony of wire-chewing ants, three lizards and an elusive mouse) , learning how to be with someone, and learning how not to lose your head when you’ve been told that the furniture you ordered a month ago will only be completed three months later.

So that is not what my ‘Nothing’ refers to. Rather, it refers to that sense of inner growth; with the all the new changes in my life, I’d expect to be a changed person as well. After all, that is what happened to Elizabeth Gilbert when she lived in three different countries for a year and ate, and prayed, and loved right?

I am reminded of a saying by Robert M Pirsig, (of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance fame), “The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring there.” We don’t lose our neurosies simply by changing the external circumstances of our lives- although changing those circumstances are frequently the very step towards inner change. Very often, I find the same me responding to a difficult situation. The same impatience, the same desire to confront, or run away from unpleasant feelings instead of sitting with them, the same worries whether I have given my 100% to each day. ( There’s a slogan commonly found on T-shirts sold in the markets that reads “Same same but different.” I’m tempted to make one that says “Different but same same.”)

But paradoxically, the awareness that ‘Nothing’ has been attained during this period of time is in itself an attainment, one that I would say, is a very important one. Anyone who has ever read enough books on spirituality knows that your life only truly change when you change what’s within you; what I had written in the previous paragraph would have been as obvious as daylight to them. And yet that is only head knowledge, an intellectual understanding that we glean from someone else. And if enough people experience it, then it must be true. But the real knowledge that will satisfy us is the one that we experience for ourselves. Spiritual experience, not spiritual knowledge is the key to our growth. The experience that your inner self changes little in spite of a change in the external environment deepens your awareness of fundamental spiritual truths that no third-person knowledge can. In that sense, this ‘Nothing’ isn’t something that is meaningless or even nihilistic (although at times I do feel nihilistic); it is in fact a very nourishing form of ‘Nothing’.

This Nothing sometimes greets you at the end of a very long tiring day, a Nothing that has no goals, no demands on you, no expectations, no judgements. This Nothing acknowledges your frustrations, your fears, your discontentment, but tells you it is alright to not have to work on them all the time. This Nothing is the gap between thinking and striving. This Nothing is the Here and the Now.

This Nothing can be difficult to admit to, because we always feel validated only when we have Something to say. (and so we – no, I – very often say a whole lot of nothing) Or that we have attained Something for all our efforts, all our big plans. Something must change, Something must grow. We must be in a different place tomorrow, anywhere but Here. But I guess I have to confess – Nothing is happening.

I’m not entirely sure if that can be a good thing, but I’m willing to hedge my bets on it that it is.


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