Nothingness: An Investigation
What is nothingness? It is that which compels us to try to give our lives some purpose, some meaning. It is the emptiness that seems to have no end and no beginning. It is the bleakness of a night bereft of moon and stars. It is the void. And we seek to fill it before we begin to understand, thereby choosing that which will never obliterate it in our haste.
Though we may imagine it to be capable of being defined, it is too nebulous, for it is neither a state or a condition. It is an illusion. Yet, it exists as a reality in our own minds.
We give it both mundane and novel names such as “boredom,” “inertia,” “ennui,” apathy,” and “dissatisfaction.” These names represent a feeble attempt on our part to describe that which is more like a slumber of the soul than anything else. It flourishes in those of us who go through life without noticing the wonder and beauty of the world. It makes its home in the heart of the man who has closed himself off to experiencing anything that will affect him deeply. It is existence, without life.
Where men err is in believing that a life spent primarily fulfilling their needs and desires will subtract from or obliterate the nothingness. They imagine that focusing all on the gratification of the self with bring them the happiness that they think will fill the void. But that which is done strictly for ourselves cannot bring us lasting satisfaction.
Whether we realize it or not, we all want something more. We want to feel that we are significant—not for what we do but for who we are. The allure of recognition draws us into its net.
Yet sadly, since most of us have little idea of what we want to be recognized for, the wish remains as vague as a forgotten dream. We are able to seek attention and admiration, but we have no idea why these things mean so much to us. And in not finding the “why” behind our desires, we remain unable to attain them.
Nothingness, if we identify it for what it is, can teach us something. It can serve to motivate us towards change. But as long as we ignore it or try to cover it up with that which will not remove it, it will only draw us deeper and deeper into its vortex.
After awhile, we may actually begin to identify ourselves with the nothingness. The void may become a “comfortable” place for us to reside. It does not require us to examine ourselves too closely for it obscures our vision not through distracting us but by emptying us.
Through an empty vessel, nothing is perceived. And when nothingness takes over us, we become empty vessels. The contents of our lives lose all meaning. That which was real appears false and that which is false appears real. For much as it is without form or structure, nothingness has a power all its own. It is like a fog that hypnotizes our souls.
Our only escape lies in removing all false names that we identify the nothingness with. We must strip it of its identity, lay it bare so that it will be seen for not all that it is, but rather all that it is not. Just as our fears are more often products of our fanciful imaginations than anything centered in reality, so nothingness gains its power only through how we perceive it.
Giving something a name always adds to its significance. But that which has no name remains in the shadows and oftentimes disappears. Nothingness is anonymous. Unlike envy, bitterness, and malice, it is not a cancer of the soul. It is only an obstacle if we choose to make it one.
When we hide behind masks or play a part, the nothingness expands. Since it is only pretending to be real, it can only be strengthened by that which is false. So, as long as we choose not look inside ourselves and peer into our hearts and souls, all pathways out of the nothingness will come to a dead-end.
The primacy of the will as conceived by Arthur Schopenhauer is not enough to pull us out of the nothingness. Our will can do many things, but it only has power over our minds. If in our hearts we cannot convince ourselves that our life has a clear purpose and direction, our will cannot persuade us.
We have to believe with both our hearts and our minds that we exist for something other than our own self-fulfillment. Otherwise, the nothingness will keep drawing us back to us. Jean-Paul Sartre said in his chef de oeuvre, Being and Nothingness, “Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being, like a worm.”
If this were so, then no matter how many times we extricate ourselves from the nothingness, it will always be capable of entrapping us yet again. In a way, nothingness prevents us from feeling the weight and reality of our own existence. And in not feeling our own existence, we are able to maintain the illusion that others do not really exist either. Indifference to mankind is not difficult when existence itself feels meaningless. Are we to give others more significance than we attach to ourselves?
Perhaps, this nothingness is what provoked Erich Fromm’s famous words about love being the “only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” Is it possible that Fromm is right? Could the force of love be enough to conquer nothingness?
If love gives a sense of definition to our existence, maybe it could. For once something is defined, it gains meaning. Through love, existence may actually be transformed back into life. But the love has to be genuine or it exists only as part of the nothingness because all that is false is nothingness. And as long as there is nothingness, reality is only an illusion. And any love that is formed will remain merely yet another illusion.
We must differentiate between the real and the false. That is the key to breaking free from nothingness. Love is powerful enough to free us, but only if it is genuine. For only genuine love will replace nothingness with the reality nothingness has attempted to rob us of.
Peace, Love, and Joy,
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