the nothing…

when i was younger, i thought it was possible to find the Truth. i should have known better, really: my first literary loves were the french existentialists sartre and camus, the latter of whom especially could not have spelled out the situation more clearly. i accepted their ideas on an intellectual level, and it seemed to me that the discovery of life’s meaninglessness was great news. i could never quite understand why so many others who had read these philosophers took it so hard, or wore themselves out denying it. but though i had read, i had not quite understood, and my very humanness still stood guard against a fundamental (versus merely intellectual) acceptance of the idea that behind every something was not its truth, but a deep and abiding nothing. it took undoing to finally hold me down and make me swallow it.


many modern writers on buddhism and other traditions that emphasize nothingness as a foundation of all existence attempt to pretty it up by saying, “i know, nothing sounds bad, but what they really mean is nothing like no-thing, like no specific thing, cuz it’s, like, everything, bro!” this attitude seems a bit misleading to me, even patronizing; in my experience, the nothing that resides beneath the many layers of delusion is not this mystical everything, but quite simply an absence. i can’t help but wonder if those who care to qualify nothing as a mystical all-is-one stopped peeling back the layers just a little too early. i cant blame them; mystical union, as a direct experience, is perhaps the most powerful and convincing of all delusions, and quite possibly the most exalted experience possible for a human.

but…what was it you’re supposed to do when you see the buddha on the road?


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4 Comments on “the nothing…

  1.  by  HuRa

    Funtastic read Riley!
    Your writing strips it bare and leaves it comfortably nude and aroused for the deep plunge into utter oblivion! So Soon…

  2.  by  Chris

    The skins of the onion: too many tears in peeling them one after the other, and nothing in the very end…

  3.  by  brendan

    Nice piece here. My experiences/perceptions/impressions of nothingness have ranged from that uncomfortable tenderness that I sense lurking behind my thoughts and beliefs when I push on them, to an expansive blackness, filled with what I can only describe as an omnidirectional waterfall of violently forceful whispers, churning in on itself. This churning makes me feel insane. It is raw, primordial, unmanisfested, potential. But it doesn’t DO anything. It’s always about to do something. It feels like being dangled endlessly over a cliff, but never tipping past, to the point of actively falling.
    I used to have this experience as a child, and then once in a while when I was older. I can help but try to interpret it, it’s so interesting! I think of this feeling as nothingness, similar to the nothingness you describe as residing under many layers of delusion. It makes sense to me that nothingness would be an intensely just-on-the-verge kind of potential. Unmanifested, raw, forceful. Man, I just hate writing about it! I wish I could just point to it and say, “See?! That’s the fucking thing I’m talking about!” Ha!
    Anyway, I’m enjoying the work you guys have put together here. The pod casts are inspiring, and I’m trying to stay consistent with the exercises. Been doing them on and off for years, but haven’t made them a true habit. The videos are very helpful too.
    Thanks a bunch!

  4.  by  riley

    thanks for the responses, guys. i think the onion metaphor is perfect. and brendan, i know what you mean by wishing you could just point to it…i guess that’s why we say we write ‘about’ things…but i actually love your description. ‘an expansive blackness, filled with what I can only describe as an omnidirectional waterfall of violently forceful whispers, churning in on itself’ -that’s great. and i know EXACTLY what you mean by the always-about-to-do-something-but-never-does; that ‘vision’ is characteristic of certain altered states i’ve explored – and it is, indeed, maddening. thanks for your thoughts!

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