Earlier this summer, a friend was flipping through my sketchbook on the subway. She came across a page where I had hastily drawn an atmospheric, ephemeral sort of idea with a figure-type shape that was distorted in a field, as if dissipated through the focus going soft, to become a light, energetic point in the midst of gradients of color. (That was the idea, anyway – the drawing itself was some wavy lines on green paper.) To me, it was a moment of sublimation, clarity, freedom — of connecting with the universe on an existential level and vibrating at just the right frequency to exist wholly in the present moment. I dug that feeling, and I scribbled beneath it “the sense of being nothing at all.”
My friend frowned and said, “Oh, that’s so sad!”
I was perplexed by what she meant — had she stumbled on my unsuccessful attempt at a chiaroscuro landscape? She pointed to the phrase and gave me a sympathetic look. It still took me a bit to figure out why those were sad words, until I realized that she was reading them in terms of insignificance, meaninglessness, and neglect. Her take on “being” was somewhat synonymous with mattering, and she elaborated that to be nothing was to have no existence of importance, that you’re not even a thing.
I’ve thought here and there about our different interpretations of that idea and where we each were coming from. She was at a place in her life where she was seeking definitions, I think, while I was trying to shirk mine and escape the things that were overwhelming me. To me, “being” was a term loaded with pressure and expectations, demands for consistency of character and logical actions. Being meant maintaining who I was and behaving accordingly. Being all that I’d been meant forging a future that demonstrated the potential generated by my attributes and circumstances and my various attempts at living up to it (tell me that doesn’t sound like a total drag, all the time). Being meant carrying all the emotional baggage I had to carry and wearing elated smile lines and heartbreak equally on a brave face. Being, when you really think about it, is a genuinely exhausting task, and when I was in that place, the idea of Not Being, or of Being Nothing, was as close as I could imagine to peace.
After spending some time together last spring, a different friend said it was the first time he’d felt at ease in a long while. I wanted to ask why, or what he was thinking to put such a great smile on his face, but I saw there was no point: finally, he wasn’t thinking about anything at all, and that’s why he was so content. I think about that smile from time to time, the palpable relief in catching one’s breath and remembering not to take everything so seriously, and it puts me at ease too. Somewhere in this world, someone is sinking into a sand chair and inhaling the scent of the ocean. Cats are napping in the sunshine, lovers hold hands in their sleep.
I have been on a quest for simplicity and gentleness in my life, and mostly I’ve been finding it. I’ve been trying to calm down, remind myself that there is plenty of time to do all I’m trying to, and that at the end of the day, everything is okay.
I’ve been trying really hard to think positively and eliminate the really awful things I say to and about myself (again, with varying success and plenty of relapses). I still get worked up about things and consumed with anxiety and stress, but I’m getting better at calming down and recentering, so I can focus on one thing at a time. I’ve been breathing.
Since this summer, I’ve adjusted my system of rewards. I used to frame goals around what I would get to do or be if I achieved them, but that in itself is a tremendous weight to carry. Lately, I tell myself that when I finish all the tasks at hand, I can rest and I don’t have to do or be anything. I can do nothing. I can be nothing. I can have perfect stillness and calm, and from that place of peace, when I am ready and unconstrained with Being, I can become anything I want.