THE JOY OF NOTHING: WHAT IT IS, WHY YOU NEED IT, AND HOW TO GET IT
by Charles Carreon
The Joy of Nothing is defined as the Nothing that gives Joy. Such a Nothing cannot be conceived as a mere absence of content that you could preserve by keeping things out, like never carrying cash, so you can honestly tell street people, "I have nothing." Rather, the Nothing which brings Joy is something you could actually give to a street person, with or without legal tender to leaven the gift.
You might wonder what benefit a street person could obtain from a gift of Nothing, since they already have less of everything than the rest of us. Abundant lack is their condition. Wouldn't more Nothing just aggravate their situation?
No, that's not the case. A solid hit of Nothing is exactly what a person needs when they're down on their luck and down on themselves. Most people, from street people to the Masters of the Universe who rule a world of their own conceiving from their Manhattan towers, are utterly bereft of Nothing. The wealthy wouldn't know where to find Nothing if they suddenly realized how much they could get from it. The wealthy are also so obsessed with getting something for nothing, that paying something to get Nothing wouldn't appeal to them, so they wouldn't even try to buy Nothing with their money.
In seeking to comprehend this Nothing that brings Joy, I am going to avoid metaphors. Metaphorical discussions about Nothing usually shade into solipsism or nihilism. Solipsism and nihilism are fanciful notions that arise from terms like "nothing" and "everything" without first defining them clearly. So the nihilist says something like "everything is nothing," and the solipsist replies, "then I am nothing," but with all of the operative terms undefined, it is truly their conversation that is nothing.
The "Joy" in the title isn't just marketing fluff -- it's the crux of my argument. This Nothing cannot be mere absence, and must be a source of Joy for you and me.
This may strike you as blatantly outrageous. Joy, you respond, is a product of experience, and experience is a product of events, and events are something, not Nothing!
Furthermore the notion of "Joy" is associated with something ephemeral, evanescent, an emotional will-o-the-wisp that it can be very dangerous to pursue. As a mature person, you have likely reconciled yourself to a life in which you experience tiny sparks of Joy in a jumbled universe where boredom, anxiety, fear, and even terror play a greater role than Joy. Perhaps it's easier to understand Joy, at least it seems that way among the common crowd, when we talk about the "Joy of cooking," or the "Joy of sex," or these other lusty sources of pleasure in our physical life. But when I try to reach beyond these few, hackneyed sources of "Joy," I find myself running out of steam. When I get serious about what Joy means to me, the best example I can come up with is the reunion with my loved ones after a trip away, or a reunion with close family members whom I rarely see.
Can we define "Joy"? If I were asked to define Joy, I would say that it is a state of mind that is simultaneously fulfilled and open, and lasts only as long as we do not fear its disappearance. That's why Saturday night is so much more Joyful than Sunday morning, when our precious weekend is already beginning to disappear. Or at least, it used to be that way back when people had jobs and enjoyed their weekends and dreaded their Mondays. But you get the point. Joy lasts as long as we aren't thinking about losing it, and fear and Joy do not appear to coexist. When our fears are relieved, Joy often follows, and when fear arrives, our Joy departs.
When we experience Joy, there is always an underlying sense of satisfaction, of having received something we wanted, like contact with a loved one, or possession of a treasured object, or of course, relief from fear or danger. If you can imagine a life free of fear or danger, a life in which you and those you love are safe and secure, you will almost certainly experience Joy arising just from the imagination. But you won't dare to indulge in that sentiment for long. I would suggest to you that, because fear is far more prevalent in our minds than we are inclined to talk about, Joy and abundance may be hidden right behind a wall of unacknowledged fear. And just suppose that wall of fear turned out to be unnecessary, based on false assumptions -- what would that wall turn into? Nothing. Joy could be that close. That might account for how we continue to believe in it, even when there is so little to be found.
The search for Joy is often a prelude to pain. In Joy, there are many potential seeds of feeling that emerge. The first emotion is often desire to sustain the Joy, followed by fear of losing it, which as we previously discussed, is the beginning of losing it. Thus, tragically, Joy is the birthplace of endless sorrow. The effort to capture Joy is a form of desire, and desire often enlists anger as its henchman, to procure by force the "object of desire" that we identify as the source of Joy. So Joy that comes with strings attached, that arrives on the winds of circumstance and retreats when we pursue it, is dangerous. It draws us in feverish pursuit of objects that can be captured only briefly, if at all. This pursuit leads not to Joy but simply to more pursuit.
To pursue desired objects, be they people, places, actual physical objects, or sensual experiences, is to be a slave to Joy. If we are slaves to Joy, we are never able to look it in the face, as an equal force, in relation to ourselves.
How can I speak of Joy, that arises in our own Self, as a force distinct from ourself? So let's look at that Self that chases Joy. When I do, and I'm not saying you should see what I see, but when I look for the Self that seeks Joy, I see an interior space that Joy illumines with invisible light. In this space, every other play of mental forces has its existence. Both external perceptions and inner thoughts and feelings have their being here. This space, this light, these images and shadows, are all entirely insubstantial. I cannot show them to you. I cannot pluck the flower I see in my mind and give it to you. It is made of this Nothing of which I speak. I cannot show you the true color of the turquoise waters of Havasu Falls and the red rock depths of the Canyon, yet I can recollect their color at will. I can see the color of the water, and the shape of the cliffs. I can hear the sounds of the Falls and the voices of the Canyon birds. I see and hear it all in Nothing.
So you see, I haven't dragooned you into the usual nihilist insult session where you get called nothing and sit there and take it. This Nothing of which I speak is your very Self, my Self. Having seen it, we will not henceforth ignore each other's existence. We will, rather, be more aware of the amazing, non-substantial medium in which we have our experiences, Joy and all the others.
So if all your experiences are all of the same Nothing-substance, does that mean Joy isn't special? I suspect the answer is yes, in one way, and no in another. Yes, in the sense that, if you objectify a Joyful experience, and start the pursuit of Joy that ends in the spiral of unrequitable desire, then Joy is the same as any other experience. But if Joy is understood as the attitude of fulfillment and openness, then it is a very special way of appreciating the space of our awareness. It is a place of balance and understanding. In Joy that does not decay, because there is no fear of losing the experience, the reality of our great, inner Nothingness is evident. And when we look at other people, their wonderful inner Nothingness is apparent to us as the source and impulse of everything about them that we can see, hear, touch, smell and feel.
Our experience of life is not static, you may have noticed -- experience flows. It flows from one present to the next, without any gap. In this flow, we can experience ourselves as a thing among things, blown along like a cluster of leaves swept up in the wind. If our attention shifts from our form to our experience-realm, with its Nothing-substance, and self-illuminating appearances, then we experience ourselves as space. The winds of time reorganize the shapes appearing here endlessly. We possess this space completely, and spontaneously experience fulfillment and openness. Joy has been waiting for us here all along.
American Buddha was prescient and courageous enough to take down predators wearing Buddhist robes back when their misdeeds weren't shouted from the pages of global periodicals. We've stoked up the fire again, so you can see these gems, sparkling in the embers.
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