Sunday, August 7, 2011

Creating Nothing

I find that I am fascinated by spaces where there is nothing.  These moments and spaces, they’re everywhere when you stop to notice them.  They’re the moments behind what we call “reality.”

When I play my harp, I play around with the notes, add a roll here or there, and that changes my creation.  But when I focus on the rests—the moments of silence—it changes not only my creation of music but also goes beyond that and makes it my own.  The silence between—the empty space—is where I fall in and become one with the music.  I’ll be honest and say I don’t really know how to read music, so the rests and the counts are all mine anyway…but the Isilence between the noise is what makes the music—and me—come to life.

In my high school years as a dancer, my teacher said again and again to “take a breath!” before the next step.  I never understood what difference it made whether I breathed before the step or not: I couldn’t focus on the movement, pointing my foot, turning my head, balancing, aligning my hips, smiling AND breathing.  It wasn’t until college that I realized what she was looking for: she was looking for the moment of suspension, of nothingness, that comes when one stops to inhale before a movement.  In that breath, everything else stands still and I fall back into my body and accompany myself into the next movement.  It’s in that moment that everything else comes together.

There are other examples, of course.  Meditation.  A creation of nothingness in which everything may be encompassed.  Negative space.  The places between what is there.  What is in these silences and emptiness?   Is it nothing?

Turning somewhat philosophical, nothing is, by the nature of the word, a concept, and a concept is a thing.  Therefore, nothing is something, purely because it must be something as a concept.  And in those moments I described, the nothingness is obviously tangible: the silence, the breath, the presence in meditation, and the negative space.  Those things that make up the nothingness are beautiful.  That which is something could not be known without nothing.  The nothing between the words, the nothing behind the objects, the nothingness we fear, it’s there.  Present.  Real.  And beautiful.

Nothing.  No-thing.  No-thing-ness.  Nothingness. 

As a therapist, I see myself as a creator of space.  A creator of nothing.  And in order to create this nothing, I must also be no-thing.  I must, myself, be full of no-thing-ness.

If you were an eraser...
what would you look like?
Everywhere we go, we are regarded as a thing.  A student.  A therapist.  A sister, brother, daughter, son, husband, mother, wife, lover, partner, employee, client, boss, a teacher.  Even in the places where we know no one, we are still something: a group member, part of the crowd, a customer, a pedestrian, or another car on the road.  Where there are names assigned to who we are or what we do, there are also labels attached to us: a good student, doting daughter, lazy employee, strict teacher, annoying customer, slow pedestrian, or the dirty blue Subaru in the right lane.  When we have those labels, we interact with others as those labels.  When we put those labels on others, we assist them in becoming the labels we assign to them.   It’s impossible to be nothing.

When someone comes in to therapy, they are coming with a lifetime of labels and defenses and barriers and ideas about themselves and others that make it difficult for them to be who it is they want to be, do what they want to do, or live in the way they wish to live.  They wear many masks and are afraid of taking them off.  So, the job of the therapist is to help the client erase the labels, the masks, and the defenses.  You can see where they were, and there will always be a mark—after all, it is impossible to create nothing where there was once something—but the therapist creates a space for the client to grow where there might not have been space before.   She creates a no-thing-ness for the client to fall into, so that becoming himself is possible.   When a parent and child come in, or a couple, the therapist erases the walls between them until they become only scars, allowing them to see one another as themselves, and fall into a relationship in the empty space between them.

The client is the pencil, drawing themselves, their world, their ideas and perceptions and walls and masks based on how the rest of the world is drawing them.  When the drawing becomes too dark, or too filled up, he seeks an eraser to help him make sense of which lines are good and which lines are bad.  He complains of feeling “overwhelmed” by his picture of the world, or “sad” because of the way the world looks, or “anxious” that there are too many lines, or “isolated” behind all the squiggles and lines and marks defining him.  And so the eraser helps the pencil to see which lines are good and helpful and meaningful and necessary and which lines are bad or unhelpful or meaningless or unnecessary.  There will be lines that are too dark and permanent to ever erase, and lines that are so solid they will always be there.  Then the erasers job is just to smooth the line, integrate it into the rest of the picture, or make a tiny space in the middle of it, breaking up the line so there is a place where nothing and anything can slip through. 

I am definitely a cute, kid friendly eraser...
unlike these killer hamster erasers.
Erasers are flexible.  They rarely get bent out of shape.   They are really somewhat innocuous—one generally never thinks about an eraser until it is needed.   Once they have completed their work, they are barely noticed at all.  They create a space where there is nothing, leaving only a memory of what was there.  Yet, as they help to erase, they are also affected—there is a slight mark left on them as well, leaving them connected to the client as only a memory of how a no-thing-ness was created where both client and therapist were able to truly be.  It’s a vague memory of a time when one was able to connect with another in a place where there was nothing, so everything became possible.

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