This I Believe

Sharlene - Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania
Entered on June 8, 2008

I believe in…Nothing. Let me say that with a different emphasis: No Thing. I believe in No Thing because the openness of the universe exceeds limited human knowing. When we give our feelings and ideas names and labels, we freeze what may be ineffable and constantly transforming into tags we cling to, sufferings we create, jousting one label against another: politics, religion, race, gender, sexualities. Our smallness grasps at labels to fix meaning, and we use them to beat each other over the head, rather than to open the heart. There is too much pain by belief in any Name for truths that evade us.

My skepticism, this odd kind of faith that comforts and awakens my compassion, began when I was sixteen; a young man became a friend. One night, we sat on a concrete wall facing the restless gulf — a moonless night, sky black and water black, the waves churning their white noise — giving and receiving. This movement accompanied the crying of my friend. In his rebellion, he returned one night to his invalid mother’s home, drunk and angry. He fell upon his bed in the early hours, barely aware of his mother calling for him, knocking on the other side of his bedroom wall.

When he awoke, sober, his mother had died calling for his help. This young man’s grief and guilt was overwhelming. I held him as he wept. He wanted forgiveness: there was no one but himself to ask. He wanted peace, and there was earth, a sky of infinite stars, and the ocean to accept his confession and mourning. And me, to witness and accept without judgment.

All we can do is witness our mistakes, horrors, and hardening with eyes that do not look away, arms to hold open for the best and worst in us, and to go on, carrying our wounds, burdens, baggage, giving and receiving.

In Zen, the symbol of infinity is the enzo, in calligraphy, a broad single stroke of a circle, left open, a void, infinite, symbol of meditative no-mind, the state of enlightenment. Things of the world, “the Ten-Thousand Things” as ancient Taoist philosophy calls them, represent ideologies and categories we humans in all cultures have invented and find so useful.

But they are not to be clung to should we identify so strongly with them that we turn ideas, beliefs, and judgments into to fetishes, banners, slogans, and irreconcilable differences that result in hatred and violence, labeling, judging, excluding, othering. The Ten-Thousand Things — ideas and labels — can be useful as guides, qualities that identify and guide our reason. But over-identification with any belief, ideology, or category that makes True Believers, limits our knowledge, destroys even reason. It damages our capacity for love and reconciliation and leads us to active ignorance, another name for denial. The world is bigger than we can name, split, or control. And clinging to Any One Thing shuts down our ability to change, adapt, and understand — others and ourselves.