On The Importance of Nothing

Nick - Portsmouth, Virginia
Entered on September 25, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I was sitting under a tree the other day and thinking about what the content of this essay would be, what it is I believe in exactly. That’s a big question. I sat thinking about what I believe in for hours. Nothing came to mind.

So – I believe in nothing.

This is not a paper about me being eighteen years old and, as per the job description, really having no idea who I even am, let alone what I believe in. Even though – let’s face it – if anyone of any age thinks they’re even close to figuring it all out, they haven’t even gotten started.

I really do believe in nothing. Nothing is irrefutably pervasive of every facet of everything. Watch this:

Far eastern philosophy spends a lot of pages on the impermanent nature of the world around us. The thought is: everything is impermanent. Trees, grass, birds, insects, great blue whales and human beings alike all die in time; civilizations come and go, the earth itself was once nothing and will be again someday. As everything we have or build or do or think will ultimately be gone, the thought goes, nothing is really real. And so it follows, of course, that nothing is the only thing that is really real.

Nothing is one of the few things people have persistently believed in for thousands and thousands of years. What better a thing (?) to believe in?

The Tao Te Ching – which is a really old book – mentions:

We mold clay to make a cup, but we’re really using the empty space in the center.

We build walls to make a room, but we use the empty space they close in.

We make wheels to spin, but every wheel needs a hole in the center to be useful.

The point being: something is only useful to the extent that it helps us utilize nothing.

Without nothing, then everything is useless! You can see it everywhere:

You can’t have a painting without a blank canvas underneath; just like you can’t have music without a blank silence underneath. (Of course they say that silence – an aural nothing – is golden.)

We gauge the time we spend working and laboring and stressing (probably over nothing) against the time we spend doing nothing. We call it ‘enjoying ourselves’, but we only enjoy it because we’re doing nothing, really.

The absence of light or harmful, burn-y sun rays is what makes the shade of a tree so amicable on a hot day. The absence of that same light is what allows the night sky to show us the stars (many of which are even as we look at them already gone).

Nothing is what’s left of the food when you’ve eaten all of it, and what’s left in your cup when you’ve drunk all the drink. It’s the nothing in your stomach that made you hungry in the first place.

A spot of blankness in an otherwise comfortably predictable communication will leave anyone tingling with anticip—

. . .


So much of the specialness of being with someone you love draws from those agonizing hours you spent in their absence.

Our world revolves around nothing: The only certainty, they say, is that nothing is certain. So don’t think I choose to believe in nothing just out of intellectual laziness or ennui. I just know enough about anything to know that, really, I know nothing!