Nothing is Something

1269 Relax and Succeed - They are the chosen onesThey were sitting in a coffee shop. The decidedly unsettled woman twitched a statement his direction. “I can’t paint.”

“You painted all of those beautiful paintings in your house, and quite a few hanging in other people’s houses too, like mine.”

“There’s no point.”

“You enjoy it.”

“Not like this.”

“This isn’t painting, this talking about painting.”

She was already done her coffee. She leaned over toward the garbage and ditched it. “This is a kind of torture, being stuck like this. Constant procrastination, no work. No achievement, no sense of self-respect. But how could I think I was gonna get that from something so fated? So pointless?”

“I like the paintings I own of yours. I take pleasure from seeing them. Don’t you enjoy people liking what you’ve offered?”

“Praise is uncomfortable for everyone. It’s too rare. Feels weird. And my problem is bigger than procrastination–although that’s huge–my problem is metaphysical. It’s… philosophical. It’s spiritual. It’s so huge it’s not even my problem it’s the problem. With everything”

“Oh oh. Then it’s a problem for me too. What is this problem we have again?”

“Everything comes from somewhere.”

“Why is that a problem?”

“It’s just a giant universe of pool balls, clicking and clacking away. We live inside a math formula.”

“What?”

She caught the eye of the bearded guy behind the counter then looked at her companion. “You want another one?” He signalled he still had 90% of his existing drink. She held up one finger and the barista nodded in understanding. “This whole thing. Everything in the world was predetermined by every other thing. It’s all just billiard balls.”

“I’m going to need a bit more detail.”

“Just think about it: why are we speaking English?”

“…Because we’re in Canada? Because our parents speak English?”

“Exactly! See! We had no choice. English came to us, we didn’t pick it off a list of German and Japanese and Italian and Swahili. Our lifestyles. Why do our Dad’s both own businesses–because their Dad’s did.”

“We’ve got friends who own businesses whose parents worked at jobs.”

“Yeah, but those people didn’t want to be like their parents, so in a weird way the parent still dictated what they did. It was all inevitable. All billiard balls. Every song, based on the notes developed by others, using the timing systems developed by others, and played on instruments invented by others. Everything is so derivative. There’s no point.”

1269 Relax and Succeed - Millions long for immortalityThat last statement shot the eyebrows of her companion up. He was thoughtful while she fidgeted even more, checking her phone. He broke her attention away from it when he spoke. “What if it’s not balls?”

“What?”

“What if it’s not balls? What if the reason it feels like there’s no point is that we’re not all individual balls in search of individual achievements. What if we’re all just one big flowing mass? Then aren’t your actions both kind of predetermined and also awake and alive? Isn’t it possible to be fully occupied with fulfilling our ‘own’ aspects of that flow? Doesn’t an ocean crash on anew on every shore? Isn’t that both ours and the–and part of the ocean of everything?”

She seemed genuinely impressed that it hung together in the end, but it didn’t line up with what she already believed, so her initial reaction was rejection. “That’s too easy. It ignores the nihilism of it all. I cannot paint with any kind of meaning. All anyone is ever going to get is just another reflection of every force I ever encountered as life unfolded me like a predetermined plan.”

“Can’t all of that be true and still leave you space to feel like you’re a part of a great oneness? Isn’t that what a muse is? The hand of God needs fingers right?”

Eyebrow. “Hand of God?”

“I was shooting for poetic.”

“Ah… no.” In the background the barista was foaming her latte.

“You’re the one going on about metaphysics and nihilism. I’m not even sure either one of us knows what those words mean exactly.”

“I just want my life to have meaning. Is that so much to ask from the universe?”

“How would I know? What’s meaning? Meaning changes as we mature anyway. I don’t see the crap we did at 10 years old the same way now that I did then. I can only assume that since everything else in my life is like that, now will be like that too. So what’s meaning? Meaning’s some floating idea we temporarily layer over an experience or a memory. But what’s so great about that? People have different opinions about the same book. Why can’t that be wonderful? Why do they have to agree on a meaning?”

“What’s the point?”

“That’s like asking for a meaning. Can’t life be the point? Can experience itself be the point? What do people who find out they’re dying want? They want more experiences. They might have had a lifetime of crappy ones and they’ll still want more when you tell them it’s over. There has to be something to that. Picasso was billiard balls too. I remember you getting pretty excited about Picasso. Wasn’t that joy real? Wasn’t that a thing? Isn’t that a point? To just…–live that? Doesn’t the universe need witnesses?”

This catches her attention. “Witness?”

“What if we’re not here to do anything? What if we’re just here to be? To see it. What if we’re just all witness-actors in the universe? What if this whole wondrous thing only happens because each part does its part, for every other part?”

1269 Relax and Succeed - A life worth living“Can’t be. I’m sitting here. I’m not doing anything. I’ve stopped the flow of the balls.”

“Ooo. Look at you. The grand ball stopper. The whole universe? Come on. But: what if this procrastination is just you misunderstanding that this is not when you’re supposed to create? What if you’re living this, but you don’t even understand why yet, like the Kierkegaard quote? But what if this is all part of that big flow? What if you being stuck is perfect? I don’t know art, but I’d bet another coffee that Picasso got stuck too.”

She’s thinking. This logical explanation has thrown a wrench into her nihilistic negativity. Despite herself, she’s finding some gleeful exuberance bubbling down low. “I dunno. Seems too easy. And where’s it leave us anyway?”

“Under that explanation there is no ‘us’ and no ‘where’ anyway, so it’s a nonsense question.”

The barista drops down her coffee and quickly swipes her cash card. While he’s going through the motions she continues her conversation. “Right. Oneness. Flow. That was good”

It’s as though he’s realising it more than stating it. “If everywhere is the same place then your lostness is inside foundness. Right?”

She’s confused herself. “Now you’re getting too deep for me.”

“You wanna get out of here?”

“Actually if it’s cool with you, I think I might head home. This actually makes me want to paint.”

“What’s the point though?”

She tosses a sugar wrapper at him. “My own joy of the doing.”

“That sounds worth it to me.”

“I’ll hate you during the hard parts.”

“What are the hard parts?”

“The parts on which there is no paint.”

“Ah. I get hated right to the end then.”

“I get a painting out of it though.”

“A nihilistic painting?”

“I dunno. I’m going to experiment with flow.”

“I guess I’ll wait to see it.”

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

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