Awakin.org

Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

I Am Nothing

--by Paul Buchheit (Aug 30, 2011)


What will you do if you're too tough to be a good woman, too sensitive to be a good man, too selfish to be a good husband, too lazy to be a good employee, too shy to be a good friend, too caring to be rational, too fat to be pretty, too effeminate to be straight, too introverted to be a good leader, too smart to be kind, too young to be taken seriously, too old to make a difference, or too far behind to even get in the race?
 
These are all false standards and false dichotomies, but they are so common and so ingrained that we sometimes believe in them without even realizing it. And this leads to a mountain of insecurities, because nobody measures up to these crazy standards (and nobody should). But even if we don't believe in these things, it still matters what other people think, right? What will the neighbors think? Or how about our co-workers, or the people at church? And so everyone works to hide their insecurities, and they look around at their peers for comparison, and maybe they feel bad because everyone else seems to have it easy, to have it all figured out. The truth is, nobody can see the truth anymore. They are all working to hide the truth, because the truth is that they are afraid of who or what they really are. So they all put on a show, and they pretend to be a good whatever. Or maybe they rebel, and make a point of being a bad whatever, but then they are still under the control of that false standard, and they are still not being themselves.
 
That is all so exhausting.
 
I am nothing. It's simple. If I were smart, I might be afraid of looking stupid. If I were successful, I might be afraid of failure. If I were a man, I might be afraid of being weak. If I were a Christian, I might be afraid of losing faith. If I were an atheist, I might be afraid of believing. If I were rational, I might be afraid of my emotions. If I were introverted, I might be afraid of meeting new people. If I were respectable, I might be afraid of looking foolish. If I were an expert, I might be afraid of being wrong.
 
But I am nothing, and so I am finally free to be myself.
 
This isn't license to stagnate. Change is inevitable. Change is part of who we are, but if we aren't changing for the better, then we are just slowly decaying.
 

By returning to zero expectations, by accepting that I am nothing, it is easier to see the truth. Fear, jealousy, insecurity, unfairness, embarrassment -- these feelings cloud our ability to see what is. The truth is often threatening, and once our defenses are up, it's difficult to be completely honest with anyone, even ourselves. But when I am nothing, when I have no image or identity or ego to protect, I can begin to see and accept things as they really are. That is the beginning of positive change, because we cannot change what we do not accept and do not understand. But with understanding, we can finally see the difference between fixing problems, and hiding them, the difference between genuine improvement, and faking it. We discover that many of our weaknesses are actually strengths once we learn how to use them, and that our greatest gifts are often buried beneath our greatest insecurities. 

 

--Paul Buchheit, in I Am Nothing

 


Add Your Reflection:

Send me an email when another comment is posted on this passage.
Name: Email:

31 Previous Reflections:

 
On Sep 13, 2017 Christoph wrote:

 An interesting concept and worthy of more thought..........................death to self?



On Oct 18, 2011 Lekhraj wrote:

Beautiful summary...this can be directly experienced by practicing Vipassana. As one goes deeper and deeper into practices observing the reality as it is, layers and layers of conditioning start to peel off and one discovers the nature of impermanence at all levels...I am nothing...enabling one to respond to situations around us in day to day life with equanimity. May all be happy.



On Oct 1, 2011 Deep wrote:

Great i like .........



On Sep 3, 2011 Jagmohan Singh wrote:

The write up provides you enough food for thought. Life is full of so much uncertaities, each one of us feels insecure. The insecurity is the dominant thought and a prominent determinator of most of our actions and responses. We may be subliminally aware of all this. Comparisons, evaluations of other peoples' possessions - material/mental is automatically prompted, as  mind wants to know its own preparedness in responding to a given situation.

Thanks for a beautiful write up



On Sep 3, 2011 Lloyd wrote:

 There is nothing to be! We are all essences or souls , if you will, of an aware consciousness which is God and which is within and without us alway. Our 5 senses serve up conditioned responses to the illusions that pass as reality. This is an illusion. We are conditioned from before birth to react and relate to what we perceive, taste, touch, smell, feel and see. This is very limiting for there is a witness within each of us, some call it our soul, and it is aware of everything that is now, was before and also what will be. It is also referred to as a divine matrix of aware consciousness/God. We can tune into this constant explosion of life at any time, meditation is the most accepted form of transcendence and the best known. Thank you for reading. Sat Nam!



On Sep 3, 2011 Romy Turla wrote:

Wow! thank you so much for this wonderful reflection. I'm so happy now that I'm free to let go all my insecurities in life only because of a false self or image.  Please continue share your wisdom for it is a gift of yours to be nourished.  God bless!



On Sep 1, 2011 Robert wrote:

Thank you for your "I am nothing" is truly part of my inspirational sayings !



On Sep 1, 2011 InspireWeb wrote:

Very powerful and very inspiring your thoughts are very deep. Everything that you said is so true. Thanks for inspiring me.



On Sep 1, 2011 vidños losbaños wrote:

 wow ! ure amazing ! i like it , can you mind if i have a copy of your work , i just like to share it to my friends .. because im realy inspired !! Godbless you more !! :))



On Sep 1, 2011 Gaelle wrote:

I know you will enjoy it. Ce texte relaxe vraiment l`esprit.Take a look and tell me wht u thk. 

Breton Fayette

 



On Sep 1, 2011 noone wrote:

everything will come back to its source in the end - we come to this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. thank for sharing this great point of view.



On Sep 1, 2011 Derek wrote:

 Wow.... that was beautiful   : )



On Aug 31, 2011 Coralie Kepa wrote:

Tis is the most amazing fing ive read in lyk... ages... the title made me nt want  read it bt... wen i gt startd, i ddnt wnt  finish... i wntd 2 no more bt it alreadi told me everyfing i had  no... i lyk tis very much ^.^...



On Aug 31, 2011 shankar wrote:

good one



On Aug 31, 2011 Minoo Pal wrote:

Great thought!!

I agree , when we leave all bagagge of expectations from ourselves what we attain is self fulfillment and peace within , whicih is essential for peace outside.

 

 



On Aug 30, 2011 Madhulika Awasthi wrote:

The article is simply amazing and awesome .Wonderfulll!!!!!!



On Aug 30, 2011 margaret wrote:

I found this facinating, having just found myself in terrible place in my life and had to look at so much stuff...what has come up is the "labels", in my case, "you are  trouble maker". Label for life, since a litltle girl, that little girl who couldn't help but move around to much. 51 years old and still caring the label. 

Ricky...I want to know more, I might be 51 but still need help understanding what you are teaching teens. How can this be. Seems I have fooled myself all these years. How I want to be nothing, what a releif that would be.

 

 



On Aug 30, 2011 Lloyd Sevigny wrote:

 This title or attitude should be "I am something" and then one knows that there are possibilities too numerous to even worry about. I understand the approach to I am nothing but the phrase rings to a negative tune. Tat Tvam Asi is a Hindu mantra meaning "I am that" which in fact also means I am everything in existence. If one is trying to teach that we have strengths which have been hidden from us or that we have overlooked, a positive statement is a more potent manner in which to communicate. Sat Nam!



On Aug 30, 2011 Carolina wrote:
Thank you very much for this entry!
I am touched by the way you think and could only wish that more people would think and act like this.

By realising that I am nothing, it is much easier to let go and just be. Be me and not what others want me to be. Be me and therefore be free.
Unfortunately, as you pointed out, in todays world hardly anyone is himself anymore - and as one could argue, therefore not free either. But don't we always speak about this mysterious "freedom"? What is it? And why do so many people want to experience it while they still are not themself? How can one think "I am free" - if in the next second they feel obliged to hide what they really are? I have had many thoughts like that and have been hiding for a long time. But ever since I accepted the "real me" and started living in peace, I feel much better and can handle life easier.

In the end, to be free I just have to be myself and live and act according to that.

On Aug 29, 2011 John Anderson wrote:

 “When I died, I realised that I was neither my thoughts nor my feelings, neither my breath nor my body, neither my ego nor my mind, neither my spirit nor my soul, neither my emotions nor my actions, neither my children nor my possessions, and neither my desires nor my achievements: I was no-thing.  To be no-thing, I recognised, was also to be every-thing, but whilst I am being human, I am contained within space and time: I am finite within the infinite.  Nature’s immutable laws create the conditions that allow us to be human, which is to desire to be separate, to forget where we came from and why we are here, to go out on a journey of self-discovery and get lost in our possessions, to become lonely and need love, to wake up to our pain and suffering, and finally, to let go of everything we thought we were and come back to who we truly are.”– John S Anderson – The Art of Being Human  See full.

 “When I died, I realised that I was neither my thoughts nor my feelings, neither my breath nor my body, neither my ego nor my mind, neither my spirit nor my soul, neither my emotions nor my actions, neither my children nor my possessions, and neither my desires nor my achievements: I was no-thing.  To be no-thing, I recognised, was also to be every-thing, but whilst I am being human, I am contained within space and time: I am finite within the infinite.  Nature’s immutable laws create the conditions that allow us to be human, which is to desire to be separate, to forget where we came from and why we are here, to go out on a journey of self-discovery and get lost in our possessions, to become lonely and need love, to wake up to our pain and suffering, and finally, to let go of everything we thought we were and come back to who we truly are.”

– John S Anderson – The Art of Being Human

Hide full comment.

On Aug 28, 2011 Navin sata wrote:

I  Am Nothing   * Egoless self  =  Still waters....SILENT STATE OF MIND               In the world every thing that is created and maintained will die.  This cycle and understanding this world as it is is a never ending journey.  I journey begins but never ends until we have understanding. I am nothing.  When we remove all masks at  that exact same moment  we see everlasting light within.Ancient Sage Shri Bhartuhari explains eternal truth.  The seeker of truth must have detachment and sacrifice.  {VAIRAGYA and TYAAG}, then and only then, one becomes fearless when one transforms their ego to universal ID.  The old self falls of  like dead tree leaves.  We are all journeymen and we must be vigilent every moment because the path we travel is slippery.  Our own mind (ego), will deceive us!  Never give up hope, eventually all of our mask will vanish .   See full.

I  Am Nothing   * Egoless self  =  Still waters....SILENT STATE OF MIND            

  In the world every thing that is created and maintained will die.  This cycle and understanding this world as it is is a never ending journey.  I journey begins but never ends until we have understanding. I am nothing.  When we remove all masks at  that exact same moment  we see everlasting light within.

Ancient Sage Shri Bhartuhari explains eternal truth.  The seeker of truth must have detachment and sacrifice.  {VAIRAGYA and TYAAG}, then and only then, one becomes fearless when one transforms their ego to universal ID.  The old self falls of  like dead tree leaves.  We are all journeymen and we must be vigilent every moment because the path we travel is slippery.  Our own mind (ego), will deceive us!  Never give up hope, eventually all of our mask will vanish .  Brahma Sutra states,  AHAM BRAHAMMASMSMI - mind, speech, and our intellect stops here. always love navin.                                                                    

Hindu sage shri Nisargadatta Maharaj explains : The unchangeble can only be realizeed in silence.once realised , it will deeply affect the changeable.  It self remaining unaffected. this attitude of silent observation is the very foundation of yoga. you see the picture but you are not the picture.                                                                                                                                                                          

Hide full comment.

On Aug 28, 2011 PK wrote:

 'i am' nothing. 'i' am nothing. 'i am nothing.' three different ways of looking at the sentence and they mean different things to me. When 'i' is nothing and the meaning associated with who I am is also nothing, it can truly be freeing sensation. Interestingly, I felt that when I am nothing, I am everything as well. By letting go of limited 'i' unlimited 'i' begins to operate and instead of I being in control, I act and observe with no attachment.For a long time, I played tennis -- 25+ years. There are times I feel that I am stuck -- hit a wall and don't see any progress. The more I play, more I try to improve, even more frustration i experienced. And some times, I just let go of my experience, expectations and the whole stand as a tennis player and just observe while acting. That is when I played my best tennis.It is not just tennis but also in Carroms. Not just in games but also in class room. Not just in teaching, but also in learning. When expectations, guilt, pride, sha  See full.

 'i am' nothing. 'i' am nothing. 'i am nothing.' 

three different ways of looking at the sentence and they mean different things to me. When 'i' is nothing and the meaning associated with who I am is also nothing, it can truly be freeing sensation. Interestingly, I felt that when I am nothing, I am everything as well. By letting go of limited 'i' unlimited 'i' begins to operate and instead of I being in control, I act and observe with no attachment.

For a long time, I played tennis -- 25+ years. There are times I feel that I am stuck -- hit a wall and don't see any progress. The more I play, more I try to improve, even more frustration i experienced. And some times, I just let go of my experience, expectations and the whole stand as a tennis player and just observe while acting. That is when I played my best tennis.

It is not just tennis but also in Carroms. Not just in games but also in class room. Not just in teaching, but also in learning. When expectations, guilt, pride, shame and the identification is let go, I become nothing but beginners mind kicks in and some other door seems to open.

have you tried to consciously let go of your identity and become nothing?

Hide full comment.

On Aug 28, 2011 Thanks wrote:

 @Ricky Beautifully put! I'm glad you are serving teens this way.



On Aug 28, 2011 Ricky wrote:

I would like to share how I help teens apply this.  Labeling is a way for preteens and teens to try to make sense of what is happening around and within them.  It is a survival skill, based on a notion that if the world and everyone and everything in it can be placed in logical containers, it becomes manageable.  Based on this assumption, statements arise within thought and/or deed.  She’s smart, he’s athletic, my teacher doesn’t like me, my stepmom doesn’t understand me, I’m fat, I’m not interested, I don’t matter, it doesn’t matter, we don’t matter, I can’t change, I can’t affect anything, I am a nobody, I’m different, no one cares…and, since all these things are true then, I don’t have to interact; I don’t have to excel; I don’t have to be held accountable or take responsibility; I can be left alone; as long as I am gossiping and talking, I don’t need to know ab  See full.

I would like to share how I help teens apply this.  Labeling is a way for preteens and teens to try to make sense of what is happening around and within them.  It is a survival skill, based on a notion that if the world and everyone and everything in it can be placed in logical containers, it becomes manageable.  Based on this assumption, statements arise within thought and/or deed.  She’s smart, he’s athletic, my teacher doesn’t like me, my stepmom doesn’t understand me, I’m fat, I’m not interested, I don’t matter, it doesn’t matter, we don’t matter, I can’t change, I can’t affect anything, I am a nobody, I’m different, no one cares…and, since all these things are true then, I don’t have to interact; I don’t have to excel; I don’t have to be held accountable or take responsibility; I can be left alone; as long as I am gossiping and talking, I don’t need to know about the other side of the story; since you exist in this little container labeled ‘loser’, ‘queer’, ‘stupid’, ‘jock’, ‘math whiz’, ‘science geek’, ‘hick’, ‘health nut’, ‘gangster’, ‘gay’, ‘goth’, ‘weak’, ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘brown’, ‘red’, ‘yellow’, ‘rich’, ‘poor’, ‘slow’, ‘gutless’, ‘homely’, ‘homeless’, ‘filthy’, ‘smelly’, ‘blind’, ‘deaf’, ‘smoker’, or ‘freak’,  I don’t have to relate to you…

The idea that we are separate and therefore unaffected by others usually compounds teen depression and anxiety, especially when they come to realize that deep down, others carry wounds of words and labels too.  Sometimes they pick up a label insensitively hurled in their direction and justify carrying this burden because they are insecure along their personal journey, and the label helps define their experience at that moment-scarring them for life even. 

The power of words, and the tenacity with which we cling to these words, results at times in a lonely and suffering existence.  Sometimes we believe our own negative self-talk and insist on labeling ourselves with our thought patterns.  The writer’s conclusion of ‘I am nothing’ is quite powerful.  Frankly, we are at the same time nothing and everything, small and not small, empty and expansive, experientially finite and infinite.  As teacher, I get to help my students, these teens, realize this and begin to reach out and connect to others in the most significant and life changing ways.  To help them negotiate through these years with ease and empathetic understanding is my extreme privilege and honor.  This is how I too let go of the labels pushed on me.  And I love it. 

 

Hide full comment.

On Aug 27, 2011 Thanks wrote:

@Bill Miller, Great reflection!



On Aug 26, 2011 Kinjal wrote:

Thanks for sharing this wonderful passage. It got me thinking about the times when I reflect inwards - what do I think then, am I nothing or I am what I am and accepting that and working towards a change that I want to be, a change in myself that I want to see. Somehow thinking of myself as nothing leaves me even more confused (for the lack of better word). I really like what Bill and Smita shared, echoing my thought off them as well :). Sometimes external factors and sometimes internal stimulus make me want to change certain things about what makes me, me - I used to try and incorporate changes in myself in an attempt to live up to all those expectations whether I agreed or not, I have grown since then. Being afraid, insecure, wanting attention and care, too young, too old are only blocks we've set ourselves up for. In that scenario I would like to apply the philosophy of I am complete: I have enough love and care and attention and I am in the right state of physical wellbeing and men  See full.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful passage. It got me thinking about the times when I reflect inwards - what do I think then, am I nothing or I am what I am and accepting that and working towards a change that I want to be, a change in myself that I want to see. Somehow thinking of myself as nothing leaves me even more confused (for the lack of better word). I really like what Bill and Smita shared, echoing my thought off them as well :). Sometimes external factors and sometimes internal stimulus make me want to change certain things about what makes me, me - I used to try and incorporate changes in myself in an attempt to live up to all those expectations whether I agreed or not, I have grown since then. Being afraid, insecure, wanting attention and care, too young, too old are only blocks we've set ourselves up for. In that scenario I would like to apply the philosophy of I am complete: I have enough love and care and attention and I am in the right state of physical wellbeing and mental aptitude. It is an ever growing process :) Thanks for reading.

Hide full comment.

On Aug 26, 2011 Bill Miller wrote:

There are two ways to interpret the concept of “nothing” in this context - and I think we often confuse them in the West. “Nothing” can mean “the absence of anything” or it can be read as “no thing” - i.e., a phenomenon that cannot be limited, narrowed down to, or identified with any particular subset. As applied to the self, I like the latter interpretation because it’s expansive, opening up a range of greater possibility. I dislike the former because it basically negates one’s own existence. I don’t think that is what we were put here for. In spiritual circles however, people sometimes fall into a mindset that denigrating the self is somehow the “holy” thing to do. And there is a mathematical precedent for the above! One formal definition the number zero is not “the absence of anything” but “the sum of all positive and negative integers”. In other words, zero is not nothing or a par  See full.

There are two ways to interpret the concept of “nothing” in this context - and I think we often confuse them in the West. “Nothing” can mean “the absence of anything” or it can be read as “no thing” - i.e., a phenomenon that cannot be limited, narrowed down to, or identified with any particular subset.

As applied to the self, I like the latter interpretation because it’s expansive, opening up a range of greater possibility. I dislike the former because it basically negates one’s own existence. I don’t think that is what we were put here for. In spiritual circles however, people sometimes fall into a mindset that denigrating the self is somehow the “holy” thing to do.

And there is a mathematical precedent for the above! One formal definition the number zero is not “the absence of anything” but “the sum of all positive and negative integers”. In other words, zero is not nothing or a particular thing, but essentially everything.

That’s how I like to view the human spirit.

Hide full comment.

On Aug 26, 2011 Conrad wrote:

I found this to be very enlightening. Thank you for the opportunity to respond.My first thought is from Shunryo Suzuki , who said : "not one not two", meaning I am not one and not two. That sounds much like I am nothing. I believe I am more connected than disconnected to everyone and everything but the connection is not perfect. I think only nothing is perfect. This implies to me that everything is perfect as it is. Being no one going, nowhere is the same as being everyone, going everywhere. Some of my friends see me as pushy and aggressive and that probably is true. If I were closer to nothing, I expect I would be less pushy and aggressive.  Less pushy and less aggressive would make me kinder and I can't think of anything more important than that. Warm and kind regards to everyone. Is the universe speaking as nonone says the things?I love Smita's and mailman's comments. Warma and kind regards to everyone/the unity of no separate one.  See full.

I found this to be very enlightening. Thank you for the opportunity to respond.

My first thought is from Shunryo Suzuki , who said : "not one not two", meaning I am not one and not two. That sounds much like I am nothing. I believe I am more connected than disconnected to everyone and everything but the connection is not perfect. I think only nothing is perfect. This implies to me that everything is perfect as it is. Being no one going, nowhere is the same as being everyone, going everywhere. Some of my friends see me as pushy and aggressive and that probably is true. If I were closer to nothing, I expect I would be less pushy and aggressive.  Less pushy and less aggressive would make me kinder and I can't think of anything more important than that. Warm and kind regards to everyone. Is the universe speaking as nonone says the things?

I love Smita's and mailman's comments. Warma and kind regards to everyone/the unity of no separate one.

Hide full comment.

On Aug 25, 2011 Thanks wrote:

 @Smita, wonderful reflection!



On Aug 25, 2011 Smita wrote:

Byron Katie says that if she had a prayer, it would be: "God, spare me from the desire for love, approval, or appreciation. Amen."  Hearing this sometimes makes me laugh uncontrollably!  I find that life is so much more fun when it doesn't matter to me whether someone likes me / hates me, approves of me / disapproves of me, thinks I'm great / thinks I'm nasty.  I cheat myself *big time* when my attention is on these issues.My dear brother Samir and I were talking this morning and we both agreed that it is so much more interesting when our attention is on our inner experience rather than on what's going on outside.I'm actually starting to enjoy the experience of people "not liking me"--it's a good reminder to draw my attention inward, and to really experience that who I am is independent from what anyone thinks about me (whether other people pay me compliments or regrets).  And *that* frees up so much energy to enjoy life!  See full.

Byron Katie says that if she had a prayer, it would be: "God, spare me from the desire for love, approval, or appreciation. Amen."  Hearing this sometimes makes me laugh uncontrollably!  I find that life is so much more fun when it doesn't matter to me whether someone likes me / hates me, approves of me / disapproves of me, thinks I'm great / thinks I'm nasty.  I cheat myself *big time* when my attention is on these issues.

My dear brother Samir and I were talking this morning and we both agreed that it is so much more interesting when our attention is on our inner experience rather than on what's going on outside.

I'm actually starting to enjoy the experience of people "not liking me"--it's a good reminder to draw my attention inward, and to really experience that who I am is independent from what anyone thinks about me (whether other people pay me compliments or regrets).  And *that* frees up so much energy to enjoy life!

Hide full comment.

On Aug 25, 2011 mailman wrote:

Glad to see Paul dive into the fallacy of expectatations. The eastern philosophies play down the self and there by freeing it from these false choices/expectations as paul says. There is deep wisdom in doing and being without expecting. but it's very hard to do. very very hard.