Nothingness & Forgiveness

From a concussion to start my year and the dizzying dreamlike states of nothingness I entered into to the same nothing-like states of memory I find in relation to a head injury from years ago, I discuss how I navigate this in terms of post-traumatic growth whilst also suggesting how we ought to consider this growth in the ways we learn to forgive the other too.


Towards the end of December I went into a haze, and there is an odd thing to going into the new year with this experience of nothingness. Alan Watts, in speaking of the beauty of nothingness, would say, “the most real state is the state of nothing” [1] because it is what we came from, it is where we are heading, and it is everything in between, from the space in between spaces of atoms to the blankness when we close our eyes. And yes, describing nothing as this immense and profound understanding of reality is beautiful and fascinating, but when I was wading through that haze of nothingness, nothing felt further from reality: for at least two weeks even the air seemed unreal.

This dizzying descent into a dreamlike nothingness to end my December and begin the new year wasn’t from some intense spiritual realisation of Buddhist philosophy like Watts’ poetic description of the beauty of nothingness, it was harsh, unkind, and somewhat trivial in the sense it could just as easily occur to anyone on any day.

But what caused this nothingness? What can produce that which is simply nothing? It was just a bop, and that was all there was to it. I just simply received a rather nasty blow to the head which resulted in a concussion.

It wasn’t from some wild Christmas party or an exciting Hogmanay adventure, but from the mundanity of life and the clumsiness of my odd and unknown proprioception which seems to fall in on itself, as my speeding wee oblivious noggin collided with a doorframe which I could have sworn was not there a moment ago whilst I was trying to tidy things up. I would go on to reference the doorframe as goalposts for a while following the incident for some reason, I suppose it makes me seem more adventurous and question less how such mundane incidents of tidying up can be so fragile. But doorframe or goalposts, I passed through them into nothingness.

I don’t remember much from that day, the whole week seems like it didn’t happen in my life, as though I must have read about some character in a different time and different place. But it was me. It is the inverse of a phenomena I sometimes experience where, courtesy of my hyperphantasia which makes reading an extremely visual experience for me, I sometimes recall a memory to then realise it was actually from a book and not my life; I find it funny how I feel as though the sparsity of memories in those weeks makes my life seem as if it were from a storybook, as though that nothing does not belong to me, as if one could possess a memory as something more than the nothingness of thoughts through time in the first place.

Another memory like that comes with another head injury, but I am not sure if it were the trauma or the trauma that caused it: there is a differentiation here as there was the physical trauma and the psychological trauma associated with this. I was assaulted whilst walking with my friend in Dublin. That whole day has been transformed into a storybook of dreamlike nothingness: there is greater clarity to it, but the memory is all remade up and it is as if I read about it in a book now. This disconnect was not just a production of time, but was present from the moment it happened, and, in that sense, I am glad there were CCTV and eyewitness accounts; although I have a feeling those eye witness accounts, like all, will be subject to the same degrees of personalisation and differentiations from whatever reality may be than my own memory of the event, but the same themes will have been there. I forgive the person who did it, I understand how situationally things occurred even though it was an awful thing to do, I still forgive them. He was a young lad with a lack of support, there were mental health components, and he was out with friends with a particular culture of masculinity whilst intoxicated on various substances, and these are just the things I am aware of: there was probably a lot going on and I hope things are better for him now. I hope he has thought over that night too, probably detached in some storybook fashion like me, and I hope he can forgive himself for doing what he did because he deserves that and just like me, he deserves to be able to grow past this, heal, and learn to be better than the nothingness of the moment which I sometimes find myself pulled back into as something more than the dreamlike state it has become.

That whole day might be filled with some dreamlike nothingness, the kind that happens when you hit your head too hard or someone else goes to do it for you, but there is no nothingness to the possibilities for growth beyond that day. In psychology there is this term which I feel, in our fascination with the darker side of things, often gets overlooked in the popular sphere: post-traumatic growth. However, I think one thing that often goes amiss here, when trauma and growth from that is focused in solely on victims (as much as I dislike that word, I don’t know what else to use here) rather than those with a history of offending, is the sense of forgiveness we can not only develop for the other but the hope for growth in them too. I think we forget through processes of dehumanisation that even the perceptually most awful of people who have done the most awful of things deserve the chance for forgiveness and the chance for growth, and that they can grow beyond a traumatic event even if they were the perpetrator, they can become better beyond this. No one is undeserving of humanity, and in that sense, no one is undeserving of forgiveness, even if it takes us a lifetime to get there. And here in lies my issue with cancel culture, with life sentences, with heaven and hell, and executions, they impose a particular set of morals at a particular moment of time with the presupposition that the individual has the inability to change, when, in reality, both our morals change through time, and we change as individuals as we grow. So, as I start a new year, in a new form of nothingness as a completely different individual than I was when I was attacked those years ago in Dublin in that older set of nothingness, I am reminded of our ability to grow, our ability to heal, and, most importantly, our ability to forgive.


To the young lad in Dublin, I hope life is treating you well and I hope you are growing more and more each day.


Live Long & Prosper


[1] Watts, A. (2013). Alan Watts On Nothingness – FULL [Video]. Retrieved 11 February 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pd_uqpH4bag&ab_channel=AdamClark


A Grief Observed

Using C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed as a starting point, I write on the identity we find in others and how one comes to grieve this loss of sense of self when they lose the other. I discuss how we find ourselves done and undone by others in this sense, in that community may offer us a sense of wholeness but it can also decentre us in loss. Although this decentred understanding of ourselves is hopeful, even if it is hard in times of loss; we are made and remade, done and undone by both ourselves and the other and we continue to grow.


“If H. ‘is not’, then she never was. I mistook a cloud of atoms for a person. There aren’t, and never were, any people. Death only reveals the vacuity that was always there. What we call the living are simply those who have not yet been unmasked. All equally bankrupt, but some not yet declared.” C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed [1]

I do not know if it is because Lewis is ultimately questioning God’s fairness in grief or if there is an irony in me in particular finding such solace in a line from a very Christian author on a topic of this nature, but I love this book and I love this line in particular. This line reminds me of that popularised Rumi quote where he says that we are, “the universe in ecstatic motion” [2], telling us not to act so small for this very reasoning. I really like this thought that we are all part of this great cosmic dance, and of course I have to call it, existence that is, a dance when discussing Sufi mystics. It is such a wonderful notion and it simultaneously produces so much meaning and so much insignificance.

As much as I think I believe in nothing, I do get a lot of solace from spiritual literature like this. This idea of existence as a dance, an unravelling, a great doing and undoing, as everything and nothing all at once makes me think, well, if we are everything, if we are the universe in ecstatic motion then is there a point to all of this? If we are so expansive and so reduced, so present and so absent, is there any sense to it all? My brain comes to Alan Watts here, an interesting fellow, who said, upon realising a messy meaningless to it all that, “you only go on, if the game is worth the gamble” [3]. His idea is that, well it might all be nothing, but it might also be everything, so maybe it is best to hedge one’s bets, and to be honest, if that is all one has to go on, it is a pretty safe choice to carry on. One of my favourite nuggets of wisdom which Watts ever gave was this:

The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” [4]

I really like that last part, “as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves”, but when one comes to that in a time of grief, at a time when a part of oneself feels gone insofar as the other was not fully where they were and the self not fully where I was, we were in the crossing between one another; we decentred each other in such a way that I was a part of the other and the other a part of me, we were both part of the same whole. As connected beings who constantly live in the in-between as we pull on each other’s gravity and motion, how are we meant to not grasp out beyond ourselves in such a futile manner when part of ourselves is always beyond us? Can I ever be content as incomplete? There is this beautiful episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called The Chase where the character of the Ancient Humanoid says, “there is something of us in each of you, and so, something of you in each other” [5] and it is this point right here: I may hate the “they live on in you” spiel, but we exist in the other, and they exist in us, constantly decentred in one another’s gravity and motion. We are not just one person, we never really could be. We are forever made and remade by the other, reaching beyond ourselves until they are necessity, so that when you lose them, when they are “unmasked”, as Lewis would phrase it, it is as though an amputation takes place.

In speaking of becoming “unmasked” in death from Lewis and weaving through Watts, I am reminded of Gold Leaves by G. K. Chesterton, who Watts would often quotes in his lectures. It is a beautiful hymn which is ultimately about growing old and finding God in everything, and although I am not religious I do adore this hymn for its message as I seek to find that certain magic in everything. I often sit and marvel at the fact that those clouds of atoms may do the beautiful things they do in the moment that they do them, and the certain magic in knowing the impermanence to it all, it only makes it all the more precious. As I have it memorised, and as it is so very beautiful, I will leave you with Gold Leaves today:

Lo! I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold;
Grey hairs and golden leaves cry out
The year and I are old.

In youth I sought the prince of men,
Captain in cosmic wars,

Our Titan, even the weeds would show
Defiant, to the stars.

But now a great thing in the street
Seems any human nod,
Where shift in strange democracy
The million masks of God.

In youth I sought the golden flower
Hidden in wood or wold,
But I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold.


Live Long & Prosper


References

[1] Lewis, C. (1961). A Grief Observed. Faber & Faber.

[2] In Your Light – Rumi by st64. Hello Poetry. (2014). Retrieved 28 November 2021, from https://hellopoetry.com/poem/610590/in-your-light-rumi/.

[3] Watts, A. (1960). A Game That’s Worth the Candle. Musixmatch.com. Retrieved 28 November 2021, from https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Alan-Watts/A-Game-That-s-Worth-the-Candle.

[4] Watts, A. (1989). The Culture of Counter-Culture: Edited Transcripts (Love of Wisdom). Tuttle Publishing.

[5] Roddenberry, G. (Writer), Menosky, J (Writer), Moore R. D. (Writer), & Frakes, F (Director). (1993, April 26th). The Chase (Season 6, Episode 20) [Television series episode]. In Berman, R. (Executive Producer), Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount Television.