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


Using the poem Sunrise by Mary Oliver, I explore my thoughts around the beauty, hope, and sense of constancy offered by sunrises. I consider my own spirituality in the indescribable joy I get from a sunrise and how it is a phenomenon that does not discriminate. I tie in ideas from one of my favourite books, Oscar et la Dame Rose by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt, and other sources to look at the almost divine nature of both the sun rising and experiencing it do so. Lastly, I end with a poem of my own.

I have been reading a lot of Mary Oliver recently, courtesy of my girlfriend, and her words have been healing. They seem as welcoming and reassuring as the hands which lent me the book in which I find myself completely and utterly lost in wonder. I amble through verses of Oliver’s lively fascination with the same magic we all may find in this world, in its simplest moments. There is this simultaneously grounded yet unreal quality to Oliver’s truths, as the divine seems to occupy the most mundane moments of what it means to be human, those panoramic visions of a god we seem to find in the simplest of moments: the golden rays of His majesty projected across the sandstone brickwork of our simple craft, our world aglow and afire by the warmth of Her light. We find magic, we find purpose and joy in the simplest of universal truths: that the sun rises, that it warms us, that its light holds us in precious and still moments of joy and company. That no matter how bleak and hopeless and dark each night may seem, the sun will never stop trying, she will always be there to greet us in the morning. In the poem Sunrise, Oliver writes [1]:

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
of India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

And, for me, this goes beyond the notion of simply existing under the same sun. It is more than this, it has to be as we, well, we are more than this. We are more than occupants of a planet, we are more than neighbours, we are more than one people or peoples, and there is so much more to it all than we simply may all know what it is to feel the sun rise. There is this understanding of a joy that does not discriminate, of a god, whoever He, or She, or They may be, that transcends the artificial realities we make for ourselves. If we went back and did it all again with new maps and new countries, the sun would still rise just the same each day, She has been a constant for each and every one of us, for the wealthy, for the poor, for the old, the young, the abled, disabled, black, and white, She still rises. She always will. It is almost as if what it means to be human, deep deep down, far far in, knows no geography, no race, no status, nothing we made ourselves, it simply knows being, as we wake to the heartbeat of a universe that greets us each day. If there is to be a god, they do not know our borders, I doubt they even understand them, despite how we may employ them to maintain our gods. Sunrise continues:

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter

Yet, it is more than simply an indiscriminate sunrise. It is more than this borderless pulse of space and time which decentres us in its own gravity of grace each day. It is more than just the light and heat which wakens us. There is a universal magic to it all, a gentleness known for all of us. The qualia of a sunrise I suppose, in that what I may know and understand as the subjective experience of this formation of rising heat and light is somehow different from and never wholly explainable to anybody else, because they can never experience what a sunrise is like for me. Yet, it is more, as there are these qualia known and unknown to myself, as each sunrise moves me in a different way. However, until recently, more often than not I would miss it. I think many of us often miss these constants because they are so present and we are, well, we are not. I suppose there is an irony to the captivating worlds of distraction we have to hand which make us miss the simplest of beauties which occur every day. And yet if we stop. If we breathe. For just a moment, that “name” Oliver is searching for, it is there.

I have recently been so gently reminded of the softness of a sunrise and the stillness and happiness one can find in a single seemingly insignificant moment of everyday life whilst rereading Oscar et la Dame Rose by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt, as I do every year in the run up to Christmas. It is probably the only book I will ever recommend that one needs to read twice: the first time to grieve and the second to understand. The first time I read it, I knew what I was getting myself in for and I still found it terribly depressing nonetheless, it is about a young boy coming to terms with the fact he is dying from cancer after all; however, the second time I read it, and every time since, it has been one of the most hopeful and beautiful books I have ever known. The young boy, Oscar, starts to treat each day as if it were worth ten years so he may live what he sees as a complete life and the book is structured as letters to God on each of these days. Oscar does not believe in God to begin with, however, towards the end of the book there is one particular sunrise where Oscar wakes to that “name” that Mary Oliver is searching for in her poem:

And there it was, I could sense that you had come. It was the morning. I was alone on the Earth. It was too early for the birds, even they were still asleep, as was the night nurse, Madame Ducru, who was having a wee nap, but you, you were busy composing dawn. Now, you did have some trouble, but you insisted upon the sunrise. The sky began to pale. You blew whites and greys and blues across the sky to fend off the night; you brought the world back to life. You didn’t stop. It was in that moment that I understood the difference between you and us: you are the untirable guy! The one who never gets weary. Always busy working. Like just like that, here is the day! And there is the night! And the spring! And winter! And Peggy-Blue! And me, Oscar! And Mamie-Rose! You must be so incredibly healthy to be always working so hard!

In that moment, I understood that you were there. That you were telling me your secret: to look at each day on Earth as if it were the first time you were experiencing it all.

So, I followed your advice, and I am putting it into practice. The first time. I contemplated the light, the colours, the trees, the birds, the animals. I felt the air pass through my nose, and I breathed it in. I listened to the voices in the corridor which rose like arches in a cathedral. I found myself living. I got chills from the pure joy of it all. The happiness of existence.[2][N.B. this is my own translation from the original French]

I suppose it is more than just knowing that the birds sing and the sun rises, it is knowing that they will do so again. That the sun doesn’t tire on us, She never gives up on us. I am reminded here of that poem attributed to Hafez, but really a misrepresentation by Daniel Ladinsky, The Sun Never Says [3], which is beautiful despite its inauthentic and muddled origins:

All this time
The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe

What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the

It is knowing the Sun as this constant, that She will never not keep trying. That She will never not be so beautiful. That one cannot wake to the warmth and the light of Her glow and, upon looking at how She brings the world back to life, upon really being present with Her, not be pulled by Her gravity and motion in some compelling comfort and stillness which we will simply never have the words to describe.  That She will never not be that “name”, that happiness, that unbounded stillness of godly magic we experience in the simultaneously simplest and most complex universal moments. It is more than just some international god, in the way Mary Oliver reminds us that the Sun will still rise for us no matter where or who we are. It is more than just some outwardly experience, as Oscar reminds us in his mindfulness as he breathes in the stillness of the morning air. It is more than this constant, as Ladinsky reminds us in the untiring love She brings each day. It is each and every one of us in that moment too. As She greets us, so too do we greet Her back. We embody that stillness, and the knowing hope She will rise again. In that moment, in the rising heat and light we know the magic of a sunrise. We come to know that if there is to be a god, whoever They may be, They are not static, They are constantly at work and They are something one is to experience. All the Suns and the Stars, and the Atoms and Molecules, and all the motions and spaces we make in between, if there is to be a god, They are done and undone here. Something that is unbounded, experienced, practiced, embodied. We find God in the Sun rising, but we also find God in watching it do so, in looking at the world each day as though it were the first time we were here insofar as we may see the magic in each moment. There is beauty in so many things, there is this magic in the everyday, those heartbeats to the universe one ought to dance to. In that sense, and this is not a new concept, but I do believe God is more suited to being a verb. Although, God, at least our understandings of a god, is probably more suited to something beyond our language, but for now words are the best thing I have and I say God as a verb much like R. Buckminster Fuller’s [4] understanding of God being a verb insofar as:

“Here is God’s purpose – For God, to me, it seems, is a verb not a noun, proper or improper; is the articulation not the art, objective or subjective; is loving, not the abstraction “love” commanded or entreated; is knowledge dynamic, not legislative code, not proclamation law, not academic dogma, nor ecclesiastic cannon. Yes, God is a verb, the most active, connoting the vast harmonic reordering of the universe from unleashed chaos of energy. And there is born unheralded a great natural peace, not out of exclusive pseudo-static security but out of including, redefining, dynamic balancing. Naught is lost. Only the false and nonexistent are dispelled.”

But for now, whether or not I believe in a god, I do have this sense of spirituality beyond myself; it could be everything and it could be nothing, but it is something and the Sun will still rise each day and I will always be grateful to see Her. She will set and Venus will dance in her absence as the Moon awakens in great mirrored light to inky night skies which will never not be captivating, but regardless of how lost I become in the night to wonder or fear, I know She will return in the morning to ground me once again, to make it all okay. She is a constant and I am grateful to be able to say “good morning” each day.

I have borrowed a lot from others today as it is hard to find the words to write on such a thing, and yet here I am weaving and crafting pieces together to try to make sense of that “name”. However, as I have been reading much Mary Oliver, I feel I ought to share a poem on this. So, I will end today with a poem of my own, Summer Breaths:

And suddenly it was okay to breathe.
Though unbeknownst to me,
As my lungs still clung desperately to the storm of their last breath.
But suddenly,
As if by seas parting
And tides shifting
This great world of ours kept spinning
And Spring returned with his calm joys,
He always did… He always will…
As Winter slowly crept back into the forests for yet another year,
As my legs started to shake,
As my lungs finally caved
Heaving out yet another storm
Clearing skies
Darkness was unknown for miles around me,
And there was Summer,
Appearing once again.
How beautiful she always looks
How necessary she has come to be,
The glowing yellow of her months
A halo to my years.
And suddenly Summer was here again
And she needn’t say what her being implied,
What her warmth and light told me each day.
Summer came and I simply knew,

It was finally okay to breathe.

Live Long & Prosper

[1] Oliver, M. (1992). New and Selected Poems: Volume 1. Beacon Press.

[2] Schmitt, É. (2006). Oscar et la Dame Rose. Magnard.

[3] Ladinsky, D. (1999). The Gift. Penguin Compass.

[4] Fuller, R. (1971). No more secondhand God and other writings. Doubleday.

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


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

[2] In Your Light – Rumi by st64. Hello Poetry. (2014). Retrieved 28 November 2021, from

[3] Watts, A. (1960). A Game That’s Worth the Candle. Retrieved 28 November 2021, from

[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.

Growing Around Grief

I write on Lois Tonkin’s concept of growing around grief and how one learns to live with grief, focusing on a typical bereavement reaction where, although one may integrate the loss and the absence of the other, they still carry the grief. This is to say one does not finish with grief, rather that it is lived and an embodied experience that we may grow with.

Image Description: Growing Around Grief by Lois Tonkin, 1996 - circles depicting that although grief may not reduce in size we continue to grow so that the grief becomes comparatively smaller. the text in the circles reads, "people think that grief slowly gets smaller with time. in reality, grief stays the same size but slowly life begins to grow bigger around it"
End of Image Description

Tonkin’s concept of growing around grief is one that I knew of but had never quite seen so visually until today. It is just one depiction of a definitionally ambiguous concept, grief that is. It is a funny thing to try to define grief, an experience with such universality, and yet when it comes to its embodiment, grief as lived, felt, and truly known beyond its descriptive characteristics, we falter in expression and dialogue, decentred in the loss of the other, as if they buried our words with them. We come to know grief in as many ways as we come to know loss, there is this universality in the differences known to the pains we feel when the other leaves us. There is this commonality to the weight of our losses, to the different ways we come to know the terrible sadness and the bitter joys held in the waves of grief yet to come.

However, Tonkin’s conceptualisation of grief, it is an interesting one and one that holds a lot of truth insofar as grief will remain in that it is typically something that is lived with rather than a finished process, that is to say that one does not reach an end point in their bereavement. You never really finish grief, one may move past the initial bereavement reaction in a typical manner without complications, but grief remains like a shadow waxing and waning in the light of our days as we carry on. And we do carry on, carrying in more ways than one as we are set to carry our losses as we carry our love for the rest of our days. There are of course landmarks of a typical trajectory of grief, but even once things have steadied, once one has learnt to live in the absence of the other, the grief still resurfaces at points: typically this would be at anniversaries and reminders and so on, but life grows around it. The individual grows around the loss. It becomes easier to live without the other, even when their absence once seemed unbearable and unimaginable; life grows, you grow, and it becomes okay again. But yes, I just really like this visual representation because it is true, although the grief may be something one always bears, “slowly life begins to grow bigger around it“, one continues to live and grow and learns to be okay again because it will be okay again.

Live Long & Prosper


Growing Around Grief – Whats your Grief. Whats your Grief. (2021). Retrieved 22 November 2021, from

Tonkin, L. (1996). Growing around grief—another way of looking at grief and recovery. Bereavement Care15(1), 10-10.