On Being Someone
by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
It is a curious and amusing thing the way we go about trying to be someone. One would think that since we think we are someone, that would be enough. But we find ourselves in that curious situation of never being what we think we are. I can't resist my favorite Sartre quote here: "Being-for-itself (us) is a being such that it is what it is not and is not what it is." There is an empty hole in the heart of us all.
Some people buy sexy red sports cars to be someone. It makes them cool, gives them added identity. Others scoff at such a blatant display of egoism. They buy sensible cars. It makes them intelligent, gives them added identity. Others scoff at them both. It makes them spiritual, gives them added identity. When it comes to the quest for identity, the hunger is ceaseless and the means are endless.
I sometimes think of the self as a whirlpool. For all its power, it is essentially a hole forever trying to fill itself, endlessly sucking up water, yet always empty.
Zhuangzi speaks of just such a hole at the core of ourselves, only for him it is a way by which to experience Source. "Concentrate on the hollows of what is before you" he writes, "and the empty chamber within you will generate its own brightness." And again: "The vital energy (qi) is an emptiness, a waiting for the presence of beings. The Course (Tao) alone is what gathers in this emptiness. And it is this emptiness that is the fasting of the mind." (Chapter 4; B. Ziporyn)
Rather than vainly trying to fill the emptiness within, Zhuangzi suggests that we discover and nourish it, for it is precisely here that we reconnect with the ego-free up-welling of life within us. But it comes at a price, of course -- we don't get to be someone. As Yan Hui said after putting this into practice: "Before I find what moves me into activity, it is myself that is full and real. But as soon as I find what moves me, it turns out that 'myself' has never begun to exist."
I think Pascal provides an appropriate last word on this: "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." But he was a Christian, while we trust that there is nothing to lose or to gain, save a bit of happiness.
You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.