Years ago I took up the concept of “nothing” with students, challenging them with a question that philosophers and scientists have pondered for years: Is nothing really nothing? Or is it something?
Over the course of about two decades, students from grades 3 through 12 have enthusiastically engaged in debate on this topic. Their profound insights have plenty of corroboration from sources ranging from Parmenides to Taoism to scientists studying quantum theory. As a practice, I end these discussions by telling students how long the discussion has lasted–usually over half an hour–and I tell them how funny it will be when parents ask what they talked about in school that day, and the children say, “Nothing.”
With the volume of thoughts continually flooding our minds, with the rush of images we process as we walk through the world, with the torrent of content we take in through media, nothingness–whatever we determine it to be or not to be–serves as a critical counterweight. We need to seek our own forms of nothingness if we can ever hope to balance our minds and spirits.
Some of us meditate. Some of us go for walks. Some of us take up pursuits that have nothing to do with our responsibilities, nothing to do with making a living, and nothing to do with furthering our material goals.
For all of the rich, frenetic, and concentrated interactions we have with each other as human beings, we need significant doses of nothing to prevent time from running away from us and carrying our humanity with it. Much confusion results from the pace our world would set for us.
The more we ponder nothing, the more we understand how much we need it–even if an understanding of it forever eludes us.