We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 11, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, I asked you to ponder the question, “What if nothing is impossible to you?” Today, I have another question about nothing. “What if there is a whole lot more nothing than there is everything?” That isn’t much of a question, really. We have been discovering the truth of this for some time, now. When you look out in space, what do you see? A whole lot of empty space, right? Oh, there are planets out there. And stars, lots of stars. And moons. And asteroids, meteors, comets, and among all the other things, don’t forget the black holes, too. But, when I look out into the night sky, I find myself appreciating how much emptiness there is out there. How much nothing. And, when we look at something under a microscope, we find that whether we are examining cells, or molecules, or atoms, or even the infinitesimally small parts of an atom, the amount of empty space to be found just boggles our minds. The whole Universe is filled with emptiness, with nothing. Today’s chapter is an ode to nothing.
Back in chapter two, Lao Tzu introduced being and non-being. And, as I recall, I devoted no amount of time trying to explain these concepts. I was too busy talking about yin and yang. I hinted that yin is non-being, and yang is being. I said being and non-being create each other. But, I didn’t try to explain that being is what is, and non-being is what is not. I knew we were going to get to today’s chapter after so many days, and it could wait. Lao Tzu certainly didn’t mention non-being and being, directly, since chapter two. I could wait, if he could. Instead, he has spent several chapters talking about non-being, indirectly. By referring, time and time again, to the infinite possibilities available in emptiness. Somehow, we needed to gain a greater appreciation for non-being, without knowing we were talking about non-being. Non-being, emptiness, nothing, has infinite value, because what is not, as we have been seeing over the course of several chapters, now, is everything.
Wait just a doggone minute! How can nothing be everything? It all has to do with understanding the infinite usefulness in nothing.
If I were to point out a wagon wheel to you, you would probably notice how the spokes are joined together to make the wheel. If I showed you a pot I had shaped out of clay, you may or may not appreciate how well I formed it. I never was very good at sculpting things out of clay. When we look at a house, we admire the handiwork of its construction. All these things we are looking at, and appraising, are the being we work with.
But none of that being would be possible without non-being. Without the center hole for the axle to be inserted into, the wagon won’t move. Without the emptiness inside the pot, it wouldn’t be able to hold anything, let alone whatever we want. Without the inner space inside the house, it wouldn’t be livable. Non-being, that emptiness, that nothing, is what we use. The more non-being there is, and we are discovering more and more of it all the time, the more there is to use.
That should be enough about nothing, for today; but, we will have more to say about nothing in future chapters. Tomorrow, we will talk about how to trust your inner vision.