spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
Black Hole / fotologic (Jon Nicholls)
Nothing matters more to me now than it used to. When first I proclaimed “NOTHING MATTERS” it was in my newspaper column, “Alison’s Wonderland,” my sophomore year at Occidental College. I went on at some length and attributed my disdain for conventional wisdom to what I’d learned from a cursory reading of Bertrand Russell and existentialists such as Sartre and Heidegger.

Now when I say nothing matters, I’m saying that nothing by which I defined myself in the past needs to limit me today. I am free to explore and create a new narrative unhindered by self-limiting stories.

In The World is Made of Stories, Buddhist David R. Loy talks about a constricting and self-limiting understanding of the self based on the stories we tell about ourselves, over and over. These are the stories we have been telling ourselves and others about who we are and what our world is like. They are the way we understand our own lives. We live in these stories as fish live in water.

Beyond stories that limit our identity is another part of ourselves, a still-unstoried self that “preserves the possibility of novelty, of doing and becoming something different,” Loy says. He calls this un-narrated part of us “No-thing-ness.” Nothingness. Nothing solid. This is the no-thing-ness that matters to me now.

Given this new concept of the nothing that matters, I can skip quickly through the past that no longer need define me. In the late ‘50s, the “nothing” that mattered to a sophomore in a private, Presbyterian liberal arts college where chapel was compulsory was “no school rules matter. But, as I break them, please notice.” I am no longer that morose, skinny, brunette in a black leotard, eager to define herself by her lack of beliefs. Nor am I the young mother of two little boys in her twenties asking god to turn her into a believing Jew, nor the middle-aged woman hoping for a lift through total baptismal immersion and calling herself a Christian. Iteration after iteration brings me to now, a Unitarian Universalist without  dogma, as well as a budding meditator for whom the  “no-thing-ness” promises a chance to broaden my narrative.

Rumi’s poem “The Worm’s Waking” encourages me to “wake up” and slow down the story telling so as to make room for this broader narrative.

                                                                         THE WORM'S  WAKING

                                                               This is how a human being can change:

                                                                there’s a worm addicted to eating

                                                                grape leaves.

                                                               Suddenly he wakes up,

                                                               call it grace, whatever, something

                                                              wakes him, and he’s no longer

                                                              a worm.

                                                             He’s the entire vineyard,

                                                             and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,

                                                            a growing wisdom and joy

                                                            that doesn’t need

                                                            to devour.

Through meditation and learning from Buddhist teachings, I am making space to be cast in new narratives, especially those that allow space for living loving-kindness. Through loving-kindness, I realize how much I have in common with others. Like me, every sentient being wants fulfillment and to escape suffering.

Living loving-kindness means practicing empathy, being willing to see the world from another point of view. It’s wishing others well. It is friendliness, consideration, kindness, and generosity. It is the basis for compassion, for shared joy. It’s my inherent potential. To wish another well is to wish that they be in a state of experiencing loving-kindness.  Moreover, it is an attitude rather than just a feeling.

Freeing myself from the fixed and limited “I,” in my habitual stories, I am beginning to give myself space to be a kinder, more loving person. With that intention perhaps I can answer a question David R. Loy poses: “What stories do I want to live?  The non-dual way to say this is “What stories want to come to life through me?”

Linda Posner
3/20/2012 10:21:57 am

BRILLIANT! INSPIRING! EXHILLERATING! I love it, the message, the quotes, the whole story. I understood the story, became the story, am moving beyond any need to have a "story" except the one in this and all moments as I breath in and out. Thank you dear sis o' mine.

3/20/2012 01:17:01 pm

Thanks, sweetheart. Truly a collaborative effort. I am so glad you like it.

Guy Rittger
3/21/2012 09:44:49 am

And yet... narratives are always constructed with a variety of audiences in mind - some explicit, some implicit. Indeed, some of those audiences lurk in dark recesses of the unconscious, yet exert a powerful influence on the shape that any narrative of the "self" might take.

So, if I might riff a bit on Hegel (by way of Slovenian philospher Slavoj Žižek), there is always already a dialectical tension or "otherness" at play even in the very heart of nothing. That is to say, nothing is not pure, unconstrained possibility; conflict already resides there, such that the subject's self-narration is always a product of the partial, temporary resolution of that conflict.

Thus, narratives of the self are always tentative and unstable - why, after all, do we find ourselves repeating the same stories over and over? The repetition quiets the competing and conflicting voices that would otherwise interrupt the centered narrative subject / subject of narration, if only to say: "Fuck that! It wasn't that way at all! Let me tell it!"

Paul Mawdsley
5/4/2012 05:44:10 am

Narratives of the self are always constructed in the context of how we experience ourselves through the eyes and feelings of others; through our empathic self. This gives us the sense that "narratives are always constructed with a variety of audiences in mind - some explicit, some implicit."

There is a definite distinction between our evolving view of ourselves and the more often static view others have of us but I would not agree that this distinction necessitates conflict. Ultimately, the conflict that arises is between our authentic self-concept and our empathic self-concept, or between the two distinct processes by which each flows through us. Conflict arises through our resistance to others' views of us. What is needed first is a recognition of the difference between one’s authentic self-concept and one’s empathic self-concept. With the realization that empathy is the path to information about others’ perspectives, not a path to finding a perspective to replace one’s own, we release ourselves to create a more evolved form of empathy and a more evolved authentic self. When we drop the inner resistance to self-concepts that enter through empathy, we change conflicting views to paradoxical views. In dialectical processes, paradox leads the way to deeper integration and deeper truth, making self-narratives less tentative and unstable. This creates the space for new narratives that are not shaped in a "because of or in spite of" context.

When in my teens my Dad told me that a boy becomes who he is because of or in spite of his father. I reflected for a moment, then I told him there is a third way: A boy can become who he is without embracing or rejecting his father’s views but by seeing it as one amongst many perspectives to include on his path to understanding the universe and shaping his own view. I felt no conflict in this, only paradox to be resolved by deeper understanding. Letting go of resistance to the flow of life and information is how we create the space for “what stories want to come to life through me" without being restrained by the wake of our own past choices or by the narratives others have of us.


3/29/2012 05:10:56 am

I love being with you for a moment on your site in cyber space with these stories that are fluid and alive. They connect you and anyone who joins you for that moment. Are these different kinds of stories than the ones that you want not to be held by? I think what connects all our stories and not what concretizes our separateness is maybe the difference. Is the element that connects true nothingness or something? The questions do not really matter. I am glad I am here.

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