An old friend and I used to talk about deep things that rocked our known universes, which at the time consisted of graduating college, traveling the world, and chasing women. The topics of those conversations--irritating and challenging as they were--have, for the most part, been forgotten and replaced by new things that he and I don't really talk about anymore because, well, we don't talk anymore. However, there's this one conversation that's still as clear as ever to me, which is saying a lot because we weren't always very clear-headed when we were talking, but somehow this thing he said burrowed a good bed in my memory and has never left.
He said, "Dane, have you ever tried to think of nothing?"
I delayed in responding to him as I attempted, in that moment, to think of nothing for the very first time.
"Damn, that's hard."
He said, "I've been trying to think of nothing lately, but something always comes in and replaces nothing with something. Even if the thing that comes in and shows itself is some stupid, inconsequential thought it's still something and I'm really striving for nothing."
"I don't know if that's possible," I added, "because even if we're consciously pondering nothing our subconscious chimes in and goes to work at sifting through all the stimuli we've encountered from the day and barrages our mind with pictures and ideas of an assorted dreamy collage that's definitely something. It's a mess of nonsense, but it's not nothing."
"Right," he said, "it's tough. I know. That's why you have to think of just one thing first. If you can learn to control one thing that you're thinking then eventually you'll maybe be able to control the act of not thinking at all."
I started to think of the color black because, to me, it represented a void, and a void to me is nothing, but my mind soon strayed to this idea of sparkles covering a black sky, and the word "void" being stamped over a check. It was like my mind didn't want to sit still and enjoy nothing. It had to go to work at making connections between different parts of my brain as if it were trying to impress me with all the crap that's been stored away in there for so long: black is dark like the night when the sky is littered with speckled bright, curtains drawn to shield the sun from coming in and interrupting your quest for nothingness, a hard-wood floor with yoga mats and meditating monks achieving nothing, but everything at once.
It was soon evident to me that I suck at controlling my mind.
He proceeded to tell me that he thinks about an orange; one single orange in a black abyss of nothingness. There's no galaxy behind it, no black curtain drawn to offset its bright color, but an orange suspended in nothing.
So I started thinking of an orange, but I quickly wondered if it was sitting on a table, in a bowl, hanging by a string, or levitating. I began to use my mind to peel its skin and see its insides. I couldn't just leave that orange be. I had to investigate it. I had to know more. I had to see it, grab it, and throw it, and see if there was a wall behind it. You can't just have an orange without a tree, without dirt, without a farmer's hand, without a green leaf. I failed to think of nothing. I was now thinking of all sorts of somethings.
He has probably forgotten this conversation because it was just one small one out of many long ones, but it's still one that has stuck with me to this day. Why? Because I've yet to think of nothing. I can't do it yet and I'll keep trying until I can.
I'm going to bed now, and I'm thinking of an orange, but it'll soon become a prop in some dream I start having and my subconscious will absorb supreme reign over my brain. I really want to think nothing because I want to know what it is, and I want to know what lies beyond it.
Maybe nothing is just another kind of freedom.