The Agony of Nothing

This blog post is the last issue of The Healing Journey, the letter I send out to subscribers. You may subscribe here to receive the email.

This past August my parents and our family suffered the loss of Maggie, our beloved Great Dane, to bone cancer. A few weeks after Maggie died my mother announced that she was getting a new puppy. I was surprised. When Maggie was deteriorating my mum had stated very clearly that she would never get another dog.

“You said you weren’t going to get another dog,” I reminded her.

“I know,” she answered, “But I can’t bear the agony of nothing.”

“The agony of nothing,” I repeated, impressed by her ability to name so aptly our existential human emptiness, “That’s it. Right there. That is what it all comes down to. If we cannot learn to bear the agony of nothing–”

“We’re doomed!” she interjected.

That wasn’t exactly what I was going to say. I was going to say that if we cannot learn to bear the agony of nothing then we are destined to get a puppy to make the pain go away. But what happens when the puppy dies and we are once again left with that “deep-down, black, bottom-of-the-well, no-hope, end-of-the-world, what’s-the-use loneliness”? (Thank you, Charlie Brown.)

Well, we can always find something else to temporarily relieve the dread. There is no shortage in today’s world: shopping, sex, TV, booze, dope, chocolate cake. On and on it goes.

Eventually those things stop working, too, and the Black Hole returns. What then? How do we bear the Agony of Nothing?

By spending time with it.

Yup. When when we stop trying to a-void the Void, when we make friends with the thing we fear most, it becomes transformed. Solitude is no longer lonely and Silence is no longer empty.

It takes great courage to do this. Exploring the foreign territory of our inner lives can be terrifying. It is the Great Unknown, after all. I myself have uncovered a hundred forms of fear living inside of me. By getting to know these fears intimately and confronting my terror head-on, their power has been massively reduced. And I’m happy to report that I have been liberated by at least eighty-seven of them. Maybe eighty-eight.

This is how healing actually happens. Interior freedom occurs when we walk through the fear rather than run from it, work with the pain rather than alter it. Entering fully into the Agony of Nothing creates, miraculously, the Possibility of Something. That Something is better than a puppy. Because it is, in fact, Everything.

Thus begins the astonishing process of living from our Everythingness instead of from the agony of our nothingness. And it is a process. And puppies are most definitely allowed.

From the fires of love,



Dearest Readers,

What was the happiest moment of your life?

An easy question to answer? Not for me. The question was put to me this morning and I found myself thinking back to one of my favourite comic strips in which Charlie Brown asks Lucy to to name one thing she likes about him and she says something along the lines of, “Wow. Gee. That’s a stumper. That’s a real poser all right. That’s a puzzle. That’s a real tough one…”

She uses just about every synonym for “difficult question” that there is. I could find lots of things I like about poor good old, wishy washy Charlie Brown but I happen to feel the same way Lucy does about the question “What was the happiest moment of your life?” I can certainly think of lots of happy moments but the happiest? The pinnacle moment, the moment that surpasses all other things?┬áThat one really is a stumper.

When I got accepted into the National Theatre School of Canada I was pretty happy. I’d been rejected twice before and I’ll never forget the phone call that came saying, “You’re in.” I was ecstatic. But could I call it the happiest moment of my life? I don’t know.

Then there was the phone call asking me to write a play for the Stratford Festival of Canada. Again, I was over the moon. But I’m not sure the moment deserves the title of “happiest”.

I’ve heard a number of women describe the birth of their first child as the happiest moment. I could certainly see that being true but I don’t happen to have a kid. I got to witness the birth of my older sister’s first baby this year and no doubt it will top her happiest list. I was extremely happy for her but it wasn’t the happiest moment of my life.

If I took the time I could probably create a list of the happiest moments. There have been lots of them. Falling in love, receiving certain kinds of recognition, getting off the booze and the dope, climbing mountains, performing on stage, helping other people on the Healing Path. All moments, all happy. But the happiest? Like I said, this one is a true puzzler.

Maybe my resistance is coming from a place of cynicism. What followed all of these happy moments was not necessarily all happiness. It was life. Challenges ensued. Lessons were learned. Growth took place. All of these elements didn’t take away from the happy moment itself but nevertheless preclude the “happiest” definition taking root.

Perhaps I haven’t had my happiest moment yet. I like that idea. It’s kind of exciting to think that the happiest moment of my life hasn’t actually happened. Something to look forward to, yes?

That Charlie Brown strip ended with Lucy walking off in the last panel with the synonyms for “impossible question to answer” trailing behind her. Picture me in the same way, still thinking, still wondering, still searching…

Inspiring Message of the Day: To be happy means to be Present. When I am here, now, in my body, grounded in my life as it happens, there is no other happiness. What if the happiest moment of my life could occur over and over again throughout the day, each and every day because I am practicing True Presence? I will do my best to stay here today, in the happiness of Now.