December 19th, 2008

A Pre-Solstice Gift of Nothingness


Buddhism anticipated the reluctant conclusions of modern psychology: guilt and anxiety are not adventitious but intrinsic to the ego. According to my interpretation of Buddhism, our dissatisfaction with life derives from a depression even more immediate than death-terror: the suspicion that “I” am not real.

The sense-of-self is not self-existing but a mental construction which experiences its own groundlessnes as a lack. This sense-of-lack is consistent with what psychotherapy has discovered about ontological guilt and basic anxiety. We usually cope with this lack by objectifying it in various ways and try to resolve it through projects which cannot succeed because they do not address the fundamental issue.

So our most problematic dualism is not life fearing death but a fragile sense-of-self dreading its own groundlessness. By accepting and yielding to that groundlessness, I can discover that I have always been grounded, not as a self-contained being but as one manifestation of a web of relationships which encompass everything. This solves the problem of desire by transforming it. As long as we are driven by lack, every desire becomes a sticky attachment that tries to fill up a bottomless pit. Without lack, the serenity of our no-thing-ness, i.e., the absence of any fixed nature, grants the freedom to become anything.

— David Loy Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 92 Vol. 24

Opening photograph:Untitled by Brassaï. 1932

5 Responses to 'A Pre-Solstice Gift of Nothingness'
Filed Under: Buddhism and Depth Psychology and Ego
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  • katrina

    Hi – maybe you could add remorse into the mix. If my understanding of Gurdjieff is correct, remorse is an inevitable part of growth. I believe he taught that as we become more aware of ourselves, we feel remorse because we see our imperfections more clearly. Which would mean that our feeling of lack is not only about our groundlessness – and to be honest I’m not sure that I understand what this means – but comes from a real sense of our own inadequacy: we are not who we think we are. This is an uncomfortable feeling, but might be the payment for growth, I don’t know. Staying in front of our lack involves (I believe) accepting our inadequacies, not recoiling from them, sitting with them and with ourselves. Quite difficult.

  • Yes, I see what you are saying Katrina, this is a good point. I think, too, that G. taught the ways of remorse, the specifics of remorse, to supplant the indulgence of guilt, a rationale we employ to wallow in negative emotions, sustained Superego attacks, etc.. Also, remorse can be felt as it relates to the condition of being separated from Being. For living a false life, if you will. Groundlessness.

    Loy, if I’m understanding him correctly, considers ‘groundlessness’ the true, core condition of ego. That being, namely, a sense of self that is nothing more than a collection of concepts and self-representations. These self-representations (generally derived from our earliest object relation-based upbringing) are a stand-in for Being. Thus, the ego being built on a sham foundation, feels its groundlessness, it’s disconnection from Being. I hope that clarifies things a bit.

  • Hi Frederick, I’m so happy to find your website, being a (former) Pacific Northwest astrologer and avid reader myself. Beautiful site!

    Regarding the existential terror that “I am not real” perhaps you’d appreciate the bumper sticker I bought at the Bodhi Tree bookstore: “Honk if You Don’t Exist” — !


  • Frederick

    Bwwwwahhhhhhhhhhhhh! Thanks Catherine! Love it. Happy Winter Solstice!

  • Bridgid

    I have been re-reading this at least once a week. The no-thingness has left a calling card and the “i” in me is trying to observe itself. In the present moment i senses the I, then of course ego and the mind step in; working the octives again has given me a sense of connection that i remembered.
    Thanks Frederick. Keep writing.