“By societal standards, I may look like a failure, but inside I feel like I’m right where life needs me to be.”
The night before I turned 50, seven year old Jett asked, “Daddy, how do you know when you are enlightened?”
I told him that nothing bothers you because the “you” who you think you are doesn’t exist anymore. I gave counter-examples of how I freaked out when he didn’t wash his hands after going to the bathroom or when he insisted that I buy him a $400 bicycle.
“These things wouldn’t bother me if I was enlightened because ‘I’ would be the bigger picture,” I explained.
This morning I realized that there is another side to that coin of enlightenment. Not only does nothing bother an awakened being, but everything brings joy and contentment. Actually, “brings” is not the right word because joy and contentment are always already there.
On this side of the coin, I’m much further along the path. I once pictured myself as a financially set, famous (yes, illusions of grandeur) member of society by the time I turned 50. Waking up this morning as a divorced, unemployed, debt-ridden nobody didn’t prevent me from feeling immense joy and gratitude for everything that life has brought me.
After years of trying to be somebody, it is a relief to be nobody. Being nobody means that I have no rights. Therefore, I can never be offended. Deepak Chopra credits his happiness and peace of mind to “never being offended.” Whenever I start to feel offended by something someone says, does, or thinks, I remind myself that I am nobody.
Some people equate being nobody with being a doormat, but what I have found is that it is more like being an open door. Being somebody boxes us into a socially constructed prison cell of expectations, rules, roles, and pressures. Releasing the need to be somebody allows me to walk out of this prison. When I’m nobody, I can be whoever I want.
I invited my roommate to the picnic party I had for my birthday. After the party, I thanked him for coming.
“Thanks for inviting me, although I don’t feel like I contributed anything to the gathering,” he responded with his head down.
I remember feeling this pressure to contribute. I always felt like I had to be funny, witty, interesting, wise, or athletic whenever I was at social gatherings. I felt the need to be seen by not only my friends and family, but also by complete strangers who just happened to witness the gathering.
Now I see things differently. I don’t need approval from anyone just to be me. As one of my friends, Dawn Agnos, likes to say, “We do not need to perform to be valid; we were created and are alive and that is the highest validation anyone could gain.”
Now that I’m nothing, I don’t need to contribute anything. I can just be a zero. Being a zero allows others to be exactly who they want to be. When I share space with someone who wants to be a five, I don’t add or subtract anything. I am zero, so they can be a five.
What I’ve found is that when I silently allow others to be whoever they want, I also increase their value. If I just stand silently as a zero, a five becomes a fifty. Like a magnifying glass, I just intensify whatever they bring into the world without judgment.
For decades, I feared being a zero. Now I see the truth in Cool Hand Luke’s statement, “Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”
It is such a weight off my shoulders to not have to be a financial somebody. Although I have $150,000 of debt, I recently found a backdoor exit from the man-box of financial duty. By giving selfless service and participating in gift ecology, I’ve walked away from the Sisyphusian boulder of work, save, repeat. I now give my services for free as a counselor, speaker, facilitator, dishwasher, and foot washer.
An added bonus of giftivism is the dissolution of performance anxiety. When I give my services for free, I feel no pressure to perform. I feel no need to be an authority. If people don’t like who I am or what I do then they can have their money back. When I don’t have to perform, then I can be myself and share my life without worrying about being judged, evaluated, or ridiculed. I don’t have to be perfect; I just have to be me.
I’m so grateful to be in this space of self-sufficiency and assurance. By societal standards, I may look like a failure, but inside I feel like I’m right where life needs me to be.
Next week, I’ll discuss being in relationship as a nobody, especially relationships with soul mates.