No Thing Here

Aristarchus's 3rd-century BC calculations on the relative sizes of (from left) the Sun, Earth and Moon, from a 10th-century AD Greek copy

Aristarchus's 3rd-century BC calculations on the relative sizes of (from left) the Sun, Earth and Moon, from a 10th-century AD Greek copy

At breakfast on Saturday, the sun slowly crept up the window until it was shining almost directly into my eyes. It occurred to me that while it feels like the sun was moving, it was really the me, the table, the room, the building, and the earth that were all rotating imperceptibly.

It’s been nearly four hundred years since Galileo began defending heliocentrism, and yet it still does seem to us that we are at the center of the universe. The image of a sphere of water and dirt and plants and animals careening through space remains unsettling. We still go to the beach to watch the sun rise and set. It is challenging to imagine that people living in other time zones are currently sleeping while we are going about our business awake.

If the sun isn’t actually menacing me or entertaining me, and the ground beneath my feet isn’t stationary, where am I supposed to find a safe place to make my home? Our nervous systems crave certainty and solidity and, in their absence, have created a complex process for representing stability.

It is very useful to accept these illusions, but at some point we can’t help seeing through them. We navigate the uncertainty by trying to determine what the absence of true solidity means. Some interpret it as nihilism, others find that there being no thing simply means that every thing is in constant dynamic flux.

Mindfulness practice, seems to be one way that the need for things to be fixed gets eroded gradually. This allows us to live more comfortably inside the illusion as well as being able to experience the wonder of participating in the ongoing flow of the universe.


In the seen, there is only the seen,
in the heard, there is only the heard,
in the sensed, there is only the sensed,
in the cognized, there is only the cognized.

Thus you should see that
indeed there is no thing here;
…as you see that there is no thing there,
you will see that
you are therefore located neither in the world of this,
nor in the world of that,
nor in any place
betwixt the two.

This alone is the end of suffering.

~ Buddha, from the Udana