My journey into nothingness began in the Himalayas. I was in the foothill town of Rishikesh, the gateway to the high mountains where the River Ganga passes through its center. It is believed that bathing in the Ganga erases a lifetime of karma. Too cold to fully immerse myself, I tread into the river up to my knees and prayed.
It was not a prayer for anything; it was a prayer of gratitude and awe, of blissful contentment to be standing in this place, recognizing everything that had to happen prior to bring me here. It was a letting go of regrets, an acknowledgement of a journey far beyond my control. It might have been at that moment that the ego started to wash away, cleansed by the holy waters of Mother Ganga.
I realized everything up to this point in my life had been a selfish pursuit, one motivated by a desire for wealth, beauty, status. Bathing in the Ganga, I forgave myself even this – I had been programmed this way. It was my upbringing in Western society that had focused me in the wrong direction and it had never brought me any lasting happiness, only anxiety, depression, and disappointment.
Our society is so singularly focused on the notion of becoming someone, of making something of one’s life. But witnessing the current of the Ganga against my skin, waters that have flowed from the highest mountain peaks for millennia, it was perfectly clear that I was already someone. Just by nature of my existence I was a part of the whole. It is the whole which gives meaning to the individual.
This is what the Buddhists and Hindus call Moksha, liberation. It is the notion of enlightenment, the understanding that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to be. When this becomes clear to you beyond an intellectual understanding, when it resonates in your heart, a desire to laugh will well up inside of you. It is so simple, so evident and so beautiful. The truth was always right there in front of you, so obvious but you couldn’t see it.
Spiritual liberation means freedom from the ego, becoming aware that there is an eternal self beyond the mind and body. It was the ego that was giving an illusion of individuality and self-importance. It was the ego that was creating all unhappiness, greed, jealousy. When the ego is dropped, you are ready to become no one, part of the universal, eternal.
First the ego must be cultivated, because only then can it be transcended. Only when you have become someone can you become no one. Only when you realize the limitations of the ego are you ready to drop it. And then it begins to fall away on its on, no specific effort is required.
When the ego is gone, all that remains is emptiness. It is the sound of Om, the subtle vibration of the universe. This can only be cultivated from the inside. A certain quiet and solitude is required. This is why the Buddhist monks live in monasteries and the Saddhus in the high mountains. There, an outer silence can be achieved which creates a space for inner silence.
You become no one when you cast off the labels imposed upon you from birth by the society. You are no longer a Christian or a Jew, you are no longer an American, no longer gay or straight, you just are. The boundaries between you and everyone else fall away. We are all part of the same existence.
You can understand this like you are a singular grain of sand in a vast desert. Alone the spec is utterly insignificant, hardly noticeable, only as part of the whole is there any meaning.
You have lived your whole life in the ego, you are much invested in it. The ego does not want to go quietly, either. It has been your companion for so long that you’ve forgotten who you are without it.
Becoming no one requires great courage. It means falling into the abyss. It is so dark you cannot see what is on the other side. It means having trust in the universe, trust in yourself.
When you no longer desire to be anything or possess anything, all tension falls away. You are in peace. Heaven is possible here on earth – it is a state of being.