Words that take us into Nothing
First thing I thought about is the scene in the Odyssey when Cyclops, blinded by Odysseus (but who had told the monster his name was “Nemo” in some translations. A key understanding here is that Nemo roughly translates to “no one”) bellows out to the other cyclops, “where is he?” They ask, “who are you looking for?” He says, “I’m looking for No One!” They laugh, and Odysseus escapes.
The power of no one. And nuance of language.
I like the double Irish meaning there. What it makes me think of is how we are all No-ones in a way, cosmically speaking, but we are also anyones, all united in our humanity and connected that way. All of us are significant and have meaning by the very fact of our existence. The 'you' who is blessed is no-one, anyone, and everyone all at once.
Who am I to name another and “identify” them? So much is assumed to be knowledge of another. Ryokan has a poem that begins: “The flower invites the butterfly with no-mind..I don’t know others, others don’t know me, by not knowing we follow Nature’s course.” I especially like this challenge, to meet another, as well as oneself, at the creative edge of “who are you about to be?” rather than relying upon habitual “oh, I know you”. “No one and anyone” both are openings to who isn’t and is about to be.
To me this brings up a profound respect and praise for the great mystery out there, not only the universe but also the future and all the things we don‘t know.
And that I take myself often so seriously which makes me laugh when I step away from my concerns just a little bit to see the bigger picture.
Stardust, time and nothingness just leave me in awe-stricken silence. ✨
Thank you for the prompt.
“Thou” and “No one” are plural?
Maybe it could mean
“Blessèd” are all of you, no 1 of you.
And inspired by your suggestion, “Blessed are you, No One. Blessed are you, Anyone.”
And I wonder how the translator knew or decided to use an earlier version of the English language “art thou” we associate with the King James Version of the Bible? Was the word in the original also an earlier or formal version of German?
I send my blessings to all this Holy Week.
“Blessed art Thou, No One” calls to mind a couple of different associations. One being the traditional anonymity of artists, which was much more the norm in various cultures prior to modern times. The underlying sense of this being that the artist reckoned their role as merely a vessel or conduit for creativity, rather than as its source. In the context of this mentality, to take credit, or sign the work — so to speak, would amount to a kind of hubris that effaced the spiritual origin of their inspiration by putting their own name forward; which to some extent would then make the work itself about the artist’s own image, rather than about the transcendent “No One” to whom they were in service.
This also brings to mind the an-iconic approach to representing God in the Judaic and Islamic branches of the Abrahamic tree. The principle notion of this being that the absolute and infinite essence of God is impossible to depict by way of images that are necessarily limited. The result being that a kind of emptiness or vacancy, “negative space”, serves as the only available stand-in for representing the Supreme Being’s all-pervading unity and transcendence. A particularly notable example of this being the emptiness of the Kaaba at Mecca. The Kaaba contains nothing except a single curtain, which in this context could be seen to represent the veil of existence itself, wholly embraced within the unconditioned emptiness that surrounds it.
So “Blessed art Thou, No One” strikes me as a way of expressing the same thing verbally. It highlights the boundless essence of that transparent “You/Thou” by way of negating any sense of it being an individual, and as such preserves its mystery.
I love the take on No One & Anyone - it makes me think of I am that I am - the All-compassing. I also am thrilled you're coming to Kanuga in NC; that's my church's retreat center, & I can't wait to hang out w/you & other sojourners in June! I will have just finished the school year, so am looking forward to a spiritual reset!
When I was young and struggling to move on from a hurtful relationship, I shared my feelings with my father, self- proclaimed atheist who was helpful at emotionally difficult times in my life. I felt a kind of desperation to cling to what was no more, but I knew I needed to move ahead. He said, "Feel the void Amy. Feel the void". It was somehow comforting he didn't give me platitudes like " Just be patient," or "this too shall pass". He was actually suggesting at a dark time a still darker path through
That led me on a new path, wrestling with that, still wrestling with the void, but somehow back then I felt deeply it was true. There had to be nothing, in order for there to be something.
I smile when i think of Stanley Kunitz who talks about the dead end of his beloved garden where there is the deepest shade. He calls it "the Gates to Hell". But even that is no bridge, just an entry to the unknown..
This line carries me to the Buddhist concept of not-self (anatta). Many scholars argue that Buddha was addressing the human tendency to cling—to things, to identity, to the "stuff" of life that perpetuates suffering. He did not, however, state that there is no self.
Perhaps both he and Celan were creating a distance from our personal identity to better encompass the idea of interconnectedness. When we suffer, everyone suffers. When we rejoice, everyone rejoices. By embracing "nothingness" we counter-intuitively awaken to everything—our shared humanity and our responsibility to one another. Hmmmm...this makes my brain hurt. I need breakfast.
This particular morning, it reads this way to me - Blessed art Thou - No single one at all but the whole of the cosmos, the moment, the endlessness of everything. It does not feel the way No One often feels, as closed and tight and little, but rather expansive, with an endless embrace of possibilities, inclusive and hospitable.
And yes, loved this week's On Being conversation, such joyfulness, hopefulness, rich in wonder. Also, finally finishing up listening to Ways of Being, James Bridle, and that feels similarly open and hopeful, so perhaps they have both informed my response to your questions this week, Padraig. Joyful Passover. Joyful Palm Sunday Celebration.
Perhaps No One is Yahwey, the unmentionable. How can one ascribe a name to the inconceivable Everything?
Or perhaps it is the entity of everything, the everything of everything: us, you, me, them, they, it, a lizard, a leaf, a mammouth, stars, sun, moon, quarks.
And I am reminded, as I am over and over again, of A.R Ammons' gorgeous poem, The City Limits:
"When you consider the radiance, that it does not withhold
itself but pours its abundance without selection into every
nook and cranny"
And just as readily, John Lennon's ever philosophical lyrics:
Well, we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Everyone come on
We are all No One.
The capitalization of "No One" immediately felt like like the capitalization of the pronouns used when referring to God. And so I felt that maybe Celan was pushing back on the idea that a God could bless anything, that God should decide what is blessed and what is not, and therefore have a power over those things. It then feels to me that in saying No One is blessed he is saying everything has dignity equal with all others and that No One is given a higher or special rank among the universe of things.
I then went back and looked at the whole poem. I'm not very familiar with Celan's larger body of work, and without doing too deep a dive, it seems clear there is a struggle to reconcile the idea of God and the simple facts of the "earth and clay", "our dust", "the stamen", "the thorn" all parts of "No-Ones-Rose".
It lands comfortably with me that nothing and no one is blessed, that everything has equal weight. No kneading us out of earth and clay and breathing life into us. Only the biology and connections of everything that is here. That's both enough and far more than we can grasp.
A very apropos (and annoying) thing just happened which is that, when I read this beautiful reflection (thank you Pádraig, and congratulations. Doc!!! and safe travels!!) I immediately had two things come to mind, the teachings on emptiness as taught in the Buddhist Heart Sutra, and a quote by the nondual teacher,
Nisargadatta Maharaj. And I literally had the thought “oh good, that’s brief. Short and pithy. Don’t write a long-winded response, Mona.” But, as tendencies and propensities are hard to break, my response was turning into a long-ass expression of the heart sutra, replete with stories of a broken Buddha statue, etc, etc, etcetera, and then I moved and something happened and POOF! my response disappeared.
The combination of feelings I felt in that moment, is a part of what this beautiful quote by Celan and also the Irish translation of no one / anyone evokes for me.
POOF! Nothing. What a relief!!! I don’t have to be anyone. As the Heart Sutra teaches, I’m empty of that solid, confined, self. So.. I’m free to be what “I” actually “am” which is...possibility! Which is everything, but not one-thing. I’m free to “inter-are” or “inter-be” as Thich Nhat Hanh would say. I can realize I’m not Mona in the conventional way I think of her, but I’m the moon, and the east river, and the fading tulip.... It’s a bump on the head moment of relief and confusion and wonder and resonance with truth. A short piece of the sutra bringing together a coupe different translations “Listen Shariputra [had to include this as it makes it feel so personal, a teacher saying, listen up kiddo], form is emptiness and emptiness is form; form is no other than emptiness and emptiness is no other than form.” It evokes so much for me (that the gods of the internet, or the gods of emptiness, saved you all from, saved me (!) from, in an act of deletion, not unlike the negations that characterize the Heart Sutra!!).
Lastly (phew!), the words of a teacher from a nondual school within Hinduism, Nisargadatta Maharaj, immediately came to mind reading that Celan. “Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows.” That’s the space I aspire to inhabit more and more. 🙏🏾. Thank you as always Pádraig.
That line and the poem itself is a reminder to pay attention to the spiritual a bit this week as I prepare for seder. Large, jolly, secular, it will be darkened somewhat by the loss of my sister. I'm reminded that we're all everyone and no one--she's both with us and very gone (no one). We will, though, sing "over, O, over/ the thorn."
What came to mind is something I’ve been thinking about lately … to be blessed assumes receiving something arguably deserved. If all life is precious yet by sheer circumstance I am born into the safest best quality life a human can have, i am not blessed. I am damn lucky. Are all those others not blessed? No. I have been thinking, I am crazy lucky for nothing I did or earned so I need to be thankful and grateful but never say ‘I am blessed’ or ‘count my blessings’ anymore than so many others for no cause of their own should believe they are not blessed. This poem says that to me in one snippet
I like the No One/Anyone in the Irish. It reminds me of the phrases in the Hebrew bible where God speaks to Moses and refuses to give a name. How can you name what the divine is? How can limited language express something as complex as our lives, our hopes or what we might consider the divine? Certainly poetry comes closest?
The phrase also reminds me of my own spiritual journey where now, as an old man, I no longer see the teachings of religion as competitive 'Truths' - a noun to be capitalized, but as the structures that arise out of the cultures within which each religion was born. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and other religions bear within them the cultural imprint and structures of their origins. The mystics of each of those paths point to something higher and beyond. They all reached towards something ineffable but inclusive. Something full - but yet inexpressible. Something underlying all that we - in our limited way - can sense or process. The inclusion of a picture of space seems so appropriate. Space is full - and the Silence is not silent.