Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

I am reminded of this whole problem of competitiveness by reading a pleasantly negative review of Arnold Schwarzenneger's new memoir, which the reviewer said is arrogant and self-satisfied to the extreme.  But you knew that.  The one thing I like about his story is that Maria Shriver, his wife, drew the line and left him when the story of his "love child" came out.  (It's odd, we have a term for that when a man does it - "manned up" - but no equivalent verb for a woman who calls upon her strength to do something difficult.  Any suggestions?)

Vaguely along these lines, this morning I picked up a book by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman from this heap I could call my "library," titled How Can I Help?  This is the kind of book that is on paper with a cover, so it seems like a memento of times passed.  I opened it to a story I enjoyed, not for the first time, but then, a story is new every time you read it.
     One day a rabbi, in a frenzy of religious passion, fell to his knees before the ark and started beating his breast, crying, "I'm nobody!  I'm nobody!"
     The cantor of the synagogue was impressed by this spiritual humility, and joined the rabbi on his knees.  "I'm nobody!  I'm nobody."
     The shamus (custodian), had stopped cleaning the floor in the far corner to watch this. Now he felt drawn in by this shared spirituality and joined the other men, falling to his knees and calling out, "I'm nobody!  I'm nobody!"
     At this, the rabbi nudged the cantor and indicated the shamus with a gesture:  "Look who thinks he's nobody!"
Don't you love it?  Competition even in being the very least.  Ram Dass refers to this as "the problem of always having to be 'somebody.'"  There is a Zen koan that touches on this: 
With empty hands I take hold of the plow.  
I take this to mean we try to step away from our ideas of who we are and who the other is, and realize our oneness.  And let go of our desire for our actions to have a certain outcome, and just do our work.  I think that for those of us who are aging or ill and can't "work" or even do much, emptying can just be a matter of remaining open to possibilities.  When I meditate, I like to note that I am sitting in a space, that I am a space, in which anything can happen. I don't think a day goes by when I can't give a little comfort - maybe only to the birds at the feeder - or a smile.  Just connecting.

[The title of this post is from a poem by Emily Dickinson that you can find here.]


  1. How can I help when I am somebody?

    I can't and I fail over and over again, approaching situations with an inflated sense of "I can help because I've dedicated my life to being helpful."

    Difficult practice!!

    1. You totally got it. Yet, if I were not somebody in this body, I couldn't help at all; I have to be em-body.

      These days I have moved from "I'll yelp you" to "I know I can't help with this difficult thing - it's yours - but maybe you'd like a cookie."

  2. Amsterdam (Netherlands) calling!

    Hi Jeanne,
    Think the pulsing light from Amsterdam you've spotted on the spinning globe is me.
    Just wanted to say hi and thanks for this and so many inspiring and to the point postings and for sharing your life and times as you do .... yours has become a real and welcome voice in these olding days of mine.

    Wishing you and your loved ones (fluffy's included) well and keeping you in my prayers.

    (I'm not on Facebook or Twitter .. sending my email address via Subscribe )(.nl)

    1. I like your phrase, "olding days". It's nice to know you.