This little book, conceived and edited by my longtime friend and collaborator Joan Konner will surprise you with absolutely Nothing. Read it—and Nothing happens. Nothing is the joy of it.
—Bill Moyers

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Click each thumbnail image under the video for the complete 5-part interview

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Reviews

Sydney Morning Herald | Bruce Elder | December 12, 2009

“You Don’t Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing: An Illustrious Collection of Thoughts on Naught”

By Joan Konner


Now here, for those friends and family members who go “Bah! Humbug!” at the mention of Christmas, is a very alternative gift.

Joan Konner, who scored a US bestseller with “The Atheist’s Bible,” has edited an eclectic and unusual collection of quotations all dealing with the complex issue of “nothing.” They range from the epigrammatic (Oscar Wilde’s famous “I love talking about nothing … it is the only thing I know anything about”) through the beautiful (Omar Khayyam’s “The Stars are setting and the Caravan/ Starts from the Dawn of Nothing—Oh, make haste!”) to the poetic (D.H. Lawrence wrote: “The end of the rainbow is the bottomless gulf down which you can fall forever without arriving, and the blue distance is a void pit which can swallow you and all your efforts into its emptiness, and still be no emptier”) and, of course, Samuel Beckett with such misanthropic gems as “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

This is just the present for those who feel they should celebrate nothing during the festive season.

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SpiritualityandPractice.com | Review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

“You Don’t Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing: An Illustrious Collection of Thoughts on Naught

Joan Konner conceived and edited “The Atheist’s Bible,” which became a national bestseller in 2007, and she produced the PBS documentary “The Mystery of Love.” She is Dean Emerita and Professor Emerita of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, as well as the former publisher and currently an honorary co-chair of the “Columbia Journalism Review.” This is her second book and it is brimming with a juicy and wide-ranging smorgasbord of quotations from artists, mystics, musicians, poets, philosophers, playwrights, scientists, and comedians.

As she explains in the introduction, we in the West have had a hard time with the paradoxical notion that “Nothing exists.” It is only recently that our cultural curriculum has made a place for both/and or holistic thinking. For centuries, Taoists, Zen Buddhists, and Tibetan mystics have talked about emptiness, nothing, and the value of silence. (…continue)

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James Ishmael Ford | Thinking of Nothing: Book Review

nothingThe other day I received a note from a fellow Zen practitioner. For the tag line he used one of those jokes floating around the web.

“Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.”

As I read it I felt a flash of guilt.

I recalled being contacted with an offer of a copy of a book to review. Actually the book has been sitting on my bedside for a while, and as it is essentially a compilation of quotes, I’ve enjoyed dipping into it most nights of most weeks.

But the review just never quite happened.

Well, here it is early Christmas morning. I’m sitting in the family room, the family not yet up, my laptop on my lap, a cup of coffee by my side, and I’m looking at the book.

Journalist Joan Konner conceived of it and edited it.

The title is “You Don’t Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing.”

It is a delightful conceit. A compilation of non-Buddhist bon mots, sayings, anecdotes, passing thoughts, all touching upon nothing.

The quotes come from an astonishing range of people. (…continue)

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“The Nothing that Heals Us”

Sharon Salzberg | The Huffington Post | November 16, 2009

It’s the end of daylight savings time on the east coast, and it just about always seems to be dim. Each day is largely dark, and cold, hinting at the uselessness of endeavor and the insubstantiality of what we ordinarily run around seeking. It’s a good time to be depressed.

This is the way we conventionally view what Buddhists call emptiness, and mystics of many traditions call nothingness or the Void. A really murky day, pointing to the uselessness of it all. But at the heart of personal, transformative wisdom, this emptiness isn’t a cold, depressing problem, leading us down to nihilism—seeing emptiness is liberation. It brings us right through the seeming solidity and oppressiveness of our ordinary concerns, into a world where reality is shimmering, translucent, vital, while also being insubstantial, fleeting, and evanescent. (…continue)

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ReadtheSpirit.com | David Crumm

Joan Konner invites us on adventure beyond journalism and religion into…nothing. You read that right: NOTHING.  Joan Konner is inviting us on a tour of what poet Shel Silverstein used to call: “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

Joan is one of our most respected journalists—as Dean Emerita of the Columbia Journalism School and a longtime producer of Bill Moyers documentaries. Right now, like all journalists, she is standing at the end of a sidewalk, watching her beloved profession crumbling in front of her—and hoping that creative new forms materialize ahead. She’s also interested in the voids beyond what our language and our religious faiths can express. She wants more people to become aware of the vast body of reflections on “Nothing.” And at the same time, she has created a book about this Nothing in a new-style format that she calls a “sound-byte library.” (…continue)

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From the author

Joan Konner | The Huffington Post | November 6, 2009

“A Book About Nothing, Just Like Seinfeld”

“Nothing” is the force That renovates the World. –Emily Dickinson

Just a few months ago, the space station orbiting the earth reported three near misses with junk in space. What is, and should be, a stunning advance of modern technology, a man-made satellite in search of new knowledge, is repeatedly being threatened with damage and possibly, destruction by a blind spot in our material conception of life. That blind spot is Nothing, a necessary and essential component, of our everyday lives.

Nothing exists. Nothing is an essential presence in our lives. Paradoxical? Yes. Illogical and irrational? Yes.

Yet to ignore Nothing is to deny our road to renewal. Just look at the world around us: wars, weapons of mass destruction, pollution, the leftover junk of the backend of doing, with the planet spinning ever closer to self-destruction, even as it increases its access to knowledge to solve those problems. Yet we deny that paradox exists. We deny the irrational exists, although mounting evidence for both is reported daily in the media in the events and behavior of our times, including by the media. We of the Age of Reason the scientific method, of technology that works, yet we violate the very core of creation, the “‘Nothing’ that Renovates the world,” as Emily Dickinson wrote. The evidence for symmetry and paradox, equal and opposite, is present in Nature and human nature. Nature intends its unintended consequences. Duality is Oneness, as represented in the symbol of the Tao.

Nothing is. Nothing exists. Although Nature abhors a vacuum, Nature would have nowhere to rush in to fill it, if a vacuum didn’t exist. Where would something happen? Stars disappearing. Novas appearing. Leaves falling. New leaves growing. One generation dying, another being born. That vacuum, that Nothing, is with us all the time, everywhere, rushing in and out of existence in an instant. Nothing is the still center of the wheel of life. In the dark evanescence between equal and opposite, the Universe ignites.

Eastern sages have accepted the existence of Nothing for millennia. In Nothing—aka Emptiness, Nirvana, and Bliss—Eastern traditions have found a wellspring of culture, harmony, and wisdom. Deep thinkers in the West—philosophers, poets, artists, scientists, mathematicians, playwrights, musicians—have also written about Nothing for millennia, some with fascination, many with dread. Years ago Einstein observed: “If I allow things to vanish according to Newton, the Galilean inertial space remains; following my interpretation, however, nothing remains.” (See Ch. Science Sutra, P 147.) Heedless, Western materialist culture, caught in a vise of logic and reason, has ignored the presence of Nothing in our everyday lives. Like Sorcerer’s Apprentices toiling and boiling over, our days are drowned in doing and the inescapable consequences of so doing, weighted by waste and lacking renewal.

“You Don’t Have to Be a Buddhist to Know Nothing” is sound-bite journalism. The book takes a playful approach to a difficult, profound, even absurd, idea. It is a verbal collage to intrigue, tickle and tease the mind and to preserve insights for a culture too densely packed with timely distractions. Each quote becomes a timeless meditation.

Why does Nothing matter? If where, when, and from whom we are born are Destiny, then Nothing is our Free Will. Nothing is the locus of individual choice and possibility. If we deny our Nothing, we shrink our possibilities like a dying ocean. We deny ourselves the silence and the clearing which hold the seeds of creation. What we make of our Nothing is what we make of our life.

/


/

SpiritualityandPractice.com | Review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

“You Don’t Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing: An Illustrious Collection of Thoughts on Naught

Joan Konner conceived and edited “The Atheist’s Bible,” which became a national bestseller in 2007, and she produced the PBS documentary “The Mystery of Love.” She is Dean Emerita and Professor Emerita of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, as well as the former publisher and currently an honorary co-chair of the “Columbia Journalism Review.” This is her second book and it is brimming with a juicy and wide-ranging smorgasbord of quotations from artists, mystics, musicians, poets, philosophers, playwrights, scientists, and comedians.

As she explains in the introduction, we in the West have had a hard time with the paradoxical notion that “Nothing exists.” It is only recently that our cultural curriculum has made a place for both/and or holistic thinking. For centuries, Taoists, Zen Buddhists, and Tibetan mystics have talked about emptiness, nothing, and the value of silence. One of the first quotations in the book is from Edmond Jabès: “The void is waiting for vocabulary.” Konner lists words for nothing from A to Z: “among them are bupkis, emptiness, nada, naught, nirvana, the void, vacuum, zip, zero, and zilch.”

We were glad to see old friends on these pages from various artistic arenas including Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee, and Harold Pinter from theater; Andy Warhol, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Ad Reinhart from the art world; W. H. Auden, Charles Baudelaire, Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, and Allen Ginsberg from the realm of poetry; Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Randy Newman, and John Lennon from pop and folk music; Abraham Joshua Heschel, David Cooper, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, and Eckhart Tolle from the world of spirituality.

In a section titled “In the Stacks,” the editor highlights multiple quotations from Samuel Beckett, Italo Calvino, E. M. Cioran, Thomas Merton, Rumi, and William Shakespeare. We’d like to single out some quotes about silence to give an example of the high quality of the material in “You Don’t Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing”:

• “Silence is not the absence of sound. It’s a physical place, a destination with value and meaning in a chaotic world, somewhere arrived at with difficulty and left with regret.” –Kenneth Turan
• “Silence, a medium I enter and feel around and inside me, an affirming vital presence always, whether or not I’m conscious of it.” 
–John Edgar Wideman
• “After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” 
–Aldous Huxley
• “I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.” 
–Chaim Potok
• “Can you feel the silence?” 
–Van Morrison
• “Experience teaches that silence terrifies people the most.” 
–Bob Dylan

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James Ishmael Ford | “Thinking of Nothing” Book Review

The other day I received a note from a fellow Zen practitioner. For the tag line he used one of those jokes floating around the web.

“Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.”

As I read it I felt a flash of guilt.

I recalled being contacted with an offer of a copy of a book to review. Actually the book has been sitting on my bedside for a while, and as it is essentially a compilation of quotes, I’ve enjoyed dipping into it most nights of most weeks.

But the review just never quite happened.

Well, here it is early Christmas morning. I’m sitting in the family room, the family not yet up, my laptop on my lap, a cup of coffee by my side, and I’m looking at the book.

Journalist Joan Konner conceived of it and edited it.

The title is “You Don’t Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing.”

It is a delightful conceit. A compilation of non-Buddhist bon mots, sayings, anecdotes, passing thoughts, all touching upon nothing.

The quotes come from an astonishing range of people. Emily Dickinson, Voltaire, Harold Pinter, Alfred Hitchcock and Kung Fu Panda just barely begin the list…

Among those I really liked is in the section called “cemetery.” Edmond Jabès, a luminary of the twentieth century French Jewish community provides a quote that caught and tickled me. I gather it to be a text from his gravestone, although I might be wrong. I hope I’m not…

“Silence precedes us. It knows we will catch up.”

Konner reflects about the reasons for this book briefly in her foreword. It’s an interesting piece that shows some insight into the spirituality of emptiness. She asserts, and for me critically, how her book shows, “if nothing else, that Nothing capital N, exists simultaneously with Everything, capital E.” I consider this insight the foundation of my own life. And it can be the gate to liberation for all of us.

At the same time despite some Thomas Merton and one quote from St. John of the Cross, Konner seems to miss the wealth of the Christian apophatic tradition. Actually she doesn’t seem quite to get the religious encounter with nothing and nothingness writ large. She seems to think there is little connection to religion in nothing. Considering the title of the book she makes an assertion I find confusing. “Religion admits no nothing, no uncertainty, no unknown or unknowable.” Konner then says “God appears to fill the void.”

She writes this apparently ignorant of how that ancient and problematic and seriously weird word does indeed point for many to nothing. And then goes on to quote Thomas Merton writing of his own spiritual journey. “From moment to moment I remember with astonishment that I am at the same time empty and full.”

Really a small quibble. And not at all meant to discourage someone from getting this book. The introduction is actually quite intriguing. It suggests a spiritual insight from a non-spiritual person. Which I find delightful. And important.

It has long been my thesis that if the great insights of the Zen way, particularly how we are at once unique creatures precious beyond description and that each of us is at bottom boundless, open, empty, nothing – then that insight should be stumbled upon by people outside the Buddhist world.

Konner shows it is.

I very much recommend this book.

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“The Nothing that Heals Us”

Sharon Salzberg | The Huffington Post | November 16, 2009

It’s the end of daylight savings time on the east coast, and it just about always seems to be dim. Each day is largely dark, and cold, hinting at the uselessness of endeavor and the insubstantiality of what we ordinarily run around seeking. It’s a good time to be depressed.

This is the way we conventionally view what Buddhists call emptiness, and mystics of many traditions call nothingness or the Void. A really murky day, pointing to the uselessness of it all. But at the heart of personal, transformative wisdom, this emptiness isn’t a cold, depressing problem, leading us down to nihilism—seeing emptiness is liberation. It brings us right through the seeming solidity and oppressiveness of our ordinary concerns, into a world where reality is shimmering, translucent, vital, while also being insubstantial, fleeting, and evanescent.

In speaking of the unalloyed, direct knowing of profound emptiness, the Buddha said, “Oh, Bhikkus, (mendicants) there is the unborn and the unconditioned. Here the four elements of earth, air, water, and fire have no place. The notions of length and breadth, the subtle and the gross, good and evil, name and form are altogether destroyed. Neither this world nor the other, no coming, going or standing, neither death nor birth, nor sense objects are to be found here.”

In our human lives, experiencing this kind of profound emptiness means that like a candle flame gets blown out, our separateness and suffering are blown out. Not our capacity for love, or kindness, or clear seeing, or relationships, or work, or choosing soy ice cream in the grocery store over the dairy kind.

And the experience of this profound, liberating emptiness isn’t meant only for those who lived long ago in far away places, sitting in caves and at the roots of trees. It is beckoning right here and now. I thought of that right away when looking at Joan Konner’s book, “You Don’t Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing: An Illustrious Collection of Thoughts on Naught.”

I first met Joan when she was working on the “Mystery of Love,” a PBS documentary. From love to nothingness, in a few short years. That makes sense to me. In Buddhism we would say that when we perceive the transparency, the insubstantiality of life, we grow in wisdom. When we perceive relatedness within life, the interconnectedness, we grow in love. One never excludes the other.

In her book Joan has put together a collection of quotes from writers, philosophers, artists, musicians, poets, mystics and folks like the rest of us, all about, well, nothing. It is so much fun, along with being provocative and illuminating, to read. Everything is there, from Paul Valéry, “God made everything out of nothing, but the nothingness shows through,” to Emily Dickinson, “‘Nothing’ is the force that renovates the World,” to Oscar Wilde, “I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.” Almost every page invited me to take a few risks in perception, and step out of the strictures of feeling this day to day reality as all too solid.

In our society we are taught to badly want this and want that. But no matter what we get, it is never enough because it doesn’t last. So the search for new experiences goes on and on. We look for new intellectual experiences and sexual experiences and cosmic experiences. Over and over. We even see people willing to destroy their bodies, their minds and their loving relationships—destroy their lives—for a new experience.

Even if a pleasant experience could endure, we could not bear for it to go on and on. Who could watch the same movie over and over without wanting a break? Who could listen to a sweet sound that never stops? Yet commonly when we seek rest from one experience we do so, ironically, by seeking another. It is possible to find rest even from the constant tedium and pressure of changing experience through knowing the difference between bleakness and what is meant in Buddhism by emptiness.

May the consideration of nothing free you from anxiety, dread, and all unhappy things. It’s right here.

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ReadtheSpirit.com | David Crumm

Joan Konner invites us on adventure beyond journalism and religion into … nothing. You read that right: NOTHING.  Joan Konner is inviting us on a tour of what poet Shel Silverstein used to call: “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

Joan is one of our most respected journalists—as Dean Emerita of the Columbia Journalism School and a longtime producer of Bill Moyers documentaries. Right now, like all journalists, she is standing at the end of a sidewalk, watching her beloved profession crumbling in front of her—and hoping that creative new forms materialize ahead. She’s also interested in the voids beyond what our language and our religious faiths can express. She wants more people to become aware of the vast body of reflections on “Nothing.” And at the same time, she has created a book about this Nothing in a new-style format that she calls a “sound-byte library.” She’s standing at the end of the sidewalk of 20th Century journalism—casting her new style of book into the undefined nothingness of this 21st Century.
 Sound just a little too abstract?
 Well, get a load of this book! If you enjoy Buddhist Koans (logic puzzles designed to bust the mind free of our normal daily patterns of thinking), then you’ll enjoy her 300-page collection of bits and pieces on Nothing from a whole host of thinkers.
 Among the hundreds of references here are thoughts by Douglas Adams (of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fame), Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Woody Guthrie, Pope John XXIII, theologian Paul Tillich, J.R.R. Tolkien, Bill Waterson (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame), Elie Wiesel and W.B. Yeats.
 This is a wonderful little (it’s a pocket-sized hardback) guidebook to these incredibly anxiety-producing times in which we live! When we think we’ve reached a point where familiar old forms are falling away—and we see a yawning void of Nothing ahead? Well, that’s where the fun truly begins, Joan argues.
 “Nothing is where knowing stops. And starts!” she writes in her introduction. “What Nothing should not be is a Dead End of thinking. Nothing is the other half of Being, of the paradox we call reality. Irrational? Naturally.”
 That’s the adult version of where Shel Silverstein took us as kids. With Joan in your pocket, you’ll feel honored to be standing at that precipice with giants.

Highlights of Conversation with Joan Konner on 
“You Don’t Have to Be Buddhist to Know Nothing”:

DAVID: You call this book’s format “a sound-byte library.” You’re famous, Joan, for your television productions with Bill Moyers, so I understand the “sound byte” reference. But tell us more about this concept?

JOAN: I do hope that more people recognize that this is an important format and that it is journalistic. What I’m trying to create, over time, is a sound-byte library of important ideas. I’m collecting and preserving and organizing them so they’re accessible to people.

DAVID: Well, we truly are ready for new forms. No question, we’re at a precipice in American print media. Newspapers are crumbling all around us. Book publishers and bookstores are going through a painful transformation. We really need to devote our collective energy to preserving the best of our culture in collections that will survive this transformation.
 
Are you surprised by how fast this is all moving?

JOAN: We were all taken by surprise, especially those who are running newspapers and are scrambling to try to survive. The process began with cost cutting, even before this economic crunch brought about by the Web.
 
This change already was happening in the 1990s, even before the Web hit full force. Then, once the Web hit, it meant a faster diminishment and devaluation of the print product for newspapers.

DAVID: It’s not entirely clear to me from your book where you stand personally—although obviously you’re very interested in these challenging ideas in philosophy and religion in your new book. What can you tell us about your own religious orientation?

JOAN: I’m exploring the inner landscape. That’s my agenda and I think it’s part of the religious agenda, too. I see myself as a journalist if anything.
 
I don’t call myself an agnostic but I do recognize that I will never know. As I explore this field, this beat of ideas, it takes me into what is sometimes called the spiritual landscape. After 45 years in journalism, at this point in my life I’m interested No. 1 in pursuing ideas and No. 2 exploring the inner landscape. Other people may describe it in different ways, but that’s how I prefer to say it.
 
This exploration does take you into your own belief system, if you have one. I respect many of the religious traditions. I think that insight, experience and wisdom are present in religious traditions. I myself was born Jewish and I have great respect for that, but if you ask me to name what I’ve learned the most from—and what seems to guide my own behavior now—I say I’m a “Trans-Zen-Jewish-Quak-alist.” By that I’m referring to the Transcendentalism, Zen Buddhism, Judaism and Quaker traditions that inform my actions in the world.

DAVID: I like the way you approach these questions. One of the most important interviews we’ve published in the past few months was with Samir Selmanovic, an author and activist based in New York City who says that all religious traditions—including atheism—need to be a part of our community.

JOAN: Yes, I would acknowledge the importance of that full spectrum with one qualification and that’s: life affirming. If I have any bias in my religious belief, it’s toward affirming life, because that’s all we have. Some people have carried religion into areas that are not life affirming anymore.

DAVID: You’re not talking about “pro life” issues here, are you?

JOAN: No, I’m not referring to that term. I’m talking about a definition of “life affirming” that sees a pattern connecting life and nature and science and even religion in a positive way. There are positive and negative forces out there. The killing of life, as in the actions of a suicide bomber in the hope of a better life after this world, is not acceptable to me.

DAVID: Another important writer we just welcomed into this online magazine was Jacob Needleman, who wrote a landmark book back in the 1970s about the emergence of Eastern religions in California at that time. He’s still writing and just published his memoir, which we recommended to readers, too.
 
You quote Needleman in your book: “America is the land of zero. Start from zero, we start from nothing. That’s the ideal of America.”
 
You’ve lived through this same era of our history and, like Needleman, you’ve been a close observer of what’s unfolded. Are you surprised by what you’ve seen?

JOAN: I can’t say I foresaw where we are today, but I did report on some of this as it unfolded and I experienced it.
 
This seeking we’ve experienced started as a challenge to Western values, materialistic values. Those materialistic values grew into what we now call consumerism. And this seeking often was an integration of Eastern thought into Western culture as a different way of being in the world.
 
People were learning from another tradition that had been introduced into our culture in quite a different way. They were experiencing this through meditation or spiritual practice without a religious institution behind it.
 
I served for a long time, about 10 years, with the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, which works to introduce contemplative practice into our world. That was not a religious organization although it had at its root the Filet Mignon of all religious practice: contemplation. You might call that prayer or meditation or centering prayer as some Christians practice it.
 
I can’t say that I’m surprised that there is this growing movement against the materialistic traditions of Western cultures. But, this takes us into even thornier areas. We are bucking a scientific tradition on which our Western tradition is built. It’s logical and provable and physical. But what people were exploring in the 1970s was their inner freedom to choose alternatives from other traditions. This led to a clash of values. It was acknowledging that there was something beyond our world—something “other.”

DAVID: Now, for Jacob Needleman, his gateway into this mysterious “other”—this larger spiritual realm—was through his exploration of the ancient religious texts. He began teaching in San Francisco as a religious skeptic, but his immersion in these ancient texts seemed to wake up his spiritual awareness.

JOAN: That’s a connection that’s hard for me to make. The power of the texts is in the beauty of the expression and the knowledge in the words.
 
But here’s the other side of the coin: Our vocabulary literally contradicts the infinite. That’s what vocabulary does. A word contains a thought or an idea, so while I think of the beauty of the text in earthly terms—our own vocabulary—I think the power of the text can point the direction and when the text runs out, then symbols start to point the direction as you find in Jung’s work, let’s say. And then you come to a certain point where Nothing is known.
 At the end of the power of text, we’ve reached the beginning of something. I’m not talking here as a scholar. I’m a researcher and I’m a journalist. But I am interested in these people who we might call mystics who reach a point beyond which we don’t know. It’s like a horizon point where things converge. Call it a zero point.
 People may imagine their own beliefs into this point and that might take the form of a literal God or it might take the form of George Lucas’s Force. You can imagine into that zero point, but basically we don’t know. Our words don’t work there. Has some text tried to capture it? Yes, I think this is what my book is trying to do.
 
Nothing is really a difficult subject. When I start talking about Nothing, my own friends sometimes look at me like deer in the headlights not knowing what I’m talking about. Yet, as I’ve shown in this book, there is a great body of literature that addresses this awareness of Nothing.

DAVID: Yes, there are many who have touched on this puzzling concept down through the millennia—you even quote Jeremiah on your first page, talking about “void” thousands of years ago.
 
When I think about the limitation of language you’re raising, I remember the Zen monk well over 1,000 years ago who was famous for tearing up Sutras to encourage a more immediate encounter with Buddhism. Words got in the way for this Zen master.

JOAN: Right. Right. Sometimes symbols are the most expressive. One of the most expressive Eastern symbols for me is the Tao. The combination of the light and the dark and the paradox in the symbol—I don’t want to go into talking about all of those traditions here—but that symbol has great meaning for me in terms of Nothing.

DAVID: Well, we may have lost some readers along the way with the abstractions of this interview and perhaps with some of the references we’ve made here. So, I want to make sure we end by emphasizing how much fun this book represents.
 
I mean: real fun. There’s amusing and very thoughtful stuff here.
 You’ll find this from Tennessee Williams: “A vacuum is a hell of a lot better than some of the stuff that nature replaces it with.”
 Pope John XXIII is here: “The feelings of my smallness and my nothingness always kept me good company.” What a great line to capture his disarming humility!
 You even quote A.A. Milne’s Pooh talking with Christopher Robin, who tells Pooh that he loves doing “Nothing.” “How do you do Nothing?” Pooh asks. And there’s an exchange between them that made me smile to remember it. Then, Christopher Robin finally says: 
“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”
 
Of course, you’re not alone in recognizing the spiritual insights of Milne and his characters.

JOAN: There is fun in this. Nothing has its depressive side to it, but there’s also a lovely side to Nothing as well. Buddhist thought posits that Nothing is love and light, when you erase all boundaries and transcend into this world of Nirvana. It’s love and light. So you have these polarities from Sartre to Buddha.
 Once you’ve concentrated on Nothing for a couple of hours, you’ll wind up laughing. There are lots of jokes you can make about this. Seinfeld certainly did.
 
This book has a playful organization to it. That’s my intent. The form is more important than you might realize just opening the book and seeing that it’s a collection of quotes.
 
Today, we communicate and think in short form. Television started this process, but the Internet is pushing it even further. So, this collection of quotes is a very carefully researched, checked and planned collection of quotes that is part of what I hope will become a journalistic sound-byte history of ideas.
 That’s my passion—to play with this as an artist might. My own inner sense is that books like this are verbal collages.
 I wish some publisher with real force in the marketplace would get behind this idea and see that there’s real value in this kind of sound-byte library dedicated to the preservation of perennial ideas in accessible form.
 There are so many important ideas that can be gathered in this form simply by doing the careful research and creative work of assembling them.
 This really is journalism to me. We must find new ways to explore and write about our inner landscape.