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Koan; “Being something is the weakness of strength, being nothing is the strength of weakness.” – Layman Pang

When I ran into this quote from Layman Pang, the story of David and Goliath popped into my mind. Goliath was a giant, it is said he was over 9 feet tall and he was wearing armor and carrying weapons. We don’t know how tall David was, he is described as being a young shepherd boy, his only weapons were a sling and a stone. More than a story of the underdog upsetting the favorite, it speaks to the way our strengths have a shadow side, and our weaknesses contain a light.

Being 9 feet tall and wearing armor and having weapons is definitely something. Depending on the situation it might be just the right thing. But, in a situation that requires agility and quick responses, a suit of armor and multiple weapons just get in the way. Facing a heavily armored and armed opponent wearing a cloth tunic and carrying only a sling and a stone does not sound like a position of strength, but the ability to move quickly and strike from a distance is also something.

When I meet a couple for the first time in my therapy practice, I often ask what it was that attracted them to each other. Invariably it is the very quality that attracted them to each other that is now driving them crazy about each other. The strength had become a weakness, and the ‘weakness’ which has led them to seek therapy can potentially become a ‘strength’. Identifying with our strengths, in Layman Pang’s words, “becoming something”, is the problem. Had Goliath recognized the situation, he would have taken his armor off and gotten a bow and arrow instead of a sword and shield. If we can recognize the situations as they arise before us, we can take off our armor and put down our weapons and respond in a more appropriate way.

Having a firm sense of who we are is a good thing, being attached to that, making it into ‘something’, causes problems. Being able to let go of who we think we are and being open to discovering the different facets of our being, ‘being nothing’ as in ‘not any one thing’ is a good thing, the strength of not knowing exactly who we are, which allows us to respond in ways that surprise even us.


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