(FORTUNE Magazine) – Usually, something's up. We are going somewhere. We are scheduled to arrive. The agenda is on. The train is waiting. The kids are in the car. The alarm has rung. The rooster has crowed. The day's a-wasting. Get a move on. Maximize.

That's the way we want it, of course. What would we be without the requirements that shape us? Who would we be? Quite often I lie abed for seconds at a time in the morning, waiting for the first sharp pang of obligation to set in. When it hits, I rise, knowing what I have to do. What would it be like to be without that? To not have to be somewhere? To sit in a hotel lobby over a cup of coffee and a newspaper with no watch on? To wander alone through the streets of an alien city, without anyone to meet, anything to do for the next several hours, free of the need to be clever, or incisive, or decisive?

I just got back from New Orleans. While I was there, I had an opportunity to come face to face with the nothingness, and it was sweet. I almost missed it, though. Nothingness is fragile. The smallest wind can blow it away. Who knows when, once rejected, it will come again?

My trip began well. I flew alone, in sneakers and jeans, and did not bring my briefcase. Yes, I had some papers in a legal folder, I think more out of guilt than anything else, but I dispatched those early. No, I did not bury my nose in Vegetable Times or FiberOpticon or Extrude, or any of the mandatory reading material of my traveling group. I just read a book for a while. Then I slept.

I awoke as the airplane descended, feeling strangely like myself. I realized what the difference was. I didn't have my face on. I often go about without my face on, but rarely in a public place where I might be seen without it, which can be dangerous. First, you might be forced to conduct an encounter without it, the other party free to plunge willy-nilly into your naked persona without any mediation. Just as bad is the possibility of another human being's having the opportunity to observe you putting your face on from scratch. That's ugly too. Fortunately, there was nobody around to see me sitting there without my face on. So I left it off. After a while, I forgot I wasn't wearing it.

When I arrived in New Orleans, I realized that I had neglected to ask Sally to book a pompous limousine that reinforced my bogus executive image. I took a ratty cab instead. I opened the window and smelled the air, which was interesting, because it smelled like something...soft and wet and green. Little, low houses with grand porticos lined the highway. I wondered who lived there.

I leaned back and thought about what I had to do. There were several important meetings that had to be attended over the course of the next few days. No decisions would be required. I would preside. When I was not granting legitimacy to the proceedings simply by my presence, I would be off duty. I let the idea that I had nothing to be anxious about descend on me. I did not shake it off.

I was now ready, my spirit poised on the brink of the nothingness. I looked inside, but did not jump. Perhaps I wasn't small enough to get through to it yet.

The next day I took a walk with my pal Allenby. I caught up with him accessing E-mail like a dervish in the office we had set up in the hotel. "Let's get out of here and grab a bite," I said. "I'm coming," he said, bent over the keyboard of the laptop. It took me 40 minutes to get him out of there. We strode down the street in great executive strides that ate up the pavement before us. "I've been working for seven days straight," Allenby said, his serious face bent to the pavement, his brow working at the job of getting away for a few minutes. "I have to tell myself, It's all right that we do this! This is fine! We owe ourselves! Right?"

I told him, "Right." I felt it then for the first time, walking with my buddy on a little expedition to nowhere. Me, very small, very free, in the big, wide world, with nothingness all around me. It was a strange, weightless feeling, not bad. I let it hang there. I didn't push it. I could sense something within me rising up to meet it, and I wanted to make it come faster, but that's a loser's game. You can't hurry nothingness.

That afternoon, after a meeting on the interface between marketing and product management in the field, I went back to my room and channel-surfed for a couple of hours. After that, my mind was completely empty. It was nice. I felt a little lonely, but called no one. I looked out the window at the city instead.

At dinner, and at the parties afterward, I had my face on, but not so tightly that I couldn't breathe. I drank, but not enough to hurt myself and kill the nothingness. A hangover is the apotheosis of something.

I finally got there on the last day out. I went to bed early the night before--about one. I left a wake-up call for eight the next morning and was out on the quiet streets a little after nine. I didn't do much. I walked into a real bookstore, the kind that smells like dust and old paper and has no eight-foot-tall, two-dimensional statue of John Grisham. Down the street I found a record store with nothing but vinyl. I poked through it. Didn't buy anything. Nobody noticed me. I felt tiny. It was good.

After that, I went to the airport. I had an hour or so to wait until plane time. I wasn't hungry. I had no messages to return. Most of my associates were on planes of their own, unreachable. I would see my family in a couple of hours. I stood there in the middle of all that nothing, and an enormous bolt of lightness smashed into me. I didn't know it was coming. I let it go through me. After a while it receded a bit, but I still felt like singing. So I did. Nobody heard me, I don't think, but it didn't matter. Nothing did.

Now I'm home, and the kids have a tennis lesson in a couple of minutes. My wife wants to look at a new floor lamp at the mall, since we've decided that halogen lamps aren't safe. I have a couple of calls to make to people who are sorry to bother me at home but are doing so anyway. What can I tell you? I'm back.

Still, a residue of nothingness continues to warm me like a tiny coal in the bottom of a grate. Whenever I can seek it out again, I will. Although I know you can't actually make it happen, I do believe it's possible to be receptive and to place yourself in locations that draw nothingness to themselves like a magnet. I've been thinking about Los Angeles sometime in March, just as the development season goes into full swing. I've got no good reason not to go.

By day, Stanley Bing is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.