Finding meaning, and holding it lightly

 

We are conditioned to find meaning in the world, and especially in what happens in our own life. It’s put into us through evolution, and it just makes sense that we do so. It helps us survive and function in the world.

One special case is when something happens that we don’t particularly like. Often, it’s in the form of a loss. We lose someone or something, and the mind tries to find a meaning in it.

The meaning may be that we are a victim, or that we are not good enough, or something similar and painful. And in the best case, we find a meaning that help us learn, heal, mature, and find peace with what happened.

For instance, the meaning may be I have an opportunity to learn about impermanence. I can learn to relate to it in a more helpful way. It may invite me to more fully appreciate what’s here and make use of an opportunity while it’s still here. It may invite me to know it will go away, and find some peace with it even before it happens. It may help me mature as a human being and find and deepen my empathy with others who experience loss. That all makes loss meaningful.

I like to keep these meaning-stories as simple and real as possible. I could add to it. For instance, life “wants” me to learn this, or that the loss was a special set-up just for me. But that doesn’t really make sense. It just adds unnecessary complication and drama to it. Some meaning-stories are inherently stressful.

And, in reality, any and each meaning-story can be stressful if we hold it as too real and too… meaningful. If we take it as absolutely true and real, instead of just as a temporary guide, any story will eventually be stressful.

There is a way to do this that seems the most helpful to me.

Find a meaning that’s practical, simple, and real. A meaning that helps me heal, mature, and function well in the world. Hold it lightly, as you are able.

Leave the rest aside. The meanings that seem overly complicated or makes it into something special. The meanings that are clearly stressful or painful.

Take to inquiry any remaining meaning-stories that seem real and substantial, and especially the stressful ones. Examine them.

For instance, use The Work of Byron Katie to see the consequences of holding it as true, how it may be if you don’t, and the validity in the reversals.

Or use the Living Inquiries to see how the mind creates its own stressful experience, how it attaches sensations to stories to give them charge and a sense of reality and substance, and help the mind soften or release the association between the stories and the charge.

To find a constructive meaning, it can help to talk with someone we trust or use some guidelines or tools found in – for instance – the positive psychology world.

And when it comes to holding any meaning lightly and set the stressful ones aside, some form of inquiry can be very helpful.

Note: When I say “I like to keep these meaning-stories as simple and real as possible” I don’t mean that I hold the meaning itself as real. It just means that I try to find a meaning that makes sense to me. A meaning that’s “real” in the sense of authentic.

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Is there a meaning to everything?

 

Any belief can be helpful for a while and in some ways, and they also come with drawbacks. Eventually, the drawbacks of a belief tend to outweigh the benefits.

I use “belief” here to mean any story we – at any level – hold as true.

One of these stories is that there is a purpose or meaning to anything that’s happening. It’s somehow orchestrated for our purpose, to help us learn, grow, heal, and awaken.

It’s a belief that can have several benefits. It can help us look for gifts in what’s happening. It can help us look for ways to learn from it, grown, heal, and mature. We can even use it as a support in awakening. (Finding ourselves as the presence the experience happens within and as, and also the identifications making this difficult to notice.)

Eventually, this belief may be less needed. We may have created a new habit of learning, healing, growing etc. from what happens in life. We may see that we don’t need that belief as a support since relating to life in this way has its own rewards.

The belief may even be less helpful, depending on how we take it and where we are in our life. It can lead to a more fatalistic attitude, and it can lead to passivity rather than being an engaged and good steward of our life.

I am not addressing whether there is purpose or meaning to what happens in life. That’s a complex question, and it doesn’t really matter that much. What matters is how we see it, and whether how we see it is helpful or less helpful for us.

That said, here are a couple of thoughts on the topic:

Meaning and purpose is created by our mind. It’s not inherent in life.

Also, whenever we have hangups, trauma, or blind spots, our perceptions and actions are colored by it. And that tends to give us experiences that shows us these hangups, traumas, and blind spots. Our colored perception itself reflects these hangups, and our actions creates situations for us reflecting them back to us as well.

It’s a cause and effect dynamic that shows us what’s left, and what needs healing, maturing, and to be perceived in the context of awakening. In that sense, there is a meaning to everything. Life does invite us to heal, mature, and wake up in any situation and always. It’s built into life.

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Translate knowing into words

 

Some inquiry clients report a knowing but no words or images. They know that a feeling is X (a threat, the one who isn’t good enough, a craving for sugar), but are not aware of any images or words connected with it.

There are words or images there, otherwise, there wouldn’t be a knowing. Without a story, a feeling would just be sensations.

One way to help the client explore this is to ask them to translate the knowing into words.

If the feeling could speak, what would it say?

What words fit the feeling?

What does the feeling mean?

This gives the client something to work on. He or she can look at or listen to the words, and in that way begin to separate the story from the sensations.

The reverse of this is when a client is aware of the story, but say they don’t feel it anywhere. In that case, some other pointers can be helpful. For instance, does the client feel it all over the body? (They may look for it in a more limited area.) Do they feel it in the face or head? (They may look for it in the torso.) Do they feel it somewhere, but dismiss it as something else? (Stomach ache, headache, itching, pressure that they think is due to something else.) If they were to point to where they feel it, where would they point? (Without thinking about it in advance.)

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Meaning and purpose in life

 

Some folks in the non-dual world are skeptical to words such as meaning and purpose. They may say just do inquiry on it, or it’s all made up by the mind, or it doesn’t exist.

To me, that seems a little one-sided.

It is helpful to do inquiry on meaning or purpose. I get to see how my mind creates its own experience of meaning and purpose (Living Inquiries). I get to question stressful thoughts (The Work). The charge and stress tends to go out of it, or is at least softened.

At the same time, I find it equally helpful – and enriching – to have a sense of meaning and purpose in my life in a conventional sense. To have a direction, something I am passionate about, something that has meaning for me and is aligned with my values and interests.

As usual, the two are not mutually exclusive or opposed to each other. They work together.

Examining my ideas of meaning and purpose tends to soften or release the stress in it. And finding meaning and purpose in an ordinary everyday sense gives me a sense of direction life.

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How my mind creates the experience of meaning

 

It can be helpful to explore how our mind creates its experience of meaning.

When I explore this for myself, I see that meaning is created by images and words. And if there is velcro on it – a charge, a sense of reality or solidity – sensations are connected to it as well. As usual with velcro, sensations gives the words and images a sense of substance and reality, and the images and words give the sensations a sense of meaning.

One example is my sense of dread. It’s made up of sensations with images and words associated with them, and these images and words create a sense of meaning. The meaning is in the image of something dark over everything, and in words such as “dread”, “the world is scary”, “the world is a threat”, “I can be hurt”, “I can be damaged beyond repair” and more.

Any inquiry is really an exploration of meaning and how our mind creates a sense of meaning. And it can be done more intentionally where we explicitly look for meaning.

What does X mean?

What images and words create this sense of meaning?

What sensations are associated with these images and words?

What does this situation mean? I am weak. Incompetent. Unloved. Can I find that? How does my mind create those experiences?

What does this feeling mean? I was treated unfairly. Can I find unfair and fair? How does my mind create those meanings?

What does this compulsion mean? I need love. I am unloved. Can I find love? Can I find me, the one who is unloved? How does my mind create the experience of love, or being unloved? How does my mind create the experience of person Y who loves me?

What images, words, and sensations create those meanings?

Meaning

 

What creates a sense of meaning?

How does my mind create a sense of meaning?

Here is how it appears to me now, as I look…….

When words and/or images combine – in my experience – with sensations, there is an appearance of meaning. The words and images appears real and true. The sensations associated, and apparently “stuck” on the words and images lend a sense of reality to the words and images.

Words and images alone are recognized as words and images, free of meaning. They can be helpful and practical pointers, but not inherently “true” or “real”, or conveying a real or solid “meaning”.

Sensations alone are recognized as sensations, free of meaning.

Only when words and images appear “stuck” to sensations do they appear real, true or conveying a real or true meaning.

And they can only appear stuck together when they are unexamined. That’s the only way there can be the appearance of a real and solid truth or meaning.

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Finding meaning

 

With the Living Inquiries, it can be interesting and illuminating to look for meaning.

For instance, what gives a particular word meaning? What images or sensations seem “stuck” to it?

What gives an image meaning? What words or sensations come up with it?

What gives a sensation meaning? What images and words are here, associated with it?

This is something that is relatively far from conventional views. It may seem obvious that a word, image or even sensation has meaning. And yet, meaning is created from words, images and sensations “stuck” together, and it’s possible to take a closer look at this, and invite it to unstick. A word is a word. An image an image. A sensation a sensation.

We can still use all of these in a practical way, to help us navigate in the world and communicate. We can hold them lightly. We can see how meaning is created, while also using meaning in a simple and practical way. It all feels more transparent.

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Inquiry: Meaning

 

For most of us, meaning seems quite real and solid. It seems to really be there, somewhere.

If I look for meaning, what do I find?

Look at the word “meaning”. Look at each of the letters. Can you find meaning on those letters? (Yes, there is a sensation in the throat and images.)

Look at the images. What do you see? (A glow around the word. A dictionary. Something that looks like a representation of the internet.) Look at them. Are those images meaning? (No.)

Feel the sensation in the throat. Allow them to be there. Are they meaning? (No. They are sensations.)

Rest. Allow everything to be as it is.

Look at the word “meaning” again. Do you find meaning on those letters? (Yes, I feel it in the upper chest.)

Feel those feelings in the upper chest. Do you see any images with them? (Yes, a body image.)

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Life’s purpose

 

What’s the purpose of life, life with capital L, also known as reality, the universe, God?

In a way, it’s a silly question since “purpose” is only created in thought. It’s not inherent in reality.

And yet, some stories can be helpful as a way of balancing a habitual view. For instance, the purpose of life is for life to experience itself in always new ways. That fits with what we see and observe, and it gives a sense of the creativity and openness we see in life. It’s aligned with what we already see, which is that life allows what’s here in it’s infinite variety. It also fits with the idea of evolution.

If that’s a very basic purpose, there are also other layers of purpose. For instance, a though may say that the purpose of life, and specifically the life we know, is to bring what’s here into awareness. For life to discover and become conscious of what’s really here. And that happens through curiosity, sometimes combined with guidelines and tools such as meditation and inquiry. This pointer helps us release possibly stressful ideas of what the purpose may be, such as be happy, or successful, or being a good person, or maturing, or awakening, or something even more abstract. Just noticing what’s here, with some curiosity and sincerity, is much more concrete and manageable.

So here we have three facets of this question. (1) It’s a meaningless question since purpose can only be found in a thought. It’s not inherent in reality. (2) A very basic purpose of life is to experience itself in always new ways, and in it’s infinite variety and inherent creativity. (3) Another layer of purpose, perhaps more specific to our human life, is for life to bring itself into awareness, for life as it’s happening here to bring itself into awareness. What’s really here? What do I find when I look? What’s more real for me than my initial images and thoughts about what’s here?

Happiness

 

Some forms and flavors of happiness….

Pleasure and enjoyment. Pleasure in sun, beauty, food, friendship, touch, etc. This has obvious evolutionary roots. We need food to survive, so find pleasure in good food. We need friendship and social connections to survive and thrive, so find pleasure in friendships. And so on. This is also a form of happiness in meeting goals, in having life align with simple shoulds, hopes, and expectations. The sense of happiness tends to be immediate and fleeting, although still very enjoyable and an important part of our everyday life.

Meaning and engagement. We can find a sense of meaning in many ways, perhaps most often through a sense of connection with something larger than ourselves. We can have a sense of meaning and purpose in existence itself, and in our own existence. A sense of belonging, of connection with a larger social, ecological, and cosmic whole. And a sense of meaning and purpose in our personal life through relationships, activities, work, study, engagement, and more.

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Simplicity = alignment with (a) what is most important to me and (b) reality

 

What is voluntary simplicity, or simple living?

It can mean external simplification, such as cleaning out the closets, getting rid of the second car, reducing obligations and work hours. Or it can mean inner simplification, through simple activities, meditation, or alignment with what is more meaningful in life. And one often leads to and feeds into the other.

For me, the most attractive starting point is clarifying what is meaningful for me. What is most important to me? At the end of my life, how would I have liked it to be? What is my ideal obituary? What does that mean for how I live my life now? How would my ideal day be, down to the small details? How would I like to reprioritize my life? How do I stop myself from doing it? What do I fear may happen? How likely is it? What is more likely? What is the lowest hanging fruit, the easiest place to start? What resource do I have for making these changes? What support, if any, do I need? How can I get that support?

This inevitably leads to changes in my external life. I may decide to do something else for pay, either something that makes more money, or something that is inherently meaningful for me. I may decide to work fewer hours for pay so I can have more time for family, friends, volunteering, or other activities. I may decide to make more money, save, and retire early. I may decide to sell off things I don’t need, and require money and time for upkeep. I may move somewhere else, where I may find more support to do what is more meaningful for me.

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Research: Meaningful conversations make people happier

 

Would you be happier if you spent more time discussing the state of the world and the meaning of life — and less time talking about the weather?

It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject….

But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people…..

Next, Dr. Mehl wants to see if people can actually make themselves happier by having more substantive conversations.

“It’s not that easy, like taking a pill once a day,” Dr. Mehl said. “But this has always intrigued me. Can we make people happier by asking them, for the next five days, to have one extra substantive conversation every day?”

– NY Times blog, Talk Deeply, Be Happy?

It may be that happiness prompts us to deeper and more meaningful conversations. Or, as the researcher suggests, that deep conversations leads to happiness. They help us find meaning in our life, and connect with others in a more meaningful and intimate way.

And it may well be that this is another tool for happiness: A prescription of one more meaningful conversation in a day.

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Lessons from the Blue Zones: How to live longer and healthier lives

 

The four essentials:

1. Move Naturally – Make your home, community and workplace present you with natural ways to move. Focus on activities you love, like gardening, walking and playing with your family.

2. Right Outlook – Know and be able to articulate your sense of purpose, and ensure your day is punctuated with periods of calm.

3. Eat Wisely – Instead of groping from fad diet to fad diets, use time-honored strategies for eating 20% less at meals. Avoid meat and processed food and drink a couple of glasses of wine daily.

4. Belong to the Right Tribe – Surround yourself with the right people, make the effort to connect or reconnect with your religion and put loved ones first.

More info at Blue Zones.

Meaning

 

Some aspects of meaning that I find in own experience…

First, there is a sense of meaning that comes from culture and personality. This sense of meaning comes from moving towards what a story tells me should be, and it tends to feel a little hollow. Some examples here are living a “good life” for the purpose of aligning with an idea. Patriotism. Giving ones life to the corporation. Eating vegetarian even if we don’t quite get why at a gut level. Living up to a certain image. Or living up to any “should” in the culture/subculture in general. (Tools to explore these stories: The Work.)

A variation of this one is to see meaning as somehow fixed, an objective purpose “out there”, to be found or missed, and the objective meaningfulness of our life hinges on finding and living it. This is a good way to create stress for ourselves since we will always wonder how to find this objective purpose, whether we have found it or not, if there isn’t something more, and to what extent our life measures up to it. (Tools: The Work.)

There is also a sense of meaning (at least for me) in finding wholeness at a body-mind level. In moving towards it, taste it, live from the wholeness of who I am that includes body and mind. I can find this through body-centered practices (yoga, mindful exercise), mediation, allowing/being with experience, working with projections/shadows, and many other ways. There is a sense of coming home in myself and of a nurturing richness and fullness. Also, independent of the external circumstances, there is little or no sense of being a victim or lacking. (Tools: Body-oriented practices such as yoga, tai chi, chi gong, aikido etc. Meditation. Allowing/being with experience. Working with projections/shadows through The Work and the Big Mind process. Mindful exercise such as Total Immersion Swimming.)

Related to that one is the sense of meaning that comes from feeling connected with the wider world. With others, a landscape, life, Earth as a whole, the universe as a whole. This can happen in many different ways, and often through receptivity and an open heart, and (with the intention of) living our life for the benefit of the larger whole. (Tools: Tong len, well-wishing, prayer, intention to live for the benefit of the larger whole, Joanna Macy’s practices to reconnect, the universe story.)

And there is also a sense of meaning from the soul level. The soul level can express itself in many ways, for instance through an alive presence in/around the body which is timeless and in time, universal and personal, and has a sense of being infinitely insightful and kind. Or from recognizing all as awareness and all content of awareness as one. The sense of coming home goes even further here, is even more independent on life circumstances, and is even more nurturing. (Tools: Prayer, soul level shaktipat, unraveling knots at personality level.)

Then there is the sense of meaning that comes from how I relate to situations. I can use any situation as an invitation to – and material for – healing and maturing as who I am, and what I am noticing itself. (Tools: The Work and any other.)

And related to that, the sense of meaning that comes from listening to and following our heart and intuition, in daily life. Or just notice what brings up a sense of meaning for us in daily life, even in small ways, and follow that with curiosity and receptivity – as an experiment to see what happens.

Finally, at the level of Ground – when what we are notices itself – any sense of meaning is seen clearly as just coming from and happening within content of experience. What we are is inherently free from and untouched by any sense of meaning or purpose. Meaning and purpose is just the play of what we are, within form.

Here, there is a full freedom to play with any sense of meaning and purpose in our human life, and we also come to see meaning and purpose as a tool for our human self to function in the world and – sometimes – invite what we are to notice itself.

Trigger: The teacher so often referred to here, presenting meaning and purpose as objective, “out there”, and our lives only having meaning and purpose if we find it and live according to it. (His sense of meaning seems more related to the soul level.) I see that my view of meaning may be more aligned with a postmodern view, and his a premodern/modern view – which also makes sense considering each of our backgrounds.

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A closer look at meaning

 

This follows from the previous post…

  • Any sense of meaning happens within content of experience, within the world of form.
    • It is a guest, as anything else within content of experience. It lives its own life, coming and going on its own schedule.
  • Any sense of meaning comes from a story.
    • The basic story is that of an I with an Other, and this gives rise to the dynamic of experiencing meaning in (a) supporting and enhancing this separate I and those within its circle of us, and (b) for this separate I to find a sense of connection with itself and the wider world.
    • More generally, whenever I believe a story, there is a sense of meaning when I work at reducing the gap between my stories of what is and what should be.
  • What I really am, is always and already free from any meaning-inducing story and any sense of meaning.
    • I can explore this in several different ways, for instance through the sense fields. How does this sense of meaning, and the meaning-inducing story, appear in the sense fields? Where do I find it?
    • What I am, that which content of experience happens within, to and as, is free from meaning, yet fully allow any sense of meaning.
  • Any story is a guide for our human self for functioning in the world, and – possibly – noticing what it really is.
    • It gives a sense of direction and purpose.
    • It guides action in the world, or inquiry into what we really are.
  • Any meaning-inducing story is more or less appropriate to our human self and its situation.
    • First, does it actually give rise to a sense of meaning? Does it work?
    • And then, what practical consequences does it have for our human self, in the world and in its exploration to discover what it really is? Does it seem helpful?

Anatomy of meaning

 

A rambling post that gets a little clearer in the summary… 

It is the perennial question for any kid and curious adult: What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of my life?

It may be a little different for each of us, but most of us experience meaning around the same things. Survival. Relationships. Providing for ourselves and our family. Offspring. A sense of connection with others, ourselves, life, the universe. A sense of belonging. Making use of our potentials and opportunities. Being of service to those within our circle of us. Being remembered by others. Exploring the evolving fullness of who we are. Exploring what we really are.

In short, it all tends to revolve around two things: Taking care and enhancing the life of this human self and its circle of us. And finding a sense of connection with ourselves and the larger whole.

It is of course important to explore this for ourselves. Where do I experience a sense of meaning? How can I align my life a little closer with it? How can I bring it into my life a little more?

But the question we don’t so often ask ourselves is, what is meaning? How does this sense of meaning come about? What are the dynamics and mechanics behind it? What is the anatomy of meaning?

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Meaning

 

Rambling post…

I watched a conversation on meaning on a talk show on Swedish TV last night, including philosophers and others. (Which in itself says something about why it is more meaningful for me to be here in Scandinavia than in the US, at least in terms of the general culture!)

The conversation mostly stayed at the conventional level, but it made me curios about meaning. Specifically, what is meaning? (Strangely, not addressed in the program.)

To me right now, it seems that meaning is experienced when there is an alignment of our stories of what is and should be, or seeking a closer alignment of the two.

I want a nurturing intimate relationship, so see it as meaningful when I find it or work towards it. I want more money, so find it meaningful when I find or work towards that.

And within a should is an attraction and an aversion, or a seeking of freedom and fullness. Seeking freedom from something and experiencing the fullness of something else.

To take some examples: I experience money as meaningful, so I want the fullness of money and what it gets me. I see relationships as meaningful, so I want the fullness and intimacy of a good relationship. I want to find meaning in life, so I want the fullness of a sense of meaning. Similarly, I experience it as meaningful to find freedom from limitations, suffering, stuckness, certain situations, and so on. (The fullness may be in the forefront unless there is a critical need for freedom.)

(We can explore this for ourselves by taking any desire or wish, the more petty the better, and then see what we hope to get from it. What is the freedom I am looking for? What is the fullness I hope to find?)

This freedom and fullness shows up in different ways at different areas and levels.

As a human self, it has to do with freedom and fullness in our relationship with the world and ourselves, with the outer and inner. This can take many different forms, from an exclusive pursuit of money and status (which works to only a limited extent) to a wider embrace that also includes finding our own wholeness as a human being (which can be with us always).

And as Big Mind, it has to do with noticing the freedom from beliefs and identifications, and the fullness of the whole world of form, that already and always is here. Finding ourselves as Big Mind is the ultimate freedom and fullness, free from identification with any and all beliefs and identities, and full of whatever arises.

There are also widening circles of what is experienced as meaningful.

At the level of the (raw) personality, things has to line up a certain way to be meaningful. It has to fit the attractions and aversions of the personality. Then, as we work on noticing and living our evolving wholeness as a human being, most or all situations are fuel and material for this shift. And finally, as Big Mind awakens to itself, it is free from all views on meaning, so the human self functioning within this context is free to use, engage and play with any of them.

We can also say that meaning is God seeking to know itself as it already and always is.

Or rather, a sense of meaning comes when God is identified as a human being (or any other being for that matter), has an intuition and knowing of what it already and always is, and seeks to notice and live this more consciously.

Meaning arises in the tension between what God temporarily takes itself to be, and what it knows it already and always is, and in the closing of this gap through seeking to notice what it is and living it through a human life.

And this shows up in all the different ways we know from a human life: seeking money, status, relationships, health, joy, wholeness as a human being, God, awakening. It is all God seeking the freedom and fullness that it already knows it is.

It is seeking its freedom and fullness as Big Mind, or Buddha Mind, or Brahman, or the Divine Mind. This field of awakeness and form inherently absent of an I with an Other, yet still functionally connected with a human being.

And it is seeking freedom and fullness at all levels. As a human being living in the world, healing, maturing, developing, interacting, relating, engaging. Through to Big Mind noticing itself as what it already and always is, this field of awakeness and content, inherently absent of an I with an Other.

One is a freedom and fullness within the world of form. The other is noticing the freedom and fullness of what we already are, independent of what happens within the world of form.

Why leave one of them out?

So to summarize…

  • A sense of meaning comes when we find or seek a closer alignment of our stories about what is and should be. Reality, as we see it, is – or is about to be – closer to our shoulds.
  • Within any should is aversion and attraction, seeking freedom from something and the fullness of something else.
  • As a human being, we work on finding this freedom and fullness in relationship to the wider world and ourselves, and we do this in many different areas and forms.
  • The final freedom and fullness comes when what we already are notices itself, when Big Mind awakens to itself.
  • There are widening circles of what is experienced as meaningful, until Big Mind awakens to itself and is free from any ideas of what is meaningful, so also free to engage and play with any of them. (The human self functionally connected with Big Mind awake to itself is free to engage and play with any and all ideas of meaning.)
  • All of this can be seen as God seeking its own freedom and fullness. It temporarily identifies with a tiny part of its own content (this human self), knows intuitively what it already and always is, and seeks to notice and more consciously live the freedom and fullness of what it already and always is.

No meaning, allowing any and all meanings

 

To follow up on the previous post…

This awakeness is inherently free from any content, so it is also inherently free from any meaning or purpose.

Life, the Universe, Existence, is inherently free from any meaning such as play, exploration, evolution, and so on. And this individual life is inherently free from any of those and other meanings as well.

It can seem depressing at first, but there is also a great beauty in it. Since awakeness is inherently free from any meaning, it allows any and all meaning. This means that we, in our own life, are free to explore any meaning that makes sense to us. And if we know that none of these is an “ultimate” meaning, we also experience this freedom to explore. (As any knowing, it happens in any and each of our three centers of head/view, heart/love, and belly/felt-sense.)

Moby Dick

 

Moby Dick

The richest stories have many layers of meaning and can be interpreted in a wide range of ways… which is also why there is often a shared fascination with them.

Moby Dick is one of those stories, and the story can be filtered in many different ways, yielding many different meanings and insights.

  • Later, more mature worldcentric
    From a later wordcentric view, we hold both the whales and the animals inside of our circle of care, concern and compassion. We see the struggle between animals and humans as an inevitable outcome of both trying to survive, a story they are both caught up in without much (apparent) choice, almost as a Greek tragedy.
  • Early, less mature worldcentric
    From an early worldcentric view where our circle of care beings to include all of Earth, we may easily side with and have mainly compassion for the whale. The whale is innocent and only tries to protect itself, the humans evil (or at least blind) killing other species without respect and concern for their life and well-being. (Animal rights perspective.)
  • Humans vs nature
    Humans try to put themselves above nature and to subdue nature. Since nature always has the last word (it is, after all, the larger holon), this is only successful to a limited degree, and it may have dire consequences for humans. We are part of a larger living system, so when we reduce the health and well-being of the larger system, it impacts us as well. Climate change is one of many examples of this.
  • Beliefs perspective
    Captain Ahab is caught up in blind beliefs, making it appear to himself that he needs revenge and to settle the score with Moby Dick. It not only creates a split between the two and a great deal of drama and suffering for both, but it also brings the whole ship down.
  • Awakening
    Then there is the awakening perspective. Moby Dick is God (“if God wanted to be a fish, he would be a whale”, “that is no whale, it is a white god”), and Ahab is single-mindedly pursuing God, relentlessly, at any cost, obsessively (which often goes before an awakening). Captain Ahab and the ship is the small self, or more precisely the appearance of a separate self placed on this human self, and that is what is drawn under in the struggle with God. What is left is just the ocean, nondual awakening.

    This is of course an experiential truth, not a literal one. The experience is of a disaster, of dying, of a calamity as U. G. Krishnamurti liked to call it with his flair for the dramatic. It is really just the belief in a separate self that dies, but since that is taken as an “I” the experience is of I dying. The human self goes on just fine, although now without being taken as an I.

    I initially heard about Moby Dick as an analogy to awakening from a friend of mine at the Zen center a while ago, and know that it has been used by others as well. It is an interpretation that comes relatively easily to mind when we are aware of the characteristics of the awakening process.

    Then there are the reflections of a nondual awakening in the text itself (which doesn’t mean the author needed to have awakened, only intuited it), such as… Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. (Ahab)

The absolute & relative of meaning of life

 

As with anything else, we can look at the meaning of life from the emptiness and form sides.

From the emptiness side, there is an absence of even the question.

When we include form, and form is recognized as no other than emptiness, then what is, as it is, is the meaning of life. Put another way, it is God’s will. It is God manifesting and exploring itself. It is perfect as is, or rather, not touched by ideas of imperfection and perfection. It is emptiness dancing.

And from the form side, in the context of all form as God exploring itself, then we see that one of the many relative meanings of life is evolution and development, since this allows God to explore and experience itself in always new ways.

So meaning of life can take on many different flavors… Finding ourselves as emptiness, as awake void, there is an absence of the question. Finding ourselves as awake emptiness and form, the meaning of life is what is, as it is. What is, here and now, is God’s will. It is what comes out of and is made of the void. It is the local manifestations of the movements of the whole. And as form, evolution and development takes on meaning as well, as it allows God to explore and experience itself in always new and more complex ways. And finally, the meaning of life is what we make it to be, through our stories. When we believe a story about the meaning of life, either in general or for our own life, then that becomes our living reality. And that too, is God exploring and experiencing itself in just another way, another flavor.