Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fully Empty

I find myself always returning to the cycles and seasons of nature in the quest for descriptive metaphors for what it means to live a fulfilling life. Of course. I am nature.

A timely email from a most excellent friend set off several rounds of pondering and feeling. He has spoken often of his instinctual reaction to concepts like "emptiness", "meaninglessness" and "nothingness", words that get tossed around a lot in "nondual" circles. He explains that these terms feel somehow negative (not life-affirming); being, to him, feels like something, rather than nothing. There is a difference, he points out, between seeing life as meaningless and understanding that we "author" our own meaning.

Nonduality is an "in-between"--or maybe, "all-encompassing"--place that curious people find themselves in when they truly understand that all our speech and descriptions of the world are only representations of something we cannot quite grasp with language. In other words, the concept "water" is not wet; to understand wet, you have to experience it. The mind can go on and on about "wet"--how it's caused, where it ends, the structure of it and how it is that we feel it at all. Unspoken in all this is the opposite of wet--dry. Of course, in order to recognize "wet", we must have a passing acquaintance with "dry". Nonduality is the recognition that all dichotomous concepts are actually "one", not-two...a one so vast that there is nothing to compare it to. A "one" that is both "all" and "none". Whew.

Essentially, all of our descriptions of being must, in essence, be relative to something else. All comparisons are not "fact", when a fact is simply an opinion about a thing which exists in this holistic world before, and without, any kind of speech. So in that sense, there is really nothing one can say about life. There is no absolute truth. We don't "know" what this is, really. We can only use words to "point" at the ungraspable. (Yes, I recognize that these statements are absolutely meaningless.) :)

Is this understanding, profound as it is, "enlightenment"? Is this the end of the chain, the ultimate goal? Not here. Indeed, dwelling in the nondual, it is easy to see that the "goal" of realization is just another mental trick. (This thought, by the way, is yet another.) A person's enlightenment--that is, how much light is seen, burden dropped and freedom experienced--depends on what is done with this vital information. Vital. (Life-giving.) Because life does go on after insight. Things still get built in reality, and things die. Debating the meaning or meaningless of living is fun, to be sure, but does not change the core of living.

So it's understandable to ask, "What's the point? What's the point of getting the point, if there is no point?" Haha!

I often think that a "natural human" would have no need of a philosophy to deal with life...because life is not something to be "dealt with". A person could live simply as life, with all its varied terrain; laugh and cry when the mood strikes, work, play, run when needed, sleep when needed. I realize that few of us have the luxury of being this "primitive"; that living in today's world is complicated, etc., etc. We are brought up, now, without the understanding that our language is a tool, meant to be used as both an aid to unfolding and a brush we use to paint our astonishment at what we create. Because when we apply words and concepts to the raw and elusive "stuff" of being, we are actively forming it. That is what we do. It's a kind of magic that we completely take for granted. The magic lies in noticing that we are both the artist and the formation.

To express a fuller understanding of emptiness, I might point to exactly this season, and a tree in my backyard. The tree lost its leaves, and is now barren (I say this because I have a mental picture of this tree when it was green and ruffled). Examining the branches, I can almost see them responding to the tiny bits of increasing sunlight, right at the tips, where there is a swelling. Something pregnant is going on around here. Even in the dead of January, under a layer of ice, I have a choice as to how to feel the world. Is it dead, done, finished? No, it's dormant. How do I know? Because I have expanded with being to include many seasons of observation.

In spring, there will be more swelling and then blossoms, in a short burst. Then they will wither. Are they dead, done, over? No. They are transforming. They are pregnant. Soon there will be fruit--more swelling, falling, withering on the ground (if not enjoyed by me). Is it finished? No. It is pregnant with new trees.

An intellect attempts to draw lines between the seasons of this tree, to map and predict the blossoming, fruiting and falling. Useful, because I want pears in autumn. But the Heart (no, not the valentine organ--deeper) understands the nonlinear, continual pregnancy involved in treeing. In seasoning. In lifeing. In being. Every pause is a pregnant one, even though an intellect might insist that it's meaningless. What we feel to be death, barrenness, absence, is the fertile ground of presence. At exactly what point does winter become spring? Does winter "go dormant" when summer is here?

How we ultimately state such presence is up to us. More to the point is how we ultimately choose to live it. There is a space that opens up when we see the machinations of the mind for what they are...that space is not meant to be "the end", but is again a pregnant opportunity to actually inhabit our very presence. To be truly in the moment, which means carrying the understanding of the longer moment of "winter", wrapped in a year, a lifetime, an aeon, a thinking, feeling, expressive human body.

Instead of denying the fact that we think and label and create stories, why not jump into that process with abandon, knowing all along the transitory nature, the beautiful seasons, the seemingly endless dormancy of such acts? Go ahead and build the church on a flood plain. The sacred nature isn't in the structure, how well it resists the weather, how many generations it stands. It is in the act of building it, of attending to the creation, the life and the death of the thing; some warm summer's day, a child will leap from a wide and mossy sill where the stained glass used to be, into the surrounding lake, fulfilling yet another sacred purpose in this silent being.

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