As we explore non-dualism (or simply begin to really think about life), we can find ourselves caught in a strange place. Often referred to as an “existential trap”, our examinations lead us to the feeling that there is really no meaning in any of our actions. We can even feel that there is no meaning in existence or life itself.
With non-dualism, this feeling can be especially profound. Indeed, Buddhism sometimes speaks of “Emptiness” being the ultimate reality, and how else are we to interpret “Emptiness” except to consider it meaningless?
The result of all of this is a terrible feeling — a sensation of non-passion and non-vitality as we woodenly go about the endless routine of life. Whatever our actions, whether of compassion or greed or peace or war, we feel that it doesn’t really matter. In the end, we all die, and that’s that.
Back To The Beginning
When we are very young, the world is pure, full of sensory stimulation that is not named or labeled. Things are not beautiful or ugly, painful or pleasureful. Of course, we react ‘positively’ to things such as suckling our mother’s breast, and ‘negatively’ to things such as diaper rash, but these ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ reactions are also pure, untainted by ideas about whether such-and-such an experience is valuable or horrible. These experiences simply Are.
Soon, however, we learn to divide our world into ‘things’, and as we learn words and place divisions on the organic world, different things acquire different ‘values’, or meaning. As we place meaning on objects, people, and experiences, the world becomes ‘dual’ for us — it takes on the guise of good and bad, preferred and rejected. Note that these are not changes that happen in the world so much as changes that happen in our minds — we now process our sensory experience in such a way that we no longer perceive the organic whole of things, but instead perceive a multitude of things, forces, and relationships.
This process is useful in many ways, except that we cease our education too early. We learn to break the world into bits, but often we don’t ever learn how to weave these bits back together. Some of our teachings, such as Ecology, perform this weaving to some extent, but no one actually shows us how every thing, force, and relationship we perceive is intimately tied in with every other thing, force, and relationship in the universe.
Even if we learn to re-weave the world, our education is still not complete, for to truly bring our education full-circle we would need to come to see that all of the divisions we learned are arbitrary — that when we define a ‘thing’, a ‘force’, or a ‘relationship’, we are making a division in our heads, and not actually observing a division in the world.
Ceasing Our Education
When we cease our education too early, we are left with an incomplete picture of the world. This is called ‘dualism’, and it is the picture of the world that almost every human on the planet is left with. We teach our children dualism because it is all we know as parents — we teach it as a Truth, and as our children grow up, they are left with a world that is broken into pieces. These pieces have Meaning, and the goal of life becomes trying to amass as many pieces that we perceive to have a positive Meaning (happiness, money, friends), and to eradicate from our lives as many of the pieces that we perceive to have a negative Meaning (disease, poverty, sadness).
This makes perfect sense to us as adults, and we embark on a lifelong quest to acquire positive Meaning-pieces, either through getting a good job, or taking a spiritual path, or seeing counselors, or fostering healthy relationships. What we often fail to see is that we have embarked on a war-path, making our entire life into a battle between ‘good’ things and ‘bad’ things, and that living such a war-like life will not only affect ourselves, but will extend out into the world, so that we live in a world where there is terrible poverty, horrific war, and other evils too awful to speak. We see these evils in the world or in ourselves, and we think that we must step up our efforts to amass positive Meaning-things and eradicate negative Meaning-things. And thus the battle rages on, hour after hour, year after year, and generation after generation.
What if we saw that the problems were not of the world, but rather in the way that we insist on dividing the world into pieces?
There is, of course, an alternative. This alternative has been spelled out in many of the world’s great religions, from Hinduism to Christianity to Buddhism, each religion and teacher taking a different approach to guiding us toward the alternative.
In each of these religions, we at some time or another approach a frightening message. Hinduism speaks of ceasing to incarnate, and blending into the God-nature of the universe in much the way a drop of water (a seeming individual) becomes the ocean when it falls into the waves. Christ speaks of giving up everything — our families, our money, our possessions — in order to follow him. Buddhism speaks of Emptiness. With each of these messages, our idea of ‘Meaning’ is challenged, and we are asked to examine the things that we once thought were important. This can be very frightening. Since our world-view is one of finding Meaning in the world, the thought of Emptiness can be interpreted only one way — as the opposite of Meaning. This is the point where we find ourselves thinking that life is meaningless — not only do we have the perception that we are isolated individuals in a world of divided things, but now we question the very meaning of our existence and the existence of the world.
The reason that Emptiness can seem Meaningless is that we are still stuck in thinking of the world in opposites. We have forgotten our Pure way of seeing the world and replaced it with our dualistic model, and in this model we can no longer see the world As It Is — only in terms of Meaning. Imagine a plastic bag blowing across a parking lot. Here is a wondrous moment — our senses are experiencing a delightful, extremely interesting phenomenon — and yet our thoughts jump right in and think: “This is a bad thing — someone littered. Humans are so careless.” Or even worse, we simply ignore the phenomenon, deeming it unworthy of our attention.
If we begin to open to the world As It Is, we begin to realize that the most “Meaning” is actually derived from “Meaningless” things. It is when we are immersed in feelings of love that love is most precious — not when we weigh or balance our feelings. It is when we are lost in the taste of a bite of ice cream when it is truly marvelous — not when we are trying to judge its flavour. It is when we can truly feel the rain falling on our faces that we know what a storm is — not when we are huddled against it or cursing the rain.
In other words, life truly is worth Living in the moments when we directly experience sensations and emotions. This is living without Meaning — without judging or mentally seeking one experience in favor of another. This does not mean we can’t dance within life, trying to shape it one way or another, but it does mean that we aren’t attached to the way the dance turns out, and are able to immerse ourselves in every moment we encounter, experiencing every moment in the way that we might revel in a storm by turning our face into the winds.
This is the transformation into Nirvana, into Heaven, into Emptiness. It is discovering that when we try to put Meaning onto the world, we are actually creating a world of opposites, where Meaning and Meaninglessness can exist. Nirvana, Heaven, and Emptiness are the direct experience of Life — feeling joy or pain without resistance. We find this when we look carefully at our models and discover that they really don’t hold up under examination — they tumble apart, leaving us, during their fall, with a feeling of desolation, but when the dust settles we discover a new world that was hidden by their presence — a world that is once again Pure. We’ve come full circle, able to dance with our dualistic learnings as we resist nothing. This is non-dualism. This is Emptiness. This is Nirvana and Heaven. This is the Meaning of Life — to break from our self-imposed chains and then to discover how beautiful those chains really are.
Kenton now has openings in his Metamorphosis and PR/EP Training programs. Visit www.kandrcreative.com to learn more.