In one week, I’ll be leaving my home in Chico on a short journey. I’ll spend about a week in LA, then I’ll fly out somewhere. At this point, I’m not sure where, but my first landing spot looks to be Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia—a place I’ve never been.
I’ve rented out my house for a few months, so I won’t have a home in Chico until April or May. I’ll be airbnb-ing my way around SE Asia during that time. In some ways, I consider this a scouting trip. I’m wanting to see where I might want to settle eventually.
But then again, I may not choose to settle anywhere. It’s too far in the future anyhow. I can barely plan one week ahead, much less for the remainder of a lifetime!
My primary aspiration is this: to learn to discern where things are flowing and to move with that flow. If this is all that I manage to accomplish in this life, I’ll consider myself to have achieved more than I ever imagined possible. I mean, what else is there besides that?
For example, I’ve managed to self-publish four books in the past year. And yet, writing is nothing other than finding, entering, and struggling to remain in the flow. I could say the same of meditation, along with dance. And the same of interacting intimately and directly with others. And of course, the same of life itself.
The curious question might be this: What keeps us from truly inhabiting the flow?
[Stop here if you want to avoid philosophy, or apophatic theology, specifically.]
The answer as postulated by Buddhism is that we live constricted by our mental constructs. But one needn’t be a Buddhist to see that.
We live in a culture full of such conceptual constructs. For example, there’s the career-and-profession construct, which many of us can get wrapped up into. I certainly did and likely will again in the future. I doubt that universities and colleges would be such thriving businesses had it not been for this particular fabrication: the idea that career is somehow necessary, and additionally, that it must be meaningful or that it is, and that it must somehow be intrinsically more important than something else, such as doing a crossword puzzle or blowing one’s nose.
I had a seemingly meaningful career that (I and the universe, jointly) halted midway, but I also was blessed to know many who saw their jobs simply as a means to an end. I think that they were closer to the truth of things than I ever was. I do think that work can be joyful, and it is. But trying to find meaning in it strikes me now as off. On the other hand, saying that it’s meaningless also strikes me as off.
I want to suggest that work is neither meaningful nor meaningless.
What does this mean? How can it be that something can be both without meaning and yet not be meaningless?
It means that the question of meaning is the wrong question in regards to work. Just as the number 5 is neither orange nor a non-orange color, work is neither intrinsically meaningful nor meaningless. It’s the wrong category of question to ponder since meaning is brought forth, not found in some “outer” object or endeavor. It’s also wrong as in there are better questions.
I like to ask myself this question instead—If I had ten million dollars in the bank or only one week left to live, would I still be doing the work I’m doing? If the answer is no, then I’m wrapped up in the career construct as far as I’m concerned; it means I’m controlled by some form of fear. That is, I’m holding on. On the other hand, if the answer is yes, I feel closer to the truth of my life. At this point in time, I would answer, yes: I would live my life exactly the way I’m living it today, and the way I lived it yesterday, and the way that I intend to live it tomorrow even if I had boatloads of money and only a few days left to live. Well, I might be eating more sushi if I had more money. So it’s probably good that I don’t, for the sake of the fish.
Then, there’s the relationship construct, probably a stronger conceptual creation in this culture than the career one. It’s an enticing one! Everything I said about career, I would suggest is true for relationships. They’re neither meaningful nor meaningless in and of themselves. Any meaning we might attribute to them comes exactly from that, from our own attribution. Relationships aren’t intrinsically meaningful. They simply are. Meaning is the wrong question for relationships just as it is for career. They aren’t a source of meaning although it's fashionable to say they are. But if you truly believe that they are, then you’re now hooked. You need a relationship then, or else your life lacks meaning. But that’s despair. Do you really want despair?
Instead, we can appreciate all relationships for what they are. We can appreciate all things as they come and go. And we still show up to them to the best of our ability. And sometimes they break our hearts. And we still cherish them for what they are or were. But it’s not about meaning. Instead, it’s about love, which flows as its nature and is beyond category, description, concept, and ultimately, meaning.
As we dismantle such meaning-seeking in all the ways that a meaning-seeking society might encourage us to do otherwise, we’re eventually left without ground to stand on. And yet, we needn’t veer into meaninglessness. It’s not an either-or.
In fact, I’ll forward that meaning is what the mind seeks when we’re out of the flow. If one is in flow, questions of meaning simply don’t arise. Next time you’re in the flow, ask yourself if the issue of meaning is truly of value to you in that moment. If you answer yes, you’ll very likely staunch the flow, immediately.
I consider this part of the genius of the Buddha. He never talked about meaning. He simply addressed suffering: what it is, how it arises, that there’s an end to it, and how we can end it. And when it’s ended, there’s peace: profound and utter peace along with the deepest happiness and compassion imaginable.
So we relinquish meaning, which is to say we acknowledge that there is no intrinsic meaning to be found here while also not succumbing to a sense of meaninglessness. And yet, this is nothing other than entering the flow (or dissolving into fluidity). You don’t flow if you’re on the solid ground of meaningfulness (or the empty nihilism of meaninglessness). Instead, you relinquish the entire enterprise of meaning. Neither affirming nor denying it. This is the middle way, in-between these conceptual extremes. “Conceptual” because meaning is nothing other than concept.
In time, meaning becomes a non-issue. Then, what distinction is there between career, hobby, intimate relationship, friendship, strangers, television, nature, hamburgers, quinoa, shit, life, death, and so on (besides bad taste)? Each just blends into the other. It’s one and the same. One is not any more intrinsically meaningful than the other. This blending is the flow. It’s how we move from one thing to the next without excessive kinks and jerks. And this is how one discerns the flow, by joining with it. It’s how the entirety of life becomes one. There’s no longer a point or aspect of life that is any more meaningful or meaningless than the other. In this way, one sees that meaning is entirely an imputation of mind. So when this oneness of all things is perceived--that is, when the projection of meaningfulness of one thing over another ceases-- we come closer to groundlessness. Or to the utter interdependence of all things.
In this way, ground (along with its subset of meaning) can be said to be the enemy of flow. But making an enemy of ground is itself a ground, so that too is shucked aside. Free-floating and yet utterly grounded in groundless being. This is the perspective from which one discerns flow and moves with it. It’s what I aspire to, and sometimes even manage to slip into. It’s the theme of my travels. (And the birth of this blog is my birthday gift to myself.) ;)