HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, April 6, 2008
I got an e-mail from a friend who said she thought about me during a conversation she had with another friend the day before. They were talking about the meaning of life and its purpose and she wrote to me asking for my take on it. I promptly replied that an immediate, simple answer to the meaning-of-life question is, “It’s up to you.” But I also said that the rest are best tackled over coffee and a long conversation that I’d be happy to have with her.
It got me thinking before I went to sleep last night, and for what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts on the meaning and purpose of life.
These are the big questions that have and will continue to baffle us from time to time. In Zen lore, they are referred to as “the inexpressibles.” Other questions of the type are, “Is there life after death?”; “Where does the soul go when the body dies?”; “Is the world eternal or non-eternal?”; and “Is the world finite or infinite?” Some people will say that such questions are a waste of time but I contend that these are not merely scholarly questions philosophers and sophists like to ruminate over. At some point in our lives, they all beg us to have a go at them.
Sometimes, these questions can creep quietly into your mind on a quiet night under starlit skies, or in a defining moment, like when someone you love dies. Their presence can elicit a sweetness, a long heaving sigh, or a poignancy that reverberates throughout your being. And of course, they leave you pondering!
At other times, though, these questions can seem very rude, intruding into your life at a bad time — like say, during a long streak of misfortunes and downturns. And instead of whispering or gently insinuating their presence, they snarl and gnash at you in an in-your-face kind of way, leaving you disturbed, shocked and angry, and yes, pondering uncomfortably while cursing the same dark night as you beg for comforting assurances and answers.
The “inexpressibles” are, of course, not easy to answer. In fact, to answer them, you must leave the arena of words and enter the world of stillness and silence. Some mystics even say that the answers to these questions, even if we assume one can find answers, are beyond what words can convey. Words in these realms are limited, if not deceiving. Nonetheless, the answers are there, and the mystics claim they are transmitted to us via intuition and feeling.
And while no one can give definitive, one-size-fits-all answers to these questions, each person must ask them during the course of his or her life. In fact, none of us can resist asking them not just once but many times throughout life and exploring the answers that may appear. And the moment we do, we knock on the door of the great mysteries. The nature of such mysteries is to beckon and each time we succumb, we are sucked into a vortex and stretched beyond what we know of our own existence and all of life’s correlative meanings as we think we know them. That’s just how everything has been wired.
When you repeatedly ask with openness and earnestness, you sometimes can get answers to the inexpressibles. But the answers are only as good as who, where and what you are at the time you ask them. You may even get different answers at other times. And yes, the answers are non-transmittable or cannot be shared. At least not in the same way you have experienced them. You may pass on to others the answers as you received them — through words and concepts — but they can at best merely describe the shadow of those answers.
To successfully describe anything is to do so by recognizing and comparing it to its opposite. The problem is, the inexpressibles, as ultimate questions, suggest a territory that does not have opposites. Songwriter Bob Dylan asked lesser but similar questions and, as we know, the only answers he got were cryptically “blowing in the wind.”
To put it more mundanely, the answers to the inexpressibles are similar to the ones we get when we ask gossips about the source of all the muck they dish out. Predictably, they say, “Secret!”
But how is it that something so important cannot be shared?
I am of two minds on this. One reason, to my mind, is because the inexpressibles suggest the idea that they are the only real, ultimate things in this world. Outside of the inexpressibles are the relative things we live with, things that have definite historical beginnings and will perish in the end, such as our lives, careers, dramas, ambitions, attachments, possessions, etc. And what value are they if they are not permanent and real?
The other reason lies in the fact that getting to the real answers posed by the inexpressibles cannot help but lead us to experience Oneness. As in experiences like satori, kensho in Zen, or enlightenment, one loses oneself completely. Time and space become irrelevant. There is no me or you, or anything else. No inside versus outside. All differentiation and categorizing stop. There is only One.
I know that even the fact that I talk about Oneness is already problematic. Why? Because, strangely enough, even the word “Oneness” is inadequate since every word implies its opposite — in the case of Oneness, the fragmented and differentiated many. But Oneness has no opposite. And if there is no opposite, there is nothing to experience as different. So, in the end, there is really literally nothing that can be said about it.
But folly and wisdom in this case are not just inseparable twins; they are persistent ones (or twos) and they are aiming at the same thing. It does not matter that we literally cannot share answers to the inexpressibles. We still cannot help but attempt to ask the questions and share what we get. That’s the way it is. Such is the craziness and majestic paradox of being alive.
If it seems like an existential conundrum, it definitely is. In the end, there is no answer to the ultimate questions. Ken Wilber, in his own attempt to answer them, concludes that the only real answer is, “One must awaken.” And each one must do this for him or herself.
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I can’t believe it’s TCU Workshop 40 already. I am talking of “Tapping the Creative Universe,” the cutting-edge experience that will unblock you and jolt you back to living again. This is a potent, live and dangerous workshop that will lead to self-discovery you never thought possible.
The next TCU Workshop will be held on May 12-16, and May 19, , at 113 B. Gonzales,
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Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a syllabus or call 426-5375 or +63916-8554303 for a syllabus or with any other queries!