Thursday, August 7, 2008

meaning and value

Regular readers may have noticed by now that I have just about never published a photo of myself on this blog.

Today, at the end of the day, one of my vendors was kind enough to take me to Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, where one of my staff members took this picture. The Buddhas are pretty cool, so I decided to make an exception.

This morning, while I was walking around West Lake, I was pondering the questions of meaning and value. I think that I had some pretty intelligent observations about the question. I say I think so, because by now (6:30 p.m.) I am whipped by jet lag, and feeling about as stupid as a log.

Anyway, I will try to dredge up some of the observations.

Maurice Nicoll said in his commentaries that we are all looking for meaning in life. Meaning, however, is not an intellectual construction -- even though in today's world a great deal of it is configured that way. Intellectuals, academics, bankers, businessmen, and so on try to construct meaning using facts. Generally speaking, that's our habit. In my own experience, however, as good as I am about learning things and remembering things and assembling lots of different facts, that type of meaning is as flat as table rock. (table rock, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, refers to large expanses of featureles bedrock that have been polished flat by glaciers.)

Meaning actually consists of the emotional content within life. If the emotions are off -- if the emotional parts are not working well -- almost everything loses its meaning. We've all had the experience of breaking up a relationship or losing a loved one, and discovering that our formerly rich world suddenly seems featureless and colorless.

Emotion, in other words, is what assigns meaning to our lives. It is the chief tool of measurement of life. We don't measure life with facts, and figures, and statistics (and when we try to, we end up with disasters like the subprime loan crisis)-- we measure life with our emotional parts. And in the measurement, we assign the valuation.

Because our emotional parts work faster than any other part, valuation is assigned to almost anything just about instantly. This means that our emotional part values before anything else gets to the situation. Or it devalues before anything else gets there; that's very common. What that means is that unless our emotional parts are working well, values that may well be invalid get slapped all over everything. And in fact, in watching impressions fall into me, that is almost exactly what happens. Everything just arrives willy-nilly, and who the hell knows where it is going or how it gets organized once it arrives.

Even more important, I know I can't trust my emotional reactions. It's already become quite clear that they are undisciplined and frequently irrational. It's perfectly okay for me to have them -- after all, I can't get rid of them -- but acting on them is generally unwise. I am not sure about the rest of you, but if I truly started acting on impulse, Doom would swiftly ensue.

A third observation is that emotional center isn't well-connected in the morning. I always need a while to get things organized there.

One of the principal difficulties with emotional well-being is that we are trapped in what I would call the lower part of the emotional octave. That is to say, we keep repeating over and over within a range of emotional value that attaches itself too firmly to the material.

In order to improve the situation, we need to nurture our emotional well-being in ways that psychology alone cannot bring us to. An organic sensation becomes necessary; that is to say, emotion needs to become connected to the body in the same way that the mind becomes connected to the body.

This is a subtle point. You'll notice that many teachings talk about the mind/body connection. It's almost as though everyone has forgotten that there needs to be a certain kind of emotion/body connection.

Because emotions immediately provoke physical reactions, we think they are connected to the body already. That is of course true, but only in the crudest sense. I'm speaking here of a new kind of connection between emotions and the body. A connection with a great deal more awareness in it than just the usual reactions we have. If we want to look for what is missing in the picture, this is a good place to start. For myself, whenever I bring my attention to the point of relationship, I notice this missing element almost immediately.

Where is it? I'm not sure. I need to make more efforts in order to bring the parts together.

This kind of connection is what needs to develop in order for emotions to begin to become more whole. As they do so, valuation assumes a completely different weight both in the body and the mind. Meaning changes. We begin to see that what we thought had meaning was insignificant, and that things we never paid attention to before are paramount.

One final note to readers. After a good deal of work on the essay about the structural nature of man, I decided to go ahead and publish it in what is to some extent an unfinished version (click the link.) After you trudge through the technical details, you will discover that a good deal of the essay is about the questions raised in this post.

All the essential points are present. I have not, however, set it up as available for download yet.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

1 comment:

  1. good to see you smiling in front of the buddha, which you know means "one who is awake". me, i am also traveling, and so much in outer life that i cannot comment as i like to; but underneath the outer movement is another, sublime and elusive movement: that of my "work". Nobody can see that I am working inwardly, as is proper (showing that you are "working" by having seriousness or a "work face" on, betrays that you have no idea what the work actually is), and my work continues unabated; work dedicated to the good of the solar system, sun moon and earth.

    what business does "man" have, to know about such work? I say, none.



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