Wednesday, September 10, 2008
meaning, essence, and personality
Coming on the heels of my observations about identity, some further ponderings about meaning.
There is an origin of meaning, which is its "essence." This is the precursor to the iteration of meaning, which creates a "personality."
The origin of meaning is inherent. Immediately upon the existence and manifestation of the physical world, meaning already exists with it. Identity is initially congruent with meaning. "I am that I am" contains both identity and meaning. They are not separated at the root, they are one.
Before I even begin to think, in the instant that my consciousness exists and perceives, meaning and identity are already present. So, for example, if I am driving down the New Jersey Turnpike towards work (as I was earlier today) and I see a blue truck, before I know that there is "blue" and before that I know there is "a truck," both the blue and the truck exist and are perceived. They do not need a form to exist within (which I supply.) Even if I don't have a form for them, the perception, the experience, is real. So the essence of meaning (seeing) exists before its personality (iteration, assignment of form.)
The elaboration of meaning through the arising and description of form--which is a function of the conceptual mind -- constructs what might be called the personality of meaning. So the comprehensive varieties of material expression we encounter--trees, clouds, minerals, animals, planets, galaxies and so on-- are constructions that emerge from original meaning, giving it color and character. [The iteration of cosmoses Gurdjieff presents in Beelzebub (The Holy Planet purgatory, page 695 on) describe this progressive, and wholly fractal, process.]
The effort to return to the original state of mind in Zen Buddhism, the effort to recognize the total unity of all creation in Christianity and other religions, is an effort to help a sense of the essence of meaning within a man to grow. In our current state, we are so invested in, and attracted to, the personality of meaning, which might otherwise be referred to as "form," that we have forgotten the essence of meaning. (Sensory attachment, which is of course eschewed by ascetics, is the chief culprit here, but I doubt we can get rid of it, in one form or another, short of death.)
To suggest that the forces of essence and personality operate on a cosmological level is not too outrageous. Given the standard "as above, so below," we might well expect it to be this way. As a rule we don't, however, consider that the tension between essence and personality--which we usually view solely through our microcosm of man's awareness --creates a locus that extends from the "top" of the universe to the "bottom." (Actually, given the ubiquity of directionality, everything extends fractally from everywhere to everywhere, rather than directionally from "top" to "bottom," which are relativistic dualities we use to describe a hierarchy of scale. So the phrase might better be said "as everywhere, so everywhere," except for the fact that it excludes the hierarchy of scale, which definitely needs to be indicated in one way or another, viz. the passage in Purgatory in Beelzebub.)
Knowledge and understanding are closely linked to this idea of essence and personality. To obtain the knowledge of the form of reality, which is the chief activity of the conceptual mind, is very different than to obtain understanding, which is related to the act of perceiving the essence of reality.
The difference between knowing and understanding is the difference between being able to collect data about the personality of meaning--that is to say the varieties of existence, cause and effect, and so on--and to understand the essence of meaning by seeing that meaning already exists a priori, that is, before anything else takes place. So our difficulty in understanding identity and even in understanding existence itself comes from our desperate attempt to manufacture meanings from a knowledge of the personality of existence, rather than to understand, discover, and accept the essential meaning we are freely given in the very beginning.
Christ's message in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6 , 27:28) specifically address this issue of the futility of manufactured meaning. Mankind is utterly distracted by obtaining knowledge of personality (form.) This prevents him from seeking an understanding of essence (origin,) which is supposed to be his primary task as an organism.
When I speak of understanding this "essence of meaning," I don't speak of a theoretical mental state. I am speaking about a particular physical, emotional, and intellectual experience of reality, which is quite different when it is invested in the one activity as opposed to the other. In this particular way of sensing and understanding life and reality, meaning does not have a verbal construction.
Meaning is an experience, not an explanation. When Brother Lawrence spoke of the practice of the presence of God, he spoke, I think, of discovering this essence of meaning, which is at the heart of God's wish for us, and--if it is not too bold to say so--at the heart of love itself.
For it is within our manufacture of meaning that we create all the negative forces and hatreds that corrupt and tear down.
One of the questions I have as I wrap this post up is whether, on a cosmological level, the purpose of personality (the myriad developed expressions of form, or as Gurdjieff would have called them, cosmoses of varying levels) is--as it is on this level--to feed essence.
It certainly seems as though that's possible. I leave it up to you to ponder the question further.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.