Thursday, July 25, 2013

An Actual Taxonomy of Naught (AKA part 3, last part)

In my last two posts, I explored a number of experiences of something that is not a thing—call it naught, nothing, emptiness, space, or maybe just negativity. Here are terms for the experiences I described:

Utter mystery
Lack of God/Absolute
Boredom /Aimlessness
Personal Uncertainty/Anxiety
Personal Possibility
Listening and Asking questions
Being open to influence/challenge/change
Collective uncertainty
Collective possibility

            In this last post, my task is to divide these up, so that in the future when I want to discuss emptiness, I can be more specific, since I have found that “space” sounds vague, and “emptiness” often sounds much more depressing than I want.

Two Ways to Typify an “Empty Space”
1)      It could be a lack of something desired.
2)     It could be a necessary condition for developing identity and connection.

1)      It could be a lack of something desired.
a.      A lack of knowledge = Utter mystery.
b.      A lack of grounding = lack of God/Absolute, also Boredom/Aimlessness
c.       A lack of relationship = loneliness, also inauthenticity/hollowness
d.      A lack of completion = personal uncertainty/anxiety, personal possibility

2)     It could be a necessary condition for developing identity and connection.
a.      Identity requires emptiness:
                                                              i.      Undetermined future – freedom, space for potential, and for change
                                                           ii.      Undetermined perspective – space for reflection, the ability to step out from our current beliefs and take a critical stance, to both choose and change our courses
b.      Connection requires emptiness:
                                                              i.      Listening/Questioning – making space for the other to fill
                                                           ii.      Collective uncertainty/possibility – engaging the social world with both our needs and desires, and also openness to the unexpected

Modes of Comportment towards Emptiness
Emptiness can also be divided up in terms of what one might do with it. While I think my categories are pretty solid, I expect that different people would populate them in their own way.

1)      Sit “in” it.
2)     Leave it empty.
3)     Fill it.
4)     Fill it, with the expectation of a new emptiness ahead.
5)     Create it.

1)      Sit “in” it.
Before trying to act in relation to emptiness, it’s valuable first simply to feel it. I like to talk paradoxically about sensing the “shape” and “heaviness” of emptiness. By shape, I mean: Is it just a part of me? Does it encompass all of me? Do I find that it encompasses my relationships, my culture, or even encompasses the whole realm of human activity? How big does it feel? By heaviness, I guess I mean: How bothered am I by this emptiness? Do I find it oppressive, or perhaps liberating? What are my instinctual feelings or reflexive actions when I feel it?

Once I have dwelt a little in this emptiness, I might be better able to decide what to do with it…

2)     Leave it empty.
A lack does not immediately mean that the space needs to be filled. In my understanding of secular spirituality, there is strength and growth in simply letting mystery and lack of God be. Sometimes when I’m lonely, I don’t need other people, but rather I need aim more intentionally at solitude.

3)     Fill it.
If I think I am languishing from this lack, then maybe it’s a sign that I shouldn’t be empty in this regard. For me, sometimes these are nothings like loneliness and inauthenticity/ hollowness.

4)     Fill it, with the expectation of a new emptiness ahead.
Aimlessness doesn’t feel good, but it also tends to emerge right after I accomplish a goal. So, when I’m feeling bored or aimless, it’s good to find a new goal, but I shouldn’t be too surprised or upset when I find myself in another empty space afterwards. This generally holds for personal uncertainty/anxiety, possibility, and that whole sense of incompleteness. I can pursue greater stability and I can develop my potential, but my future will continue to remain open. I can and should aim to fill my life with great things, while expecting it to remain incomplete.

5)     Create it.
This mode is different than the others, as it is not a response to emptiness, but rather a response to a lack of emptiness (ß Figure that one out!)—meaning, if things don’t seem right, sometimes the best question is: Do I need to make a space here? This would apply any time I experience an internal block, or a block between myself and other people. Actions like dwelling in silence, listening, asking questions, and remaining open to collective uncertainty and possibility would fit as ways of satisfying this need.

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