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Thinking Out Loud About Desire

We know anything because we can distinguish it from what it is not. Distinctions are being; they are existence. You can look at a maple tree and see how it is a maple tree and not a flower or a sky or a passing car. Maple tree and not-maple tree are how maple tree appears. It is this way with everything.

This is why it is so hard to argue that we can know God or the Absolute or The One Without Another. With what would you compare it to in order to ascertain that it was in fact the Absolute? If you can compare it to something it is not, then it is no longer “Absolute” but relative.

wild morning glory beauty and desire
pale wild morning glory out by the chickens

Therefore, who would want to meet God? The only possible thing you could say about the encounter was that it was obviously a lie. As soon as you knew it was God, you’d also know what was not-God, and so you’d not be meeting the Absolute but a pretentious facsimile.

If we have a desire to meet God or know God, and we can see how this desire cannot ever be met but only frustrated, then we might ask a new question: what shall we do with this desire?

In my experience of inquiry with desire, I learn that desire has two contrary goals, each of which negates the other.

First, there is a desire for a personal experience of God – of happiness, joy, ecstasy. To this end, I pray, do zazen, study A Course in Miracles and other nondual traditions, exercise, practice compassion. I take the self seriously.

Second, there is a desire to transcend personal experience – to undo the self, to be done with vanity and self-improvement and the hoarding of special experiences.

I want both! And yet to have both is to have neither, because they would cancel one another out. To have one rather than the other does not end desire, because I still want the other. And for the life of me I cannot discern a third option.

Thus, desire is forever paradoxical – always making demands of me that cannot possibly be met.

So it is interesting to give attention and see where – in our actual experience – these two aspects of desire appear most closely, nearly touching. Where is the body or other – be it human or animal or landscape or whatever – that intimates an end to the paradox, that suggests I can have my sensual experience and transcend sensuality?

I say “intimates” here because the argument can never be made explicitly. It has to be hinted at. I have to be seduced, because I know that logically it can never work. The two facets of desire are at odds. Any suggestion they can be wedded is as nonsensical as suggesting I can light a match under water.

So the suggestion is that when we are aware of the intimation and the body, the one, making it – the one slyly hinting that in its embrace our yearning will be both satisfied and destroyed – we have to go very slowly and be very attentive. The image is given to us as a gift. By giving our attention in return, we induce sacred relationship.

It is a kind of dance, which on the one hand has to do with logic and on the other with the utter absence of logic, even the opposite of logic. It is like studying a classic text on the moon by day and at night going outside and dancing naked in moonlight, reveling in moonlight.

Those become poles, right? The rigorous study and the reveling? And the work becomes not to privilege the one or the other but just to allow them both their space, their voice, their influence. When they cry out for public witness, we give it. Sometimes I do dance in the moonlight! Really! And when they insist on privacy, we give it. I will not tell you that I am reading _________________ by __________________ nor how I find it ________________________ with respect to ____________  and so am contemplating ________________________ if ___________ says yes.

Obviously I am describing here a sort of balancing of tension – wanting to come very close to the prong of desire that will destroy itself (transcendence) without losing proximity to the prong that extends itself (personal experience). It’s like surfing, maybe. Or running very fast down a mountain. Or crossing the river on a thin wire.

And I suggest that somewhere in that balance, we have the insight that paradox ends when we stop insisting on it, and begin to search for its origins. The two-pronged desire arises where? Why? How?

In other words, having given attention to desire, having to some extent acquiesced to it in its paradoxical wonder and creativity, now I want to meet its mother.

Desire arises as a consequence of our physical and cognitive structure. That is, I have the structure of homo sapiens, and that brings forth a certain experience of world and living in the world, and this includes an apparently paradoxical desire.

But the paradox seems to hinge on my belief in an actual self that can be either transcended or improved. What if that self isn’t real? Isn’t actually there as something that can be improved or fixed or transcended?

If that’s the case, then desire as such is a mirage. The paradox doesn’t present a real dichotomy, but a false one. On that view, when the impulse to self-improve arises (through learning or practice or exercise or diet or whatever), one attends to it. When the impulse to transcend the self arises (through prayer or meditation or forbidden ecstatic union), then one attends to it. No more and no less.

Thus, desire loses its privileged claims to primacy, intensity, individuation, etc. And the demands it makes are similarly deprived of privilege.

So back to the beginning then. What shall we do with our desire to know/see/experience God?

I think we have to demote it to equality with our desire for a slice of cake, a deep kiss, a walk in the woods, the feel of the river on our feet and ankles, the sight of a black bear, Emily Dickinson poems, toads in the garden, violets, snakes et cetera. It’s one of those, and one with those.

But this demotion is also a bringing-forth, because it implies that our desire for God is natural and readily met. Indeed, by placing it in a family of other longings, we open the possibility that “God” is not other than “a slice of cake, a deep kiss, a walk in the woods, the feel of the river on our feet and ankles, the sight of a black bear, Emily Dickinson poems, toads in the garden, violets, snakes et cetera.”

red lily paradox of desire
solitary lily out front off Main Street

Whatever happens when the black bear lumbers across the trail before me, or when we unfold in one another’s arms, or wade through the river at dusk, or share dessert on the back porch, it is also what happens when we encounter God. The satisfaction, joy, happiness, pleasure is the same.

It is a fairly short step from this fact to the suggesting that the sight of the black bear is itself a sight of God, a glimpse of the divine. And that our kiss brings forth the Lord as Alleluia, and the river we wade through is the Divine afoot in our own watery being.

I don’t suggest that we are seeing the whole! I suggest the whole remains forever beyond our grasp. Always I suggest that! Yet the glimpses we obtain – over and over in our living, this very living we live right now – are themselves sufficient. We are letting go our insistence that God somehow exceed the range of our being and experience. Desire is met and lit accordingly.

Getting Beyond “Know Thyself”

Perhaps we are moving beyond a space of needing to “know thyself.” Perhaps we are entering a new space where it is enough to realize the process of knowing, without getting hung up on knower and known and so forth.

The self seems to be that which has certain identifying data (name, birthday, place of residence, family constellation), which data morphs into narrative (likes and dislikes, significant life events, hopes and dreams, hobbies, secrets, et cetera).

flowers_in_garden
A profusion of flowers in the garden, a lovely tangle that makes me happy and grateful.

But before identity and narrative, there is that to which identity and narrative apply. There is that for which they are relevant or significant, that which attends them and which they attend in turn.

This “that” is a distinction that in our current state of thinking and speaking we refer to as a “self.” First comes the self, the particular distinction, and then come identity and narrative, which are effectively window dressing for the distinction to which they apply.

Perhaps part of the spiritual process is just seeing clearly this order: the self is that which to which identity and narrative apply. And then a further part of the spiritual process is attending the self, the that-which-occurs-prior-to-identity-and-narrative.

It is possible to give attention to that self, and to experience it in a direct way. This direct experience can be quite intimate and intense, given that time and place, identity and narrative apparently dissolve in it.

Yet there is also a potential for confusion in such intimate intensity. We sometimes end up identifying with the intensity, that pure state of awareness. As Ramana Maharshi put it “that Awareness which alone remains – that I am.”

Yet this “I” remains a distinction. It cannot be otherwise. In order to distinguish “I” we automatically distinguish “Not-I.” To bring forth a “self” – any self at all – we must also bring forth “not-self.” Else how would we know it?

Thus, the self for its existence relies on the other, who is also a self relying for its existence on another.

It is tempting to observe this circularity, this mutuality, and declare with respect to it: we are one. But this declaration is limited. A and B, who mutually specify each other, also mutually specify C, which is their unity, their oneness. It is this oneness that allows A and B to be both self and other (even though each is aware of only one self and one other).

But in order to specify C, we must thereby specify not-C. On and on it goes. That is why the declaration “we are one” is limited. C brings forth not-C, which in turn brings forth D, which in turns bring forth not-D. It’s true we are one, you and I, but we are not “only” one, or “the only” one.

It seems like we are locked into an infinite regress here (C leads to D leads to E leads to F et cetera). But rather than focus on that, it’s helpful to focus on the circularity that inheres between A and B, or AB and C, or ABC and D. Each forms a circle in which each is the full equal of the other, and in which each brings the other forth.

This circularity undoes – or dissolves – the inclination (which is premised on linearity) to ask about first causes, beginnings, before-the-beginnings, et cetera. There is no beginning. Nor is there any end. There is only being, wherever and however one looks, that is all there is. Being.

I am suggesting one actually go into this. I am suggesting one actually observe the distinctions and the distinguishing and reflect on them. They are living processes, dynamically capable of being observed.

And I suggest that in doing so, one comes up against lawful limits (there is a self that is not alone but exists in mutual codependence with others who could be one’s own self), and that these limits are nonetheless experienced as essentially infinite and eternal (without beginning or end), and that at some point in the inquiry, the giving of attention to all this, it becomes possible – it becomes desirable – to just breathe and say “okay, this is it” in a relative rather than absolute way.

This breathing (I am not being metaphorical but really indicating giving attention to one’s experience of breathing, of being breathed) – this relaxing into (not resisting, not adapting, not altering) what is as it is – is what makes us fundamentally happy, peaceful, coherent, creative and so forth.

Finally, I think a language around this process that is not inherently spiritual or religious or therapeutic but basically logical – like directions for screwing in a light bulb – is helpful. That is, rather than spiritualize our confusion and inattention, why not just be clear and attentive?

rain falls on the river out back, low in a dry summer, like the rest of us longing for that which we are.

In a funny way, it is actually easier to be clear and attentive than unclear and inattentive. But we have to want to see it that way.

Part of why I suggest a non-spiritual/religious mode of dealing with this material is that spiritual/religious modes tend to be conclusive. And any conclusion with respect to the self (or Truth or God or the Whole or whatever) strikes me as incoherent in terms of logic and – more importantly – community.

It is incoherent logically because we can never stand outside the domain of experience in order to compare it any putative truth. Therefore, experience is always conditional – it is what it is, but what it is, in the ultimate sense, is foreclosed to us. Statements like “there is only this,” while tempting because of their pretense to certainty, and the comfort certainty brings, are effectively superstition. They are magical thinking. We just don’t know.

More significantly, it is a distraction in the communal sense, because our problem is that we are unhappy, and fixing this is not complicated – we just have to let go of what makes us unhappy! It’s not a spiritual problem. It’s not a psychological problem. It’s a mechanical problem. If you see a rattlesnake on the trail, you don’t need a metaphysician to know to stop walking. You stop walking; you give the snake its due, and this happens naturally. Like that, happiness is natural. To be is to be happy. But we can ignore this, or forget this, and thus make ourselves unhappy.

We can turn the rattlesnake into a problem of God or metaphysics, what are basically undecidable questions. When those questions are posed in the sense of “I have to answer this in order to be happy” rather than “asking these questions makes me happy” than we are effectively screwed.

I speak from considerable experience in that regard . . .

But it seems that we are beginning to move beyond that space, the space of complicating things in favor of a space where our natural proclivity for joy, helpfulness, peace, cooperation and so forth might prevail. I hope so. We need that, as a species, and the ecosystem of which we are such a problematic part needs it, too.

Drifting through August . . .

I sent out a newsletter this morning, ruminating on the garden and how it symbolizes – in an active and useful way – the love and inner peace into which we are all slowly spiraling. Sign up if you like!

I am doing some ACIM-specific writing in the form of Facebook Notes, and welcome you to read them and help me refine my thinking and its expression. Writing and reading are a shared dance and I am never not in need of partners, new steps, reminders not to step on toes, et cetera.

Finally, I want to share something personal.

eggplantThis summer, I had the unusual (for me) experience of being physically unwell. I had to take some powerful medication, an experience to which I am generally averse. For the first time ever I underwent anesthesia. I was laid up in ways that are unfamiliar and debilitating.

A lot of time was given to a sort of hazy reflecting, remembering, re-cognizing.

Also simply to resting.

A couple of years ago I had a powerful experience in the Cambridge Library. The gist of it was that while it was okay to keep reading and studying, it was no longer precisely necessary. A door opened and I was invited to walk through it.

So naturally I stayed in the library and kept right on reading and studying.

unripe tomatoesThis summer, that intense – some might say frenetic – study finally collapsed on itself. Sickness and medication combined to make me largely incapable of sustaining it. Intellectual busy-ness slowed to a crawl. In its place was a gentle float, not unlike that described by Bob Dylan in “Man in the Long Black Coat.”

There are no mistakes in life
some people say
and it’s true sometimes
you can see it that way
but people don’t live or die
people just float
she went with the man in the long back coat

The whole song is worth listening to, really.

Anyway, in time, that floating softened into a gentle peace towards which I was resistant, even hostile. It was if I were leaning on a slight fence, gazing into an enormous lovely field. All I had to do was lean the tinest bit and I would live in that lush bounty forever.

And I wouldn’t lean! I couldn’t. It was such an incredible to thing to witness! Imagine someone offering you a slice of blueberry pie and you just knock it to the ground, even though you’re starving and you love blueberry pie. Imagine doing that over and over . . .

forest pathYet I saw more than that, too. Namely, I saw that the peace that offered itself did not recognize my resistance. It wasn’t indifferent to my resistance. For this peace, my resistance didn’t exist.

That is, there was no relationship between “Sean” (my body, my learning, my feelings, my issues – the whole screwy welter) and this peace. One could be the biggest, most selfish idiot imaginable and this peace would neither depart nor retract its openness.

The pie was never not there. It only seemed like you were knocking it away.

Why do we say no to Love? Why do we refuse to let go of the sliver of identity that causes us so much grief and pain?

Those are nontrivial questions! And lately when I reflect on them, and seek to answer them in pragmatic ways – to bring the answers forth in my living – I find myself reflecting in turn on A Course in Miracles – that beautiful, maddening curriculum and its beautiful, maddening body of students, of which I am a – yes – a beautiful, maddening aspect.

As I have begun to physically heal, and to resume more natural levels of energy and attention, it is A Course in Miracles I find myself writing about and relying upon to remember how to navigate both life in the world and Life which is Love.

The way station and the trail and the summit merge . . .

Saying so is a bit more personal and biographical than is perhaps helpful, or even necessary, but honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Healing is in no small part our willingness to to fully own our need for healing and then – when the healing is offered, which it always is – to accept it, as best we are able, on the terms in which it appears.

It remains my conviction that by giving attention to our living in the world, and sharing that living with others, that living will – sometimes dramatically but perhaps more often in gentle ordinary ways – make clear a path to a peace that surpasses understanding, and a love that is impersonal and unconditional, and the happiness attending both.

On which path I remain a wordy and sometimes obtuse traveler, whose wordiness can never make clear my gratitude for your fellowship and care.

Thank you!

Love,
Sean

Being Happy in and with Uncertainty

There is a domain whose existence we are aware of but the contents of which – for now – remain beyond our ability to know. Hence my commitment to epistemic humility as a spiritual practice.

I say “for now” because I cannot rule out the possibility of advances – technological, psychological, et cetera – that will open up this domain to knowing.

But for now we can say that we don’t know what we don’t know and we are aware of this fact. Thus, there is a domain whose existence we are aware of but the contents of which are beyond our ability to know.

Therefore, uncertainty is inherent in this ongoing experience. We have no choice but to relate to it.

One suggestion with respect to relating is to recognize our apparently innate tendency to confuse this domain with eternity and/or infinity.

Eternity and infinity are qualities that unknowing can appear to have. And since we don’t like uncertainty, we readily assume that what we are dealing with is not uncertainty but rather infinity and eternity.

From there it’s an easy hop to rename uncertainty “God” and assume we are having a spiritual experience. “I am that.” “I am awareness itself.” “I am one with God.”

And so forth.

But what if we leave God out of it? What if we leave infinity and eternity out of it and just make friends with uncertainty?

That is, rather than see uncertainty as a problem to be solved, why not see it as a companion for a journey? Or a partner for a dance? Or even the music to which we dance, if that metaphor works better.

This doesn’t mean we can’t be in dialogue with uncertainty with a goal of being less uncertain or uncertain differently. By all means study. By all means explore the inner and outer landscapes.

But perhaps adopt a view of this study and exploration that is less linear and colonial in nature. That is, consider that our study and exploration is unlikely to have an end (linear) and is unlikely to ever bring uncertainty permanently under our control (colonial).

When we view the world and our living not as a problem to be solved but as a partner for a dance, then our living changes. It becomes happier in the sense of being less rigid, conditional and exclusive. We aren’t trying to control life or restrict life. We are just responding to life as it responds to us.

Paradoxically, when we no longer insist the world resolve into absolute divine answers or patterns, then hints of divinity suddenly appear. Life becomes vibrant and dynamic, a welcoming flow rather than an opposing force. We feel joy and peace. We feel free.

Thus, rather than attack unknowing or uncertainty, perhaps we ought to lean into it. Perhaps we ought to question the tendency to see uncertainty as problematic or somehow other.

Rather, can we see it as an invitation to play rather than work? And then go ahead and play? Will we not – at last – be happy?

On Awareness, Doubt, Socratic Dialogue, and Love

As human beings we are aware and we are aware that we are aware and this reflects a single unified awareness. Your awareness of a tree and your awareness of your awareness of a tree are the same awareness.

To some people this seems obvious. But I think it’s actually not. We have – as a consequence of our physical and cognitive structure – a sense that our “awareness of awareness” is actually a durable tangible self who happens to be looking at a tree. And we are very attached to that self, and our attachment is consequential. It begets a lot of distress and anxiety (and aggression) which, as A Course in Miracles suggests, need not be.

The suggestion here is that the tree and the self are similar phenomena appearing in the same awareness. That is, they are both just images in awareness and neither is more dynamic, valuable or complex than the other. That one feels more dynamic, valuable and complex is simply an aspect of appearing (sort of like how some stars appear brighter than others, or some ice cream flavors taste better than others).

“But wait!” you might say. “What about my past? My preferences? My desires and aversions? My hopes and goals? The tree doesn’t have them – I do.”

Actually, no. They, too, are appearances in awareness – albeit subtle appearances (sort of like noticing wind because of how the tree moves – wind itself is invisible). Describing goals, preferences, histories et cetera as our own – as if they are attached to a discrete self – is part of the confusion. It arises from – and reinforces – the underlying mistaken belief that there actually is a discrete self that can be threatened or rewarded, lose or win, live or die . . .

It’s a bit like how we cry when Bambi’s mother dies. We know that nothing actually happened. And yet, we are invested in the illusory narrative to the point that it evokes a powerful emotional response. I’m suggesting that Bambi isn’t the only narrative we’re falling for; we’re falling for the “me, myself and I” narrative, too.

“Okay,” you say. “But if I cut myself, you don’t bleed. If you eat some bread, my hunger doesn’t go away.”

While that argument feels dispositive, it’s actually not. Its premise assumes the point it aims to prove – that is, that you and I are separate beings having separate experiences. It’s a slightly subtler version of saying “water is wet because water is wet.”

Investigate the premise: if you are just an image appearing in awareness, and I am just an image appearing in awareness, then our various professions of experience are merely professions. They are merely appearances in awareness, which includes the sense that some are mine and some are yours. But if “me” and “you” are just images, then a compare-and-contrast exercise isn’t going to prove one is more “real” than the other.

For example, you wouldn’t compare a speech by Macbeth to a speech by Banquo in an effort to prove that one of the speakers wasn’t a character in a play. You wouldn’t compare the acts those characters take to suggest one is more real than the other. It’s the same with “you” and “me.” And you and me, too.

“Fine,” you say. “But you keep talking about ‘I’ and ‘you.’ Isn’t that hypocritical? If they’re not real or actual, why do you keep talking about them?”

Obviously language and communication appear, and obviously language and communication denote stuff. The word “tree” doesn’t just float in the ether – it directs us to a specific experience of a specific appearance. It’s relational, which is what makes it communicative.

But ask: how would dialogue function if I beat my chest and hopped around like an amped-up silverback gorilla? Or stood silently in place all day with my face turned to the sun, slowly rotating like a sunflower? What if I use semaphores? What if I invent a language, a la Tolkien?

I think the answer is that while meaning in those instances would shift – become more or less clear, more or less helpful, more or less intelligible – communication itself would still go on.

That, in turn, suggests that language, too – notwithstanding its complexity in signification – is an appearance. Of course I use language that reinforces the split in awareness that human beings experience. I appear as a human being. When “I” appear as a silverback gorilla or a sunflower, “I” do something else.

It’s all an appearance. Yes, some of it feels more personal and intimate – more sensuous – but so what? All that really shows it that language appears and sensuality appears and sometimes they coincide.

The suggestion I make is that we investigate this, and see what happens when we do, and in the interim just keep on keeping on. Do what is natural. Sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, laugh when you’re amused, dance when the music says dance. Be in dialogue with life, rather than lecturing it and insisting it conform to this or that expectation or opinion.

One of the things I often point out is that when we come to the insight that “it’s all awareness,” is that we go slowly with any conclusions we might draw from that. There is a sense that we’ve reached the summit of the mountain and our search is over, dissolved in the pure light of God/Source/Etc.

Well, maybe. But maybe not, too.

Mountain summits are not our home! They are part of what comes and goes – part of the experience that is never still but always shifting and shading. Each time I reach the top of Mount Ascutney, after refueling and giving a good hour or so to sitting quietly with the western view, I hike back down.

It’s not unlike when Jesus and his disciples meet Elijah and Moses at the top of a high mountain. The disciples want to set up tents and who could blame them? But Jesus does not cling to the peak experience. It passes. He descends from the summit and returns to the ordinary ongoing rhythm of living in the world.

I read that scriptural text as suggesting that summit experiences can be helpful and exhilarating but are not in and of themselves the end of seeking and uncertainty.

It is possible the insight that “it’s all awareness” is simply a clear seeing of the human experience of cognition and perception. That is, we have a particular structure and it brings forth a particular experience that appears dual but is actually non-dual. It appears singular but is actually shared, collective and inclusive.

On that view, the insight simply allows us to be happy in a serious, natural and sustainable way. Since “the other” is also our own self (or, better, is our self seeing itself another way), then patience, kindness, and inclusiveness naturally arise. We become creative and compassionate rather than competitive. We don’t wait on invitations to be helpful and we don’t get worked up about accepting help. Mutual aid and recognition abound. We become loving, or we become love itself, where “love” is understood as processual, flowing, relational. The rigid poles of subject/object, observer/observed dissolve because we understand them not as laws binding us to separation but as pointers to our fundamental unity.

However, I do not argue that this is absolutely the case! I merely point out that it’s as valid a possibility as positing “it’s all awareness” as tantamount to a radical spiritual awakening and enlightenment.

Nor do I suggest that those two possibilities are the only ones! Critical to my personal experience of spirituality – which is to say, of love – is an ongoing willingness to accept the possibility of other possibilities, including those I of which I am not now and may never be, aware.

In a sense, by not allowing ourselves to reach a conclusion, we sustain a kind of unknowing. We don’t ever reach the summit and set up tents; we hike and go on hiking – up and down, here and there, peak and valley, village and forest, desert and sea. I think of this approach to awareness and awareness-of-awareness as kin to Socrates’ insight that human beings cannot ever be wise, let alone “wisest of all.”

Here is how Hannah Arendt puts it in her essay “Philosophy and Politics.”

. . . only through knowing what appears to me — only to me, and therefore remaining forever related to my own concrete existence — can I ever understand truth. Absolute truth, which would be the same for all men and therefore unrelated, independent of each man’s existence, cannot exist for mortals.

Socrates insisted on epistemic humility – on doubt – but also on dialogue.

Arendt again:

Socrates therefore must always begin with questions; he cannot know beforehand what kind of dokei moi, of it-appears-to-me, the other possesses. He must make sure of the other’s position in the common world. Yet, just as nobody can know beforehand the other’s doxa (opinion), so nobody can know by himself and without further effort the inherent truth of his own opinion. Socrates wanted to bring out this truth which everyone potentially possesses. If we remain true to his own metaphor of maieutic, we may say: Socrates wanted to make the city more truthful by delivering each of the citizens of their truths.

“Maieutic” refers to the art and craft of midwifery. Socrates wasn’t trying to persuade anyone of his truth; rather, he was trying to help others give birth to their truth. As Arendt puts it, “the maieutic was a political activity, a give and take, fundamentally on a basis of strict equality, the fruits of which could not be measured by the result of arriving at this or that general truth.”

That is a beautiful and nontrivial point. We are apt to think of our seeking and pursuing nonduality in a spiritual context or frame, which makes it personal. Ascended masters appear to me and not you, Marianne Williamson is more spiritual than I am, Thomas Merton was closer to God than all of us, et cetera.

But the suggestion I make here – tracking Arendt’s insights – is that our seeking and pursuing nonduality is actually political, in the sense of bringing folks together in a consensual collective way.

That is, we are entering into dialogue – image unto image – in order to learn that we are images, and equal, and so learning together what our equality and togetherness mean.

On this view, the end of the self, as such, is actually the opening out of the self into Love, which is all-of-us, which does not exclude the inanimate or non-sentient. The self melts; the collective, too.

I hint here then at the possibility of a structure in or to awareness that is premised on love. And what I intend by that is to notice that meaning is inherent, and that it’s relational. Or perhaps, even simpler, just noticing that there is order – something rather than nothing, meaning instead of no meaning, order instead of chaos.

Humberto Maturana noticed this – and reflected on it more deeply and helpfully (often collaboratively with women like Ximena Davila and Pille Bunnell, which matters) than any other writer/thinker to whom I’ve given attention. He and Bunnell wrote:

Love expands intelligence, and enables creativity. Love returns autonomy, and as it returns autonomy, it returns responsibility and the experience of freedom.

In his work, Maturana frequently returns to the following definition of love: “Love is the domain of those relational behaviours through which another (a person, being, or thing) arises as a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself.”

The suggestion I am making is that the relations implied here – the mutuality, the acceptance, the arising – is the order that grounds awareness, and thus becomes the fundament, the ground of our being.

That is, we are loving animals who are aware of love and of loving and of ourselves as love and loving and that clarity about this is what brings peace, happiness, cooperation, consensus, compassion and all of that. Indeed, upon seeing this clearly, nothing but “peace, happiness, cooperation, consensus, compassion and all of that” can arise because that is what we are. We love; we are loving.

I started this essay building a fairly traditional case for “there is only awareness.” I do that because a lot of folks whose work I admire have that insight as their goal, or reach that insight and have as their goal transmitting it to others. I appreciate that.

Yet I think that insight is not an end but a beginning, and that we can still reflect and observe and re-reflect in wake of – in the light of – this insight. And, further, I suggest that what we learn is that we love and are loving and in that sense Love is all there is.

Nor do I relinquish the Socratic impulse – to go on doubting and in our doubt to be in dialogue with the other. So I am always in a state of remembering, recovering, recognizing, relinquishing, relishing, reveling . . . There is no end to it. Nor can I say where the beginning is, or was.

It is like I stand on that line where the sea is always meeting shore. Each wave dulls then obliterates the messages we leave, topples then erases each castle we build. Yet the sand remains and the desire to communicate and construct remains, and so we – like the sea and the shore – go on, forever together as one.