It’s Been a While
The first person to doubt. Did she or he doubt because of oppression; because of terror or grief; or just the opposite—because of some heady freedom; because of safety and joy?
Was perhaps the first person to doubt also the first to believe?
What is it in human consciousness that causes either? Are they intertwined, the one inevitably triggering its opposite in a perpetual dance?
How does the world we experience come into being and continue to exist? This is the question that has tickled the mind of human beings for some time now. Some are satisfied with the answer “unseen forces;” others are not. And on it goes—belief/doubt, doubt/belief.
For those convinced that the mysteries of being and becoming most likely lie in being and becoming itself, stories are necessary but not sufficient. Stories are extrapolations from reality but do not reflect the nature of experience itself: life doesn’t really have a plot, does it? Therefore, we know that all stories—and myths are stories—are inherently false.
So, how do we find order in our lives? After all, science and reason exist in and as stories too. This can blind us to the fact that science and reason come closer to approximating the being and becoming that eludes stories.
Reason is a Religion
We could say that reason is a religion. That makes some sense. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus asked, “How long are you planning to wait to demand the best of yourself?How long will you act against reason?” Many thinkers have equated self-improvement and self-mastery with reason.
The Twentieth Century philosopher Martin Heidegger—a somewhat reasonable man— enumerated three diseases of the soul:
We forget that we are alive;
we forget that everything is connected;
we forget that we are free to live for ourselves.
How do we remember these things? The need for this remembering—the need to reason concerning these matters—is why we live in the Age of Practice. A sufficient number of people have realized that the endless dance of belief and doubt does very little to improve the human condition, from the way we make it through a day to the way we sustain human society.
What do we mean by “meaning,” and what would living a life of meaning look like? Back to Heidegger’s trilogy:
It is a life in which we remember that we are alive;
a life in which we remember that everything is connected;
a life in which we remember that we are free to live for ourselves.
It is a life of both differentiation and connection; a life of learning; and a life of service.
We reach this goal daily through a practice that teaches us to stop; stabilize; calm down; and notice the being and becoming that surrounds us.
There is nothing of the dance of belief and doubt in this. There is only being and becoming. Only action and reflection. There is only centering and noticing and remembering that we are alive and connected and free. Yes, there are contradictions in that sequence. But not insurmountable ones.
Practice Makes . . . More Practice
Confucian meditation is called Chou Won, a combination of the words “sit” and “forget.”
Always keep in mind the nature of the whole and your own nature and how the one relates to the other and what being a part of the whole means. Remember that no one can stop you from doing and saying those things which are your part in the whole. (II. 9)
Does all the busyness distract you? Give yourself time to learn something new and good and stop being whirled around. The shallow weary themselves by doing, doing, and yet have no goal toward which to direct their movements or their thoughts. (II. 7)
Good call, Confucius. Good call, Marcus. The meaning is the practice.