Without Meaning

Without Meaning

When I say something like “without meaning”, a few things may come to mind. A common one might be that place in depression where life looses meaning and motivation. A dark place. Another might be a state of mindlessness where we experience the world without adding meaning. Oprah mentioned that on her series with Eckhart Tolle. She said that if she was in nature and didn’t name things, she experienced the world very differently.

But the sense I plan to talk about here is one I’ve seen before but have not heard as well defined as what Adyashanti does in his new book, The End of Your World.

He calls it “The Trap of Meaninglessness“.

He spends a fair bit of time talking about a very common pitfall on the journey, where we step into transcendence but are not yet ready to fully allow our humanity. We “hide” in the transcendence from aspects of self still unaccepted.

This is a perfectly natural step in the process. Why wouldn’t you want to stay in  bliss when pain comes knocking? But at a certain point, we have to turn and face what remains. If we resist that, it may show up in our lives in quite grotesque ways.

One of the possible pitfalls of this “fixation” is of course to try to hold onto bliss and such. As bliss arises from getting out of the way of it, trying to hold it is not very effective. (laughs)

Another pitfall is this place of meaninglessness. This is not a negative experience. In fact, it can be very positive. Life is bliss. Essentially, when the ego falls away, some of the things that drove us to act also fall away. Obsessive behaviors might seem something obvious, but also even various hobbies and interests can fall away. If these happen to be what drives us to act in key areas of our life, much less gets done.

A similar thing happens later with identity, with the falling away of needs. Essentially subtler versions of same.

To explain more fully, the “me” is gone and the illusion of the world has been seen. What meaning is there is a dream? But as Adya emphasizes, there is still a human there having a human experience. The mind is still trying to make sense of it all. If we ignore our humanity, life will tend to call attention to itself more. (laughs)

Because there is no longer attachment to results or the same drivers, it doesn’t matter. As Adya observes, the life can be a mess, but it’s OK. I feel fine. (laughs)

Many people come to this place with a regular job, stable relationship and so forth. Meaningless can lead to some internal debate, but no dramatic changes. However, Genpo Roshi gave the example of a fellow who lost his job because it didn’t matter. If you’re self-employed or unemployed, it can be more difficult.

Throw in the fact that a profound awakening can create a space for all of your baggage to come out in. Your unaddressed emotional resistance and karma can seem to “squirt” out all over. “Hits you in the face” as Adya put it.

As always, the solution is allowing. A willingness to look and see.

“Everything wants to come up into and be transformed by the Freedom. If you let it come up into the Aware Space, which is Love, it will re-harmonize. The space that you are is unconditional Love. Unconditional means just that: everything is welcome; nothing is cast away or set apart from it.”
— Adyashanti, from The Impact of Awakening

It is of course a transitional stage. A process of integration and completion. We want to be clear on what’s happening so the ego doesn’t grab it and turn it into the first kind of meaninglessness.

It’s also worth mentioning something Genpo said. The apparent “return of karma” post awakening. This relates both to what Adya talks about above when a space is created, and to the initial sense of being beyond karma as we are no longer caught in the field of action. We forget we’re still humans.

This also reminds us that awakening is not the goal. It is just the beginning of a whole new world.

Now if you’re reading this, wondering why anyone would want to have this experience, you must keep in mind that we’re talking about a profound inner change. Life is becoming dominated by a sense of freedom, then bliss, then love. In that space, the routine human life can get overshadowed a bit until it is more fully integrated. This is not a bad thing, it’s just part of the process.

To me, honest talk about the spiritual journey is a wonderful sign. It shows not only a number of people have made this change, but that there is a growing spiritual maturity unfolding. We’re moving out of fantasy and into the reality of enlightenment.

And that’s a very, very, very beautiful thing.

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  1. Ariel Bravy

    Hey Davidya,

    Thanks for reporting in about the book version of The End of Your World. I’m going through the audio version again and I’m noticing some similarities as well as some differences as far as examples. Some of the ones you mention from his books I don’t recall hearing in his audio version. Either way, the content is still great.

    The meaningless one is big. I went through a a round of that again the other day. Not just meaningless, but also nothing makes you happy. Like life is just one big FAIL. Nothing makes you happy. Really…

    When the ego gets ahold of this, it can be very painful.

    Yet falling into that, as it were, there’s this deeper sense of freedom and fulfillment that arises in the experience here, a fulfillment that is causeless and independent of the world.

    It seems more like getting in touch with the soul’s desires rather than the ego’s desires.

  2. Davidya

    Hi Ariel
    I would not describe the above as a strict report of Adya’s book but rather a discussion of the main point. I quote him but also throw in my own 2 bits. However, it’s likely the book explores it a bit differently. I have the audio version as well as the CD’s from the Aug ’07 retreat it was evidently derived from. Not sure how much the 3 overlap, etc. Have not had time to listen to it all.

    For me, the meaninglessness has been with happiness. Hence the examples of ‘I feel fine’, whatever plays out. Indeed, I’ve had a few things play out that would have been traumatic in the past but were simply odd. As in ‘Where did that come from?’ Decision making can be a little odd when you can’t even make yourself care. (laughs) The world has sometimes seemed one big stage drama where they lost the script. Who wants to engage that?

    Adya does touch on the other version you mention though, hence the “the first kind of meaninglessness” reference. Thinking about it, I have experienced that also, but not for years.

    But of course, none of this is the complete picture, its the falling away before the new has kicked in. Then meaning comes from a much deeper place. Much more profound.

    And yes, a complete freedom. Hard to even describe how freeing it is to have no shoulds or musts or needs. And that doesn’t even touch on how much vaster one becomes, unleashed from ego.

    hmmm – I suppose I would describe it as stepping into the flow. Stepping out of desire and into intention. Being both the intender and the vehicle of intention at the same time. The sourceless source.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Davidya

    I should mention here that the prior post “Accepting our Humanity” can be a key part of a solution to the dilemma. The sense of meaninglessness is often due to a resistance to being human, thus creating a distance from our expression and thus drivers.

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  5. I’ll have to pick up the book. There was feeling of emptiness, detachment, apathy–but not depression, just emptiness. It didn’t feel uncomfortable, but it can be highly inconvenient to daily living. Many interests and what I had thought were passions fell away, and for a time, there was nothing–that was an uncomfortable feeling. There was a desire for isolation and silence. It lasted nine months and then suddenly things changed.

  6. Davidya

    I didn’t feel a desire for isolation, but just wanted to explore spiritual subjects and not bother working. So yes, not convenient to daily life. Made some karmic stuff surprisingly easy to navigate though. I was also surprised what fell away – like my interest in playing music. Writing on the blog has fallen away twice, but both times something else moved and it began again.

    A friend of mines life stopped for a year and a half.

    What surprised me was there was never an issue. Not working didn’t cause problems. Never a worry, just some fussing over self expectations. Resistance to what is. (laughs)

  7. Eric

    I can sympathize with the loss of desire to engage the world. I am unemployed, going to school on the governments dime, and all I want to do is devour essays like this and meditate.

    There is the guilt of not studying enough for a vocation that is not a calling but merely a means to a paycheck compounded by the feeling that if I do, then I am being a phony and not true to myself. Sigh….what’s a boy to do? (laughs).

    Sorry about getting personal for a minute, but the phoniness feeling is persistent and it also invades my sitting practice, that that also is an attempt to be something I am not. Advice would probably be meaningless and I know I just have to work through it; to state the obvious it can’t be done for me and yet it would be interesting to hear if you, Davidya, and others have experienced it in your evolution.

    There is a Jackson Browne line that comes to mind:”The world outside is tugging like a beggar at my sleeve. Oh, that’s much to old a story to believe.” From “Something Fine”. Oh well, there are worse things to be going through my head.

    As I sit here about to click the submit button I am struck by the irony that I started this comment by saying that I did not want to engage the world and yet here I am, reaching out to the world through your blog. What a fickle thing the ego is, eh? Once again, a heavy sigh and a good chuckle seems to be the only appropriate response. Take care.

  8. “A friend of mines life stopped for a year and a half.

    What surprised me was there was never an issue. ”

    Yes, this is quite true. Previous motivations, for working for example, fell away completely. That, and economy–well, I haven’t been able to find a job for quite some time, but somehow everything has worked out. You’re right: flow, not resistance.

  9. Davidya

    Hi Eric
    It seems this subject touches on a spectrum of experiences. There is the identity loosing its direction. There is the person becoming deeply aware of deeper truths where the usual life looses meaning or is seen as illusion. And then more deeply, when the identity starts to fall away. Each of these have a similar nature but there’s a spectrum of experience between depression and bliss.

    I’ve been in such a position a few times. Sometimes, you just have to go through the motions, do the ‘tapas’ as it were and try not to get caught in the drama about it. Life is pushing you to see something, under the circumstances. I’ve found that life does not progress in logical steps but rather you go through the motions of what is seen to be done, then what results is something different, what you would never have anticipated.

    Keep in mind that surface circumstances have nothing to do with what they may appear. Its more a series of experiences to draw us somewhere else or complete something. We mistake the world for the mechanism when it’s just the vehicle of the process, the effect if you will. Like watching a documentary film as part of a course.

    The phoniness is another way of seeing a growing sense of the illusion of it. But that’s not the full story. There is a purpose to all this.

    But I think you have a sense of this while you work through it. And yes, laughter suits many a situation, from bliss to irony.

  10. Davidya

    Hi Karmarider
    Yes it’s curious. If the person comes up and raises objections – “I’m supposed to be working” “I need a job”, etc, then there can be some discomfort, perhaps even getting caught back in the story.

    It’s a great lesson in surrender, in learning to be OK which what is. Then the divine can begin to move through us more and the situation goes where it needs to.

    It’s a big change and can have a number of layers to learning it. Some areas of life are easy. Work can be harder, especially for guys. What we “do” is closely tied to identity. It’s normally the first thing we say after we share names. What we’re called and what we do. Yet it has nothing to do with who we are. (laughs)

  11. Ran into this quote by Buddhist Roshi Bernie Glassman on this subject today.

    “There’s a state in Japanese Zen that’s called the “Cave of Satan.” It’s that place where you just stay—because there’s nothing to do. And you can get in that state and it can be an overwhelming experience. But the point is to kick the person out of that cave.”

    Satan isn’t a Zen term, so I would be interested in knowing what the actual term is, but it illustrates the point. The experience is incomplete. The personal drivers have fallen away but one is not yet listening to the divine. Some resistance is still there.

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  15. Davidya

    Just listening to the audio of the retreat. It covers days of retreat, so there is much more content.

    Books like Impact of Awakening are snippets from various talks. The End of Your World is much more book-like – the content may be derived from the talks but it’s been edited into a book flow. It would not surprise me if that process drew out other examples, or changed their presentation.

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