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Language, Being, and the Sea Beneath

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

A truth is found in fragments, scattered throughout all disciplines. Each thinker employs a distinct language, but the essence is the same.

Jacques Derrida: He coined the term "différance," which refers to both the difference between words and the perpetual deferment of a word's meaning. One word is defined in terms of its difference to another and another...and where is the original word? There is none, no final origin or original meaning. Language is a web, and each word has meaning only insofar as it relates to the meanings of every other word.

Carlo Rovelli: "Quantum physics does not describe how things are, but how things interact with one another... Even we human beings — I’m not a thing. I’m a net of interactions with the world around me, with the people who know me, who love me...All reality is interaction."

Just like meaning, "existence" is a shared property. The roots of existence, the roots of life itself, flow into a single zero. This zero is a hum, the Nothing that binds our bodies onely. A great void beats through the atmosphere; a great void beats through your chest. And beneath all your doings and sayings and beings, a sea is frothing, disintegrating the possibility of doing and saying and being anything.

Over the disintegrating sea, you live and work and eat and see, blind to the unsteady ground beneath your feet. When you realize that your existence is a hovering and that you hover over a blind and impartial universe, then its silence is insufferable. This resounding silence is uncovered as the primal suffering. Emptiness empties itself into nihilism, and the weight of conjuring meaning from the nothing crushes the self like a tsunami.

The problem is semantic (and the semantic shapes ontology). Captalize the "N" in Nothing and the "S" in "Self" and nihilism unveils itself as an absurdity. Nihilism is simply emptiness (sunyata) that does not yet know itself. This emptiness is a no thing (Nothing) but is not a category of non-existence. You are both the small and particular spacetime entity (self) and the consciousness that inhabits everything, the "I" at the core of each living entity (Self).

Thich Nhat Hanh: ‘Emptiness’ means empty of a separate self. It is full of everything, full of life...To be empty does not mean nonexistent … Emptiness is the ground of everything. Thanks to emptiness, everything is possible.”

In Buddhism, this is closely linked to the idea of dependent co-arising. All things arise in connection with all other things. Nothing contains an essence apart from the existence and essence of other humans, events, and things. Emptiness is the mother of all.

What is the meaning of life? The meaning is everything. To isolate one property— joy, service, love— is to deny that the meaning of one arises only through entanglement in a web of opposition and sameness, synonym and antonym. Enlightenment or salvation may be the meaning only if you define these words as your gradual enlargement until you contain each green whispering of tree-wind, each dust particle floating coldly at the seams of the galaxy.

I've been watching a stray cat ambling outside my window, her pregnant belly nearly brushing the grass beneath. My existence depends on the lives of her unborn kittens. Time is no linear creature, space no objective property. Causation disjoints itself, no longer linked to a "before" or "after." With no causation, there is no necessary happening. Contingency, emptiness, nothingness wholes open the heart of Reality.

Life is no necessary happening. And yet, MIRACLE! I am here. This gratuitous Now demands something of me. Not my work, not my goodness or productivity. Simply my realization that the world is leaping into being in each instant, defying possibility. I linger in this realization, feel the generosity of impossibility crash open my gatekeeping equations. No one is worthy of life.

And yet—

Life proliferates—paining, joying, complexifying, decaying, birthing, vivifying, embracing, defying— leaping perpetually into the darkness of the now and feeling blindly into the inner pulsation of light. Still, life launches on. Still, the impossible transfigures into possibility in each microscopic moment. This moment blazes with a blessedness I cannot bear to see.

No one is worthy of love.

And yet—

Here we are, a single round of Love Becoming. Individuation possibilizing unity; unity realizing itself in individuation. Here we live and deny the reality that we eat and defecate die and copulate in the self-same womb of being, that no one is ever alone, that the delusion of aloneness is our deepest betrayal.

If we are all born together in a single shout of creation, then we also thrive or die together. The radical realization dawns: true mourning mourns with the dying coral reefs as much as the dying economies of developing countries. True vicarious joy rejoices in a parasite-recovered grove of trees as much as a cancer-recovered child.

I struggle with this realization. My daughter is the focal point of all my love; her very existence strikes me as a perpetual miracle. She is constantly widening my capacity for possibility, expanding my horizon of love. But this too is a truth: the universal is always catalyzed through the particular. We learn to love the earth from the presence of a single tree; we learn to love humanity from a single human being.

How must I live? I must cradle the body of a dying leaf the way I cradle the face of my living daughter. I must realize that anger against one tears at the very fabric of being. That hatred towards one erodes the whole ecosystem of reality. That my inner healing heals the world, that my love nurtures the trees back into breathing, the seas back into vibrancy.

I'm not sure what anything means, but I try to live my mystery with deeper and wider appreciation for the nuances that make me.


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