Meaning without substantiality?

Jack asked if giving up our commitment to the proclamations of ordinary viewpoints means we will also give up what we view as meaningful—since meaningfulness is itself a kind of proclamation.

This seems to be a paradox.  How can we even specify what we intend, when the act of specification itself is being called into question?

In the reading for this week, the text talks about “flattening” as a way of challenging the proclamations of substance.  But I keep wondering how it is possible to deny extension in space without also reducing the fullness of experience?  Perhaps the image of “flattening” can encourage me to notice the move I constantly make to build a world of substance out of appearances that do not possess substantiality.  The mindfulness required may help to challenge the automatic attribution of substance.

This still has a paradoxical feel to it–since creativity and imagination also embellish appearance.  For instance, seeing elephants in clouds is an elaboration on the weather.  The Disney film “Fantasia” goes a step further: providing a ballet of pink elephants who dance, fly and continuously transform.  It seems that creative imagination adds a dimension to perception which allows the mind to take flight in that new dimension.

Watching a movie on a flat screen TV, a “flattened” plane of pixels unfolds for the viewer because he adds the dimension of his own experience to the matrix.

I have to conclude that the image of “flattening” is intended to specifically challenge the past-centered activity of substituting inert substance for the lively wisps of appearance.  Perhaps time is the key.  If we can flatten the cast of characters that have been performing the same play night after night, perhaps the cardboard cut-outs will lose their audience appeal and future possibilities will audition for new roles in a new play.  This new play, in providing parts for imagination and creativity, will be free to unfold a spacious world of colour, animation, and meaningfulness.  But this meaningfulness will be a fresh response to an aliveness that arcs across time, not the projection of conclusions imported from the past.  There is still a paradox (that flattening can empower the dance of multidimensionality), but it also makes a kind of sense.  Perhaps inhibiting the extension into substance frees up a dimension now occupied by labels and identities, thereby allowing surprising connections to blossom among the infinite reverberations of being.

About Michael Gray

I first started studying TSK in the mid 1980's and have since attended a number of retreats and workshops at the Nyingma Institute, in both TSK and Buddhist themes. I participated in the life-changing Human Development Training Program in 1991, and upon returning to Albuquerque co-founded an organization, Friends in Time (with a friend who has Lou Gehrig's Disease), which continues to serve people with similiar disabilities. I contributed an essay to "A New Way of Being"--the last one in the book--in which I describe how learning to honor who I have been has broadened and deepened my openness to present experience. I live in New Mexico with my wife and two sons.
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