Friday, March 14, 2008

Distinguishing Empty and Meaningless

Empty and Meaningless, a term familiar to Landmark Education graduates, is the point at which you get in a course where you can now create something new. People go into the course to break through something that has stopped them in their lives. It can be in a relationship. It can be in one's progress in one's career. It can be in any area of life where one feels stuck.

After almost two days of deconstruction of the world that you have built, you come to a place in your mind where you are sufficiently clear of that to create a new future. You have seen where you've erred, interpreted events incorrectly, have taken into your being (i.e., adopted as a basic premise in your knowledge and/or evaluative structure) something that has been stopping you from moving forward.

This place, free of past attachment of any kind, is called "empty and meaningless." As a point to which one gets himself to be free to create something new beyond the way he has been able to create in the past, he has to let go of the meaning that the old way had for him.

The distinction I want to make is this. Life is not, I say NOT, empty and meaningless, and to think that it is has serious consequences. (Those consequences are for a later post.) Life is an aspect of particular kinds of entities - namely living ones. These entities are to be distinguished from stones, tables, books and all sorts of inert, lifeless entities. The existence of these lifeless entities just is. They cannot take action to prolong their life because they don't possess life. They are just "banged" or moved around in the universe based on their own identity and the identities of the entities around them via the law of cause and effect - rather like billiard balls.

Entities possessing life, however, have a completely different situation. They have to constantly take action that keeps their lives in existence. Life is not automatic. It is maintained by action consistent with what the life needs to exist.

In the lower animals, this is automatic in the sense that they act to maintain their life until they are killed or die naturally. But in humans, who are distinguished from the lower animals by the faculty of reason, this is not automatic. A human being can choose at any moment to end his life and take the action to do so. In other words, life, for a human being is something that he chooses to keep in existence or not.

Because of this fact, everything around a human being is imbued by him with meaning. The basic meaning is, "Is this for me or against me?" "Does this further or hinder my life?"

Man's life and his faculty of reason are part of his nature. His creation of meaning is automatic. He will create meaning regardless. It is said that "Man is a meaning creating machine." That's true, except that he isn't a machine, and he has no choice in this matter. Thus life is not empty and meaningless. On the contrary, life is everywhere filled with meaning.

Given that, the area where you have choice and control is the meaning that you give a particular situation, event or attribute. And the Landmark exercise is valuable in altering the meaning that you give something - especially events and situations that happened in your past.

A person can see a difficult childhood as bad or he can see it as good or some combination. There were things he didn't have and didn't experience. On the other hand, he learned to be strong in the face of that and those ways may lead to success in many areas of life.

The point of this distinction is to not blithely say, "Life is empty and meaningless" as a way to dismiss worrying about something or to dismiss another person's concern. The point is to get in there, take charge of and be responsible for the meaning you create. Each of us, after all, is responsible for this individual human capacity.


sukku said...

I'm a graduate myself and thanks for sharing this article.

principlex said...

You are welcome.

After being in Landmark for years, the thing that plagued me and concerned me was that after I would finish a course or a program, I would lapse into resignation. Usually I would return to Landmark to take another course and that would give me some relief. It took me a long time to realize that the relief I got was the freedom from being restricted by meaning that I was giving to things which were caused by a choice/decision in the past. The thing it took a long time to learn was this "high" was a feeling of release and not a feeling of genuine happiness. Yes, I was happy that I was no longer restricted, but since I was not producing a change in my own character for the future, there was no happiness that would naturally follow from such an achievement.

The ultimate turning point came for me when I stopped seeing my mind as a problem and rather as my friend and began to direct it in service of my survival. Man's mind is his basic tool of survival. It needs the utmost care because we, as humans, tend to fill it with all kinds of junk - much of which harms its functioning. Thus, rather than the predisposition to believing that there is no truth and an incorrect idea of what cause and effect are, I began a serious search for what is true. If I see a coffee cup on the table, the fact that it is there and I see it is a truth. Thus, I became very interested what I could actually verify as truth.

If I had a relationship that was not working, I went to what was not working. For a long time I kept thinking that it was not working because of some decision I'd made in the past that was causing me to be unhappy. Now I said it was not working because of X and then sought to correct X and replacing it with something that did work. It may be my fault or it may be the other person's fault. But whatever it was, I lived on the basis that I was capable of knowing what worked and didn't work. This fact caused me to find relationships that do work and let go of the ones that did not. If I had basic values in common with the other person and it was some surface problem, I would seek to correct it. If not, I would let it go.

A human being is provided with a body and some signals as to when things work and when things don't - pleasure and pain. But beyond that, everything needed for a successful life has to be learned. The thing that drives this is one's purpose - in the small things as well as the large ones that can encompass one's whole life. As long as I kept giving "empty and meaningless" a place in my way of approaching life, I was unable to come up with a purpose - hence the ongoing resignation. Letting go of all of that, I have not had any kind of problem with resignation. All of that went away and I'm quite happy now.

The thing that is crucial for a person is his purpose. So long as I was believing in the idea of "empty and meaningless" and gave it credence generally in my life, I could not create a purpose that I could hang onto with any conviction. When I let go of that idea, I was able to form a purpose. This made a huge difference and ended the resignation.

Another thing that helped me a lot was reading Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness. I got into an in depth study of her ethics in a workshop for that study that I created. Tara Smith's books on her ethics were a big help in this learning experience. There's more to it than this small description, but this is a lead to what worked for me.