Tonight I’m meditating on fulfillment.
How do we seek it? Even if we pretend to have it, not to not need it, or that it doesn’t exist, we’re still always seeking it. The mind’s defenses can only imprison our spirits — but they cannot extinguish them.
So we seek fulfillment in the One and the Many. In the one person who we wish desperately will complete us, or the many passionate relationships that we hope will please us. In the one career, invention, position that will make our fortune, or the many jobs and accomplishments that will give us a sense of worth. The pursuit of the one and the many define our lives.
But even if we do find the one and the many, fulfillment still usually eludes us. The heat of passion cools into tedium. We succeed materially, but feel emptier emotionally. The many or the one shining and perfect career, passion, success, relationship, even if it succeeds, still fails somehow to deliver what we were truly seeking from it, in it, through it: fulfillment. And we can’t quite put our finger on why.
All this is readily observable. If you cannot admit that it has happened in your own life, you can look around. Truly fulfilled people are easy enough to see. They are radiant. Somehow, the negativity in them, which is still poisoning us, has vanished. They have no hidden motives, cunning designs, or lingering grudges. Why should they? They are complete. So they illuminate every life around them effortlessly, because they are comfortable, secure, humble, giving, not selfish, defensive, anxious, guilty, shells of their past and mere shadows of their present.
But how many people like that do you really know? Very few, if any. We can observe the absence of fulfillment in the world around us, can we not? It’s a world absent of leaders, full of rage, choked with despair, bitter with cynicism. It is not a world of generosity, truth, gentleness, love. We see many people trying desperately to be superficially beautiful. But we do not know many beautiful people.
Why, then, do we fail at finding fulfillment — when it is the very thing that we are seeking all along? That is the problem.
What are the one and the many? They are that. Here is how we think of fulfillment, our cognitive model of it, if you like. That person, that job, that career, that money. The last one didn’t fulfill me. But that one. That will fulfill me.
I have a friend who buys the latest designer sports car every year, hoping to find fulfillment in a newer that. This model didn’t really fulfill me. That one will. The thats change — but most of us use very same logic, model, thought. This lover didn’t fulfill me. That one will, they’re prettier, kinder, edgier. This home didn’t make me happy. That one will, it’s bigger, finer, grander. This career didn’t fulfill me, I was overworked and underpaid. That one will, I’ll make twice as much.
But somehow, though we might find moments of triumph, pleasure, and relief so, we don’t quite find life-changing, spirit-liberating fulfillment that way. Through thatness.
When we seek fulfillment in thatness, we are still seeking it in things. Whether those things are people, cars, homes, or even our own superficial emotions. All thats are things, right? But things do not exist at all. The most basic level of reality, which we know through experience, intuition, and now evidence, is that there are no things at all. They are an illusion. So we can’t find fulfillment “in” things if they are not there in the first place.
We are looking for a mirage within an illusion when we seek fufillment in thatness. We haven’t seen reality at all. There are no things, only everything. What the Buddha called void, or emptiness. Or what great poets like Kabir and Basho call the light, coming home, what Hinduism calls Brahman, and so on.
How, then, should we approach fulfillment? We must learn to replace thatness with thisness. This and that. You and I. Us and them. All these artifical distinctions and separations must be erased. If there are no things, how can there be a that and a this? There cannot be. There can only be this, of which you are not just a “part” — but the whole. After all, if there is no that, then there is no “part”, only one whole. All is one. Everything is the whole.
What I mean by thisness is experiencing the truth that there is no that. There is only this, and everything is this, not that. You are this, all you believed was that is also this, and this is being. Unity, oneness. No separation, no division. No subject, no object, just being experiencing selfhood.
The first epiphany we must have if we are to be fulfilled is to experience thisness. What is there? There is just being. Hence, the Buddha didn’t speak of “things”, but only of arisings. Mystics like Hafiz and Rumi didn’t speak of “things”, but only happenings, occurrences, the lit candle, the door opening as metaphors for the process of discovery of no-thingness. All the great prophets warned us never to see people as separated “things”, but always to know the divine in every spirit, or its thisness.
Thisness is of course related to the Buddhist notion of Tathata, or suchness, which merely means seeing reality in all things. You can see how I struggle to describe it, and you struggle to comprehend it. But that struggle itself tells us a truth.
We are grasping for thisness. But we are still trying to apprehend it with our conceptual minds as a that. So we have already failed! The truth is the mind needs thatness to function. All the mind really is is a descriptor of thats. That house, car, person, and so on. That object, division, distinction. The mind computes thats, stores and files them away for analysis. But if there is no that, what good is the mind? So we must transcend the mind entirely to know thisness.
That is why thisness is better thought of as an epiphany one must have than a concept one learns. And that is all fulfillment is, the sudden experience of thisness.
So let me use the metaphor I used last time, of the ocean and the jewel.
The drop looks around, and thinks. If only I was one with that drop, then I would be whole, complete, fulfilled. Thatness. The drop can merge, and merge, and merge, until it is the entire ocean. And then what will it merge with? It will still not know fulfillment? Fulfillment is not hidden in any of the drops! Where is it? It is found when the drop realizes, suddenly, this is the ocean. The ocean is not outside me somewhere. It is in me, and I am in it. There is no separation, no division, no thatness. There is only thisness.
Hence, insecurity, instability, worry, anger, all the products of the divided mind, which is always afraid, disappear like smoke. What is there to fear if you are this, and this is being, which is all that is?
The spark of light in the jewel looks around, and thinks. If only I was one with that crystal, then I would be fulfilled. Thatness. Like the drop in the ocean, it can merge and merge. But fulfillment is not in any of the glimmers. It is not that. It is this. When the glimmer of light says, I am this, and this is being, and being is whole. Therefore I am whole, fulfilled, complete. When, then, is there to fear, reject, deny?
That is all fulfillment is. Think about it. If all the worry and anger and fear were erased from your mind, then it would naturally tend towards happiness, appreciation, beauty. The mind is poorly understood by the West. It is always seeking happiness, meaning, purpose, is it not? That is what we are always desperately searching for, right? So our “default” mood is not neutral. It is brimming over with delight. But it is our inner demons, our blockages and obstacles, that stand in the way.
How can we banish them, find our way around them? If we always see the world as this and that, as separation and division, then we will always fear, worry, desire, reject, deny. We will always pursue that, instead of having the epiphany of this. Pursuing that, that person, home, car, job, fortune, and so on, fear and anger and negativity will naturally arise. We will not have found fulfillment — only created the very obstacles to it that block our spirits from finding it.
So we must experience everythingness, the reality that there are no things, no thats, no “I” or “you”, only one this, to be fulfilled. Void, emptiness, this. No things, no forms, no objects, no subjects. Just ways in being. The drop is not in the ocean, the ocean is in the drop.
How can we do that? It’s the most natural thing in the world. Stop. Take a breath. Look at a child’s face. Smell a rose. Meditate on oneness. The spirit knows what the mind does not. They are not that. They are this. You are also this. This is all. Not things, but being. Arising, emerging, happening. But we can only use those words, know the world that way, if all is not separation and division, but unity. If we experience that unity, then we have nothing to fear, reject, deny. That is fulfillment.
No. We will never erase our everyday fears. They will always ebb and flow. But they need not overwhelm us, leave us panicked, paralyzed, helpless. Which is precisely what they do, right? More of us than admit it feel helpless, powerless, overpowered by fear. Why?
The simple fact is the more thatness that we live, the more our fears must inevitably drown us. If there is this and that, then you are just a tiny this in a universe of overwhelming thats. There is no power you can have that will ever give you peace of mind in such a world. The thats will always be mightier, larger, greater in number than you, and you will always be insignificant, powerless, nothing in comparison. You can be the mightiest person in the world. So what? There are still bigger thats. You can never overpower the stars, the sun, the seas, can you?
So we must live thisness, we must experience the truth that there is no this and that, if we are to liberate ourselves from fear, anger, vengeance, all the demons of the grasping mind. This and that is the root of our fear. We cannot end fear through thisness. But we can reduce it. We can cull it. We can take a scythe to it’s bitter harvest, and diminish it to mere shoots. Through which, at last, we may see the blinding light of the sun.