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Between Everything and Nothing: The Vicissitudes of Love and Wisdom

wisdom and love

 “Wisdom is knowing I am nothing, Love is knowing I am everything and between the two my life moves.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

What does it mean to be between everything and nothing? It means being present to awe. It means being vulnerable to the wonder inherent in the here-and-now. It means getting lost in the moment in order to embrace all moments.

It means allowing oneself to be crushed by the Great Mystery. To allow what’s on fire inside you to burn up everything that’s cold or merely lukewarm.

Like Einstein surmised, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead.”

Indeed. In order not to be as good as dead, we need to keep “moving” between wisdom and love, between everything and nothing, between infinity and finitude, between burning fire and rising Phoenix.

Our vehicle is wonder and awe. With it we can declare to the universe, “Infinity says I’m everything, finitude says I’m nothing. Between the two, I flow.” Let’s break it down…

Wisdom is knowing I am nothing:

everything is nothing with a twist“If you don’t occasionally contradict yourself, your position isn’t nearly complex enough.” ~ Terrence McKenna

From The Wisdom of Uncertainty to Then Again I Could Be Full of Shit to Moral Fallibilism, I’ve written excessively about Socrates’ most famous dictum, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” But when we know it of ourselves, we are able to transcend the “not knowing” and launch ourselves into awe. We free ourselves from the shackles of knowing.

We are able to dive into wonder, surf over self-seriousness, and catapult imagination past itself. We’re able to recondition the precondition and unlearn what we have learned so that we may learn more.

But first there must come a reckoning, an ontological turning point, an existential crisis. We must be able to stare into the unfathomable abyss of infinity and then flinch with our finitude in full flutter.

We must be so completely consumed by the crushing eternity of it all that our mortal coil snaps and we’re scrambling in a panic trying to imagine ways to piece it back together again. Only after gazing into the mirror of Forever, and coming back with our sense of humor sharpened by humility and awe, can we don the crown of wisdom and realize it means Nothing.

Ironically, when we gain the wisdom of knowing we are nothing, we become open to everything. We become intimate with the absurdity of impermanence and the paradox of the transitory.

We become the journey itself. And the journey is where it’s at. It’s where it all comes together: awe, astonishment, surprise, joy, ecstasy, rapture.

It’s all the colors of the spectrum that make life worth living, and we’re the artists dipping in and dipping out. As Ben Wilson said, “Everything is transitory, what’s important is the creative process.” Which brings us to Love…

Love is knowing I am everything:

“Love is the whole thing. We are only pieces.” ~ Rumi

And then there’s the other side of the coin. Where the independent individual, who comes to realize they are nothing, gains Wisdom; the interdependent individual comes to realize they are everything, and gains Love. Capital L-love. Insurgent love. Love that shatters the infinitely rigid universe into a billion finite pieces at the lover’s feet.

The beauty is that these individuals –wise independents and interdependent lovers– tend to be the same individuals. Indeed. From the wisdom gained from being nothing, comes the love of being everything, and vice versa.

As Alan Watts intuited, “Not-being implies being; just as being implies not-being. The existentialist in the West — who still trembles at the choice between being and not-being and therefore says that anxiety is ontological — hasn’t grasped this point yet. When the existentialist who trembles with anxiety before this choice realizes suddenly one day that not-being implies being, the trembling of anxiety turns into the shaking of laughter.”

It’s in the shaking of laughter, caught in the throes of humor, where we are most poignantly aware of being both everything and nothing intermittently.

When we realize we are everything, suddenly everything is interdependently infused with meaning, purpose, and love, despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that we are also nothing.a-between3

Between the cracks of everything and nothing, awe sneaks in. The un-I-verse slips in, astonishing us to no end. For we are the finite resolution (decree, declaration, motion, ruling) of the infinite cosmos, taking it all in through finite faculties that transform it all into art.

Whether that art is a painting, a poem, a song, or the canvas that is our life, between everything and nothing, life moves, love moves, wisdom moves, adventure moves. In short: we move! The key is to keep moving. The secret is to continue dancing, even though, and maybe even because, the dance will eventually end.

Even as wisdom crushes us into nothing, love resurrects us into everything. Like the fire of curiosity burns us to ashes and inspiration resurrects the Phoenix inside us. Between the two, we live. Between the two, we flow; breathing in infinity even as we breathe out finitude.

But if we can allow it –awe, beauty, and transcendence are at hand, grabbing us by the hand, and spinning us into a heroic dance with the Great Mystery. As the Japanese Proverb states, “We’re fools whether we dance or not (wisdom), so we might as well dance (love).”

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  • Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.

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