Where is the Life?
Jimi Hendrix once penned a song lyric that went like this: “There ain’t no life nowhere.” These words strike me as being a cry of despair that many others in our world have also felt in their hearts. For, the fact is that we live in a world in which there is very little in the way of true life. Human culture is and always has been empty and vain. It boasts of life in all its color and intrigue, but these things fail to satisfy our deep inner hunger for life. They only titillate us and torture us with empty promises. Why is this? Because, in truth, they have no life to give. All human action, speech, emotion, and thought are void of life. In our universe there is life emanating from one source only: the source that we most often refer to as God.
This is a curious phenomenon to be sure. But it is the truth. In all the universe there is only one true source of life. What this means is that it is only through cultivating a connectedness with that one source that we human beings, and all living creatures for that matter, can find and experience true life. Most creatures instinctually know this and live accordingly. But man, having for some reason overridden his biological instincts with intellectual willfulness, has separated himself from the one source of life and now exists in a cut-off mode, as if pretending to have a life source of his own. But in this we have clearly deceived ourselves and gone astray. No created creature, including man, has life in and of itself. Our life was meant to come to us through our connectedness with the source, whether that connectedness is conscious or instinctual. That is the nature of our universe. That is how it was created, and that is how we were created. But since we have willfully separated ourselves and cut ourselves off from the source, it now happens that we exist but have no true life. Thus Jimi’s cry of despair was right on the mark. Looking out upon the world and works of men and beholding all the vanity and emptiness therein, it suddenly dawned on him that the whole lot of it was void of true life. There was no life anywhere in man’s world, and this was a cause of great despair for him.
What Jimi did not see and lay hold of during the days of his short lifetime was the fact that our universe is actually teeming with life but that that life has only one source: God. There is therefore no shortage or dearth of life. Rather it is just a matter of looking for it in the right places. If we look to the world and works of men we too will come up empty—an emptiness that will eventually breed despair. But if we look to the one source we will find life, and not just a trickle of it but rather a broad river—life abundant.
Was Jimi Hendrix’s experience just an isolated case? Clearly not. Almost every sentient human being has been confronted with this same dilemma on some level. But unlike Jimi, most of us do not trust our perceptions and instead choose to delude ourselves with half-truths. We think in our hearts: “There must be life in our world somewhere. We just have yet to find it.” In fact, this watering down of the truth and refusal to trust our perceptions has given rise to an orientation to life that has become very popular and mainstream in our times—the orientation of experimentation.
According to this orientation we try this or that, follow this or that faddish idea, embrace this or that philosophical or religious movement that promises answers, etc. We look for life in our careers, in the pursuit of wealth and possessions, and in our relationships with others. Then using the logical process of elimination, we work through a certain experimental phase until we can admit to ourselves that there is no life in it, only to then move on to something else. We accept the half-truth that there was no life in that phase but refuse to accept the broader truth that there is no life anywhere other than God.
This fascination with the orientation of experimentation may lend us a sense of progress, but this too is illusory. For, in truth, all we are really doing is exchanging one futile pursuit for another. Moreover, the process itself can be tiresome, painful, and discouraging. With each new thing we try and invest our hopes in and then come up empty, our discouragement grows, until eventually it turns into hopelessness or despair. That is why many older people have become jaded and bitter toward life. Having spent much of their lifetime looking for true life and not finding it, they resign themselves to their empty fate. When that happens there is nothing left for them to do but to die.
This familiar existential dilemma has become one of the foremost arguments behind the biblical claim that human beings have lost their way spiritually and are in need of a major correctional adjustment or salvation. Indeed is it not the very definition of lost ness to experiment in this way, repeatedly come up empty, and yet refuse to admit to ourselves that there is no life anywhere in the cultures of man? Why is it so difficult for us to face up to the fact that the promises inherent in human culture are deceptive and vain? Do we really have to try everything before we can come to our senses? This is not just indicative of our lost ness; it is also insane.
Youth is a time for hoping and dreaming, but as we age we become more and more disillusioned; until finally our youthful dreams abandon us and fall away. Nearly everyone has experienced this. But like stubborn donkeys, we keep on trusting in man and looking for life where there is none.
What then can be done for us? The answer to this question is twofold. It involves both an individual and collective response. The individual response is simple (though not necessarily easy), in that at any given moment we can embrace the truth and seek to reconnect with the one true source of life—that is, God. Since each one of us can do this in the privacy of his or her own inner world, there is really nothing that can stand in our way once we commit ourselves to this course of action.
But activating the collective response can be a little trickier. As a collective unit, human society has been mired in some pretty hefty deceptions. In fact, it is largely deception that fuels human culture. This deceptive culture is going to be difficult to change. Why? Because there is now and always has been a segment of society that profits from the promoting of deception—a segment that works overtime to perpetuate the lie that true life can be found within the ranks of men. Thus they have made our culture to be as enticing and seductive as possible. This is what causes everyone to obsess about their experimental behavior. It also makes us think that the source of our problem is our own inadequacy. “Maybe it’s my fault,” we say to ourselves. “Others seem to be having life through this same pursuit. Why can’t I? What’s wrong with me anyway?” But others do not really find life. They only pretend that they do. How can I be sure of this? Because there is no life in human stuff. It’s like the old saying: “You can’t get blood from a turnip.” Why not? Because there is no blood in a turnip.
There is only one life source in our universe. This is what all the enlightened masters have tried to show us. They not only knew this truth for themselves; they demonstrated the fact that they had found this one source of true life and were living in unbroken communion with it. Whether the blissful peace found by the Buddha or the miraculous works of healing displayed by Jesus the Christ, such demonstrations spoke of a vital connectedness to the source. These masters had ceased to be deceived by man’s culture and had turned away from it altogether. Rather than being given over to the despair of experimentalism and repeatedly coming up empty and becoming jaded and bitter, they did the inner work needed to find and connect with the source, after which they continued to develop and expand upon that connection. Then, being filled with compassion for the plight of their fellowman, they taught us how to find and do what they had found and done. They taught us the Way, the Truth, and the right place to look for the one source of Life.
So it is that we have and always have had all the answers right in front of us. All we have to do is to turn away from the world of men, take the teachings of our spiritual masters seriously, and follow in their footsteps. This will set us free from our treadmill of futile experimentalism and shield us from going down the road to despair. And amazingly, though most of the masters lived long ago in a world that seemed so different than ours, nothing has really changed in this regard. The one universal life source is still there for the finding. It has never been taken away. In fact, as long as there are human beings populating this planet, we can be assured that the source of life will be among us and there for the finding. Why is this? Because as Jesus once taught, that source of life is within us. Furthermore, he promised us that if we sought earnestly enough, we would find it.
The practice of meditation can be a great aid to us in this pursuit. For, through it we will break through the inner barriers of resistance and wrong belief that we have built up over the years and eventually come to connect with that well of spiritual life within us. We will learn to recognize these barriers as lifeless and vain and thereby cause them to fall away.
The Buddha is renowned for his advocacy of the practice of meditation, precisely because he knew that without it men would keep looking outside of themselves for life. They would keep looking in all the wrong places and spinning their wheels with experimentalism.
As for Jesus, though we have no record of his advocacy of the practice of meditation, we know that his teaching on prayer highlighted the need for silent communion with the life source within us. We also have the New Testament teaching that we need not take any thought for our life—what we will eat or what we will wear—and that instead of our constant compulsion to do, to speak, to emote, and to think, we need to learn to listen more. Listen to what? To the voice of God that pours forth speech in a myriad of universal manifestations. This pouring forth of God speech is synonymous with the life that flows from the one great source. Thus the New Testament teaches that, “The Word was with God in the beginning, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). Then it adds that the Word “was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1:4).
As you go into meditation ask yourself: What manner of creature is man? Does he have a life source of his own to draw on? If so, why is death such an unavoidable and integral part of the present human experience? And why is human society so blighted with suffering and misery? What did Jimi Hendrix perceive when he said, “There ain’t no life nowhere?” Obviously, he was alive in the body when he said that, and so were all the other people around him. So what kind of life was he talking about?
There is a state of being alive that is better expressed by the word existence. And there is a state of being alive that Jesus called life abundant. These are not the same kinds of life. Human beings are alive, in the sense that they have breath in their lungs and blood coursing through their veins, but very few among us can say that we have found life abundant. Jesus once said, “Rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:38). Can we honestly make that claim about ourselves? And yet clearly Jesus was talking about all of us when he said that. He was not drawing any lines of exclusivity. Rather any human being that connects with the true source of life within them will thereby automatically become a conduit for those rivers of living water. But it is up to us to stop believing in the lie that there are many sources of life out there and all we have to do is to keep experimenting until we find one.
Human life has become extremely busy and complex. We expend tremendous amounts of energy doing things that we think will impart life to us. Furthermore, we go overboard when it comes to interacting and expressing ourselves socially, which, in turn, invariably leads to entangling emotional configurations and outpourings. Then when we are not busy doing, speaking, or emoting we tend to think obsessively about the next time we will be thusly engaged. In this way we are always putting out, always extending ourselves, and always spinning our wheels. The question we must ask ourselves is: Is there life in all this spinning? For if there is no life in it, then we are sure to become tired and drained. And if we become tired and drained we are sure to feel unhappy and discouraged.
Only when we see the truth that there is no life in all our doing, can we become amenable to the idea and posture of listening. And when we can learn to listen and feel the phenomenon of God speech or the Word pouring forth, we will soon find ourselves connecting with the one true life source. Why? Because the Word is also the Life. Thus will we be nourished and replenished in a way we never dreamed possible, and because this life pours into us with such abundance it won’t be long before it overflows and nourishes others whose lives we touch.
Once this connecting with the source happens for us, our despair will become a thing of the past. No longer will we behold an earthly plane that is empty and void but rather one that is literally teeming with and pouring forth life abundant. We will understand that God created our universe to be inundated with life but that that life has only one true source: Himself! We will also understand that human beings have gone woefully astray and cut themselves off from the one life source through an act of independent willfulness, thereby sentencing themselves to a mortal existence.