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2003©José Cossa

The questions of existence and meaning have tortured humans for many centuries; whether I am deceived about my own existence or if I am right that I exist, is not the ultimate issue to me. There are two kinds of existence and there are multitudes of meaning to life. The awareness of one’s existence is independent of one’s awareness of meaning. For example, if we ask a child what is the meaning of his or her life, we are likely to come empty-handed from such inquiry; however, if we ask adolescents and adults, it is likely that we will come out of that inquiry with a multitude of responses. The fact that the child may not give a dissertation on the meaning of life does not mean that the child is not aware of his or her existence, but that he or she has not constructed a (or even inherited a constructed) meaning to his or her existence.

As stated earlier, whether I actually exist or not is not the ultimate issue to me. There are two realms to existence and meaning: The metaphysical and the physical. That which cannot be perceived by the naked eye and human faculties, and that which can; however, one should not be naïve and ignore that even the existence (if we can so say) of the metaphysical has been constructed to us by others through human faculties. In other words, we have created perceptions of reality or realities with our own human faculties, and this very fact limits us from achieving an ultimate agreement and grasp the essence of what is, i.e., its existence and meaning.

In my childhood I was more inquisitive and suspicious of constructs than I am today; or, perhaps I am returning to my childhood inquiries. I remember arguing for nothing as no-existence, no-reality, and no-thing in order to be the one to play first in games that required turns and in which to be first to play placed one in an advantageous position. I argued that nothing presupposed the non-existence of God and of zero; however, my friends’ growing awareness of the power of the concept-tool nothing led me to develop another dimension beyond non-existence and I became an advocate of before-nothing. In my thesis the concept nothing is an emptiness that can be perceived while before-nothing presupposes no-perception, even of non-existence. Before-nothing is not the same as a vacuum or emptiness because these two constructs presuppose containment within a particular frame or boundaries even if that frame or boundaries cannot be perceived.

As I reflect about the concept of God, I agree with my early childhood attribution of its inadequacy to define what humans have attempted to deem as the cause of all causes and of existence itself. God, in any language and under any name, is a human construct that attempts to claim an understanding of that which caused existence, but whatever caused existence and is often perceived or defined as self-causing is inadequate to explain a stage prior to existence; therefore, in order to explain such a stage, it is imperative that one understands human intellectual finitude that constraints us from fathoming mysteries that pertain a prior-to-existence stage. One could attempt to define that which caused all things by means of an incognita such as x, y, z, etc.; but that is begging the question because an incognita requires a definition and an explanation of origination since it is a human construct.

So, what could depict that mystery beyond existence and nothing? I find actual silence as the best way to engage in the mystery characterized as before-nothing. For in silence there are no constructs and there is no thought (in this case, I mean silence as the absence of noise of any kind including thought). Whether this is possible for any human at any given time is a mystery itself. If we can strip ourselves from every construct and utterance, we might be close to identifying ourselves with the before-nothing mystery and thus appreciate existence in a new light. We will learn to appreciate constructs of existence (as they may emerge) in light of the before-nothing and not those constructed for us by first-cause, causal, nihilistic or ex-nihilistic theorists. I am not suggesting some sort of transcendental meditation to empty oneself of all thought because I view such practice as an attempt to rid oneself of thoughts by substituting them with a thought of emptiness and not necessarily reaching emptiness of mind, and even less reaching before-nothingness. Even the formatting of a hard-drive in a computer, which rids the computer of all information stored in it, cannot adequately explain a before-nothing state.

What then can we say about existence and meaning? Shall we adopt the syllogism of Descartes and conclude that, “I think, therefore I am,” or adopt the constructivist positions, such as the common African perceptions of ones existence in terms of others, out of the frustrations of inadequate explanations of what existence and meaning really are? Shall we let the various and complex metaphysical constructs of religion and philosophy rule our understanding of existence and meaning? Or, shall we let socialization take its course and accept that the human predicament is indeed our leading source of understandings of existence and meaning?

As I engage in this quest I find myself wondering whether this is a lost cause already reflected in philosophy, religion, and other epistemologies or if it is something worth pursuing. Then I wonder if there should be a reason for pursuing this quest or if one should just pursue it for no reason. In a world where the purpose of any action is a condition sine qua non to engage others in dialogue and reflection, one can hardly resist the temptation of having to give a reason for inquiring as if without that reason or purpose the inquiry is futile. In fact, it follows that some reasons are considered better than others as if an objective hierarchy of reasons exist and must at all times be revered. As if this was not enough trouble, one’s inquiry has to be backed up by preciseness of communication (i.e., what), purpose (i.e., why), and epistemology (i.e., how). It is these sort of rules that, added to other reflectors of human finitude, do not allow us to desire a genuine stripping of ourselves from already embraced constructs of existence and meaning for it is easier to pursue inquiry from the standpoint of the already embraced constructs than from a standpoint of a before-nothing state. In fact, I recognize the almost-impossible nature of the task at hand, yet the recognition of the potential deriving from such framework of inquiry is of proportions unknown to humans. This could be the revolution of inquiry, in which inquiry is not based on any construct or epistemology; therefore, the understanding and explanation of existence and meaning would not be based on constructs or epistemologies. Consequently, philosophy, religion, theories, sciences, ideologies, and knowledge systems, etc., would not be needed to inquire and explain existence and meaning. This is not nihilism or ex-nihilism or any sort of theory presupposing the death of everything, but it is a challenge to human inquiry by engaging us in a trip to a state before-nothing as the ultimate tool for genuine inquiry. God, faith, religion, theories, constructs, philosophy, sciences, etc., will not be ruled out from anyone’s world; yet, as a starting point of inquiry, the genuine inquirer will make an effort to rid his or her mind from the existing constructs and understandings.

My own life has been a journey of inquiry; but, whose has not? In order to understand partly the journey that I have taken with inquiry it is important that the role of my poetry be briefly exposed. My poetry plays an indispensable part of my life because through it I have painted a portrait of myself, have interpreted my life-journey, deconstructed existing paradigms and interpretations and constructed meaning for my own life. This meaning is immersed in the constructed meanings of others around me and the conventionally accepted constructions of social reality. What is held as truth is not necessarily what I hold as truth, but how can I ever win the constructed truths held for many generations and some of which spread by forces stronger than I, e.g., colonialism, religion, tradition and culture, family ties, friendship circles, fashion, etc.

Through the wisdom of poetry I have traveled the paths of agnosticism and even of nihilism and have become aware of a world without gods, demons, spirits, religion, and a world made of nothingness and in which nothingness is celebrated. Also, and ironically, I have traveled the world of religions, beliefs, traditions, sciences, laws, and other organized life-styles only to learn fear, dependence, and to reckon the complexity of the world entangled by the threads of human ego and thirst for power. I learned that one of man’s greatest fears is to loose favor with something, e.g., himself, others, or a god. This fear explains the dichotomies of man’s selfishness or selflessness, religious or anti-religious attitude, and social or anti-social behaviors. Therefore, it seems to me that life and existence are defined better in terms of fears.

This perception about defining life and existence in terms of fear seems contradictory to my earlier assertion that I was fearless to the point of embracing death; however, what the assertion means is that my fear of death led me to embrace it and befriend it in order to be on the side of what most of us fear the most. In essence, there is no state of fearlessness, but there is such a state only in relation to previous fears. Fear is an aspect of life essential in our reinventing our destiny; therefore, fear is essential in constructing the structure and standards for daily living. In religious terms, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and, in my own terms, the fear of man is an aspect of that beginning of wisdom for one cannot fear God unless one fears man and resorts in taking refuge in God or some entity regarded as being above man. The world of man is frightening and so is the world of spirits; consequently, to be on the right side is always a quest worth pursuing and it is honorable because it shelters man from the minor yet dangerous enemies.

My poetry and reflections have taught me to both fear “fear” and befriend fear. Fear, when feared, becomes an enslaving and torturing energy in the universe of one’s life; yet, when befriended, fear becomes a liberating energy because one is conscious of fear like is conscious of an enemy and devotes part of time in attempting to understand the strengths and weaknesses of fear. The first condition is achieved easily because it is inherent in the human condition, yet the latter is a life-long odyssey.

As the world becomes more industrialized and technological, and as the sense of urgency is deeply succumbed in our life-styles, we have created and allowed more fears to live among us – although it may seem like our struggle is continually and successfully, that of eliminating fears, particularly those we regard to be based on superstitious and pre-modern legends. Apart from the creation of more sophisticated fears, one should also question whether the motivating force in the fight against fears regarded to be based on superstition and pre-modern legends is not the very fear of such fears. I find this philosophy of fear to be logical as those engaged in the scientific method and other epistemologies find their epistemologies to be logical. My epistemology needs not be right or wrong, linear or circular, good or bad, superior or inferior, etc., because there can be no epistemology invented by man that can bypass man’s inherent inclination to self-satisfaction. Epistemologies often presuppose that there is a way of knowing that surpasses the confines of self and bias; yet, thinking that way elevates an epistemology to a level of superiority and makes it essentially biased.

Like fear, bias is inherent in humans. One’s interpretation of reality is often superior or better than another’s interpretation. The world of rules and interpretation of such rules is a world of bias. For instance, “Thou shall not…” necessitates bias on the side of both the one who utters and the one who interprets – and, so it is with all rules. My bias is supportive of multi-paradigmatic advocates; thus, I admit that even individuals who, like me, legitimize diverse paradigms of interpretations are not exempt from bias. Consequently, this very reflection can be rightly attributed to be loaded with bias, thus it should not be taken as the end of a journey towards true liberation. This is only a beginning stage, the sweating of my inherited perceptions of existence and meaning, a manifestation of despair and hope that true liberation is possible. Ultimately, true critical thinking cannot be taught… it’s an individual journey that every earnest seeker encounters en route to creating new knowledges.