Meaningness: the complete stance

Dramatic cloudscape over Sydney opera house

Image courtesy Trey Ratcliff

This page introduces the central chapter of Meaningness, explaining the complete stance. The complete stance recognizes that meaningness is both nebulous and patterned. Put another way, it neither fixates nor denies meanings. Or, equivalently: it enables the realistic and creative possibilities that emerge when you let go of eternalism and nihilism simultaneously.

If you arrived here unfamiliar with the term “complete stance”: postpone this page! It will seem boring and technical. Instead, read “Preview: eternalism and nihilism” for an introduction to the topic.

You are already in the complete stance

The complete stance looks unattractive from a distance because—unlike eternalism and nihilism—it does not claim to be The Ultimate Answer. Unlike eternalism and nihilism, it makes no comforting promises of certainty, understanding, control, or non-responsibility.

From a distance, it also looks dauntingly complicated, because it works with both pattern and nebulosity, plus their intricate interrelationships.

From its own point of view, the complete stance is simpler than either eternalism or nihilism. It sees only one thing (meaningness) not two (meaning and meaninglessness). It does not attempt to divide pattern from nebulosity—an artificial and impossible separation that causes endless complications.

It’s always obvious that meaningness is both nebulous and patterned. This means that the complete stance is also obviously right.

Because it is obviously right, we are all always already in the complete stance.

Maintaining confused stances—such as eternalism and nihilism—is actually impossible, because they are obviously wrong. At some level, we are always aware that they require extensive make-believe.

Nevertheless, we are usually somewhat effective at pulling the wool over our own eyes, using the eternalist ploys and nihilist evasions. So we often act as if we were genuinely eternalists or nihilists, and this has awful consequences.

The complete stance looks boring from a distance

The road to the complete stance appears dull, at first, because it is obvious. The way is deflationary: it strips away the enticing dramas of confused stances:

“You are on a Mission from God to fulfill the Ultimate Meaning of the Universe!”
“You have seen through the illusion of meaning and joined the intellectual elite who recognize the hard and cold reality of Ultimate Meaninglessness!”
“You have thrown off the fetters of mindless social conformity, and have the courage to create your own meanings out of raw nothingness!”

We manufacture these dramas because we fear that actually-existing meanings are inadequate. But—exciting, colorful, and appealing as fantasy-meanings may be—they are imposed, delusional, and noxious. We are better off without them.

Freedom from metaphysical delusions

The negative definition of the complete stance, as not fixating or denying meaning, is unappealing. However, it points to the main promise: freedom. Freedom from metaphysical delusions, and their propensity to limit action.

The shared metaphysical mistake underlying eternalism and nihilism is that the only meaningful kind of meaning would be non-nebulous: objective, eternal, distinct, changeless, and unambiguous. Recognizing that meanings are never that way, yet real all the same, is a more positive definition of the complete stance.

We might begin by asking:

What is creative, but not eternalistic?
What is realistic, but not nihilistic?

Dropping attractive delusions is the antidote to eternalism. Allowing meanings to be as they are is the antidote to nihilism. Then you discover that meaningness is adequate after all—more than adequate—wondrous, delicious, and vivid!

If we are always already in the complete stance, are we already done? No. The aim is to stabilize the complete stance, so we fall back into confused stances less often; and to gain skill in working with fluid meaningness.

Curiosity, playfulness, and creativity are three aspects of that skill.1 These are not separate; just three different ways of talking about the same art. I will say something about each in this chapter; and more throughout Meaningness.

Because this whole book is about finding, stabilizing, and accomplishing the complete stance; and because the stance is—from its own point of view—so simple and obvious, the chapter is relatively short.

  • 1. Vajrayanists will recognize these—along with “wondrous, delicious, and vivid”—as structural equivalents of “coemergent emptiness, bliss, and clarity,” respectively. Equivalently, these are parallel to the trikaya.


This page introduces a section containing the following pages:

  • The appeal of complete stances

    Resolving problems of meaning by recognizing inseparable pattern and nebulosity will improve your life.

  • Peak experiences

    Peak experiences and the complete stance are similar in texture, but differ in intensity, conceptual content, and causes.

  • Obstacles to the complete stance

    Meaning and meaninglessness, pattern and nebulosity all obviously exist—yet we resist recognizing and admitting this. Why?

  • ⚒︎ Observing meaningness

    How to catch meaningness in action; ways of watching confused and complete stances.

  • Finding the complete stance

    The fundamental method for resolving problems of meaning: by finding nebulosity, pattern, and their inseparable relationship.

  • Textures of completion

    Patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting in the complete stance, which resolves problems of meaning.

    • Wonder

      Wonder at the vastness, beauty, and intricacy of the phenomenal world: a texture of the complete stance.

    • Open-ended curiosity

      Open-ended curiosity gives you the freedom to interact with the world without metaphysical presuppositions.

    • ⚒︎ Humor

      Recognizing the inseparability of nebulosity and pattern gives experience a texture of good humor, and the funny sort too!

    • ⚒︎ Play

      Playfulness, which recognizes the mingled pattern and nebulosity of meaning, is a characteristic texture of activity in the complete stance.

    • ⚒︎ Enjoying the dance of nebulosity and pattern

      Enjoyment of the intertwining dance of nebulosity and pattern is a characteristic texture of the complete stance to meaning.

    • ⚒︎ Creation

      Creation is the characteristic activity of the complete stance; its densest texture.

  • Stabilizing the complete stance

    Going beyond resolutions of specific problems: consistently maintaining an accurate stance toward meaningness.

This page is in the section Meaning and meaninglessness,
      which is in Doing meaning better.

The previous page is ⚒︎ Sartre’s ghost and the corpse of God.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book. Start with an appetizer, or the table of contents. Its “metablog” includes additional essays that are not part of the book.

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The book is a work in progress; pages marked ⚒︎ are under construction.