Zhuangzi is big on oneness. A sense of the oneness of things is the experience of Dao. It is this that releases us to play among all things, unencumbered by the divisive fetters of discrimination. Where this is good and that is bad, this is beneficial and that is harmful, this is beautiful while that is ugly—where these are in play, we cannot.

Yet the spirit of play also requires that we not fetter ourselves to a fixed idea about oneness. The idea of One certainly suggests itself, but we have no business making sweeping statements regarding the ultimate nature of reality. Here again our inviolable not-knowing is the axis upon which our orientation to our human experience turns. This, too, is the usefulness of the useless.

For Zhuangzi, oneness is a beneficial psychological experience that requires no belief in metaphysical certitudes. Never do we leave the realm of ambiguity. Ambiguity is our freedom—should we wish to make it so. We wander when there is no particular place to go, and no need to go anywhere at all.

As a means to the experience of oneness Zhuangzi suggests an imaginative journey of perspective shifting: “Looked at from the point of view of their differences, even your own liver and gallbladder are as distant as Chu in the south and Yue in the north. But looked at from the point of view of their sameness, all things are one.” (Ziporyn; 5:5)

Take your pick. Both perspectives are possible. Both are legitimate. Indeed, can we not experience and appreciate them both? Wouldn’t this be walking two roads at once? In this way we can choose to experience a sense of oneness because it is beneficial without that involving us in a contradiction. Differences are as much a part of our human experience as sameness can be made to be.

I call this kind of movement imaginative meditation—not so much as to make it sound profound as to suggest that it is more than simply thinking about it. It is an exercise that can help us to actually experience something—something beneficial.

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