The Neo-Daoist Guo Xiang (252-312), in his commentary on the Zhuangzi, makes much of the unreal cognitive images by which we conceive and order our realities. He calls these “traces” (or “footprints”). There is, in fact, nothing thought or imagined that is not in some sense a trace, a mere representation of reality that must of necessity fall short of reality itself—whatever that might “be”. Truth be said, we “know” nothing, or perhaps more truly, we do not know whether we know anything or not. This is a matter of epistemology I suppose, but for Guo and for Zhuangzi both it is simply an honest description of the human condition. And given that we want to make the most of this incredible experience of being human they both turn this apparent negative, this “uselessness”, into an invitation to experience the world in an altogether different way. There is nothing useless that cannot be rendered useful. Indeed, the greater something’s apparent uselessness the greater its potential usefulness.
This is familiar ground. When words and ideas are transcended our experience of the world is transformed. Words divide. In their absence, the world is one. The experience is “mystical”. Guo calls it “vanishingly merging into things.” Zhuangzi exclaims, “All things and I are one.” Call it being empty. Call it being full. There’s no real difference between them.
This is not about truth, of course. It’s just a way of experiencing the world that feels good. And our every pronouncement upon it is also just another trace. Trace-making is unavoidable but essentially as valuable as its opposite. Indeed, without trace-making there would be no alternative, just as without yang there would be no yin, without uselessness there would be no usefulness, and without death there would be no life. And vice versa. The point is to embrace both. When opposites are transcended without their negation, Zhuangzi tells us, this is the experience of Dao.
Why only try to go around full when you could also, simultaneously, go around empty? The alternative is a life lived half-full—or half-empty.