Living in a Universe of Value

Good day, everyone!

I thought I’d send out an exchange I had recently with my friend Rich Ray. Rich and I trained together at the monastery. These days Rich teaches meditation and yoga up in Portland, Maine. Check him out: He also happens to be a deeply wise person and a beautiful man. This exchange comes out of a conversation we had recently about the proposal from someone Rich follows that there is real thing called “value” in the universe that we can relate to as human beings. What follows is a bit dense and complex, but if you’re interested in such topics you may find the effort to be worth it.

Be well and have a lovely day!

In peace,



Rich said:

Hey David.

The idea that we are immersed in a universe of value…

  1. zen says the moment is complete. looking outside of the moment for happiness is what fuels suffering. we have to prove that the moment is complete. nothing is lacking.
  2. value says we are motivated to act in order to get needs met. from basic instinctual needs to emotional psychological needs, in other words gross, bodily needs to more subtle emotional psychological needs. Whenever we act, we are acting from a value hierarchy. There are many options of what to do and we must choose. That in and of itself creates a value rank and order.


So somewhere in there is a congruence where these ideas meet.

IN other words, there is a Correct way to enact #1 and #2 abore  and also a Toxic way:

Correct 1. = my needs are met, i trust the universe, nothing is wrong, i meet Life unfolding with a resounding YES

Toxic 1. = my needs aren’t met but the right thing to do is say yes to the moment because that makes me a good zen student. To examine my needs and desires is in fact wrong because that assumes I am out of the moment and not trusting Life. I should live monastically forever and be the Right person.

Correct 2. – I am in touch with my inner needs and desires and can make sound judgment about how to proceed with dealing in the world and all its demands and at the same time not abandon myself in order to deal with the world.

Toxic 2. The world is beyond my control and the only way i can deal is to collapse into a self centered mode of doing everything I can to get what I want so I am safe and no one, especially Life, can attack me or mess with me. I am in control and guarded against a hostile world.


I replied:

Hey, Rich!

I’m with you 100% with everything you said. See what you think of this as a way to reconcile 1 and 2….

Something that’s been up for me these past few years is that there is a place of authenticity that is human. Somewhere along the line through practice I got it into my head that there was an either/or that excludes the possibility of natural, authentic experience (ie, with no conditioned mind). It seemed like the teaching was that we are either here, at center and in a sort of transcendent place, detached from our experience and beyond everyday human concerns, or we are identified with ego. There was no middle ground where I get to just be a person with natural needs and desires, and get to meet my needs and pursue those desires without the sort of self-consciousness that is always wondering if I’m identified within conditioned mind or not. That transcendent place certainly exists, and lord knows I know the state of identification with ego–but without an acknowledgment of my human nature and the needs I naturally have I’ll end up in a really hard place. And I did: I felt I had to reject my needs in order to be in that transcendent place (which was also the “right” place to be, as you said). I had to sort of be non-human, it seemed like, and of course that’s not possible.

It seems to me that the reconciliation happens with the understanding that there is no autonomous self. In the natural human place I’m talking about there is no “me” that anything is happening to (though of course it seems like there is). I’m just a localization of consciousness in a certain time and place–a pattern of energy, maybe we could say–and so there is nothing happening outside of the moment. The moment is complete and sufficient unto itself, and it’s action are the thoughts in “my” mind and the things “I” do to get “my” needs met. The moment/consciousness is doing all that, in other words.

Gosh that is such a beautiful idea. So freeing and reassuring, too. If we can avoid the toxicity you outlined (and amen to that, brother), then we can just function naturally and seek to meet our needs naturally. In that place even our awareness of value and the choices that come out of that awareness are the moment functioning. That’s the place of peace, I think.