Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way – Majesty | A Hymn to Impermanence and Emptiness

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I recently wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend to check that out if you find the music in this post interesting. A recent night drive with a sudden return to a favorite song from years back inspired me to write this post.


Summer 2014
I live in Seattle, making my way through the drudgery of a job in customer service after years in academia. In time to myself, I work on reading and running – taking care of body and mind. Many a run is empowered by 65daysofstatic’s album “Wild Light”. The first song in particular feels like some electric thrum into the core of my being: “Heat Death Infinity Splitter”. It feels like a defiant stand against the difficulties of life with strength and aplomb. As the opening sampling says: “No one knows what is happening. No one knows what is happening. There is a lot of danger out there. OK?” The overwhelming electronic reverb after these lines tears apart fear, hesitation, and any sense of separation from this very moment, and pushes me forward into it with an open heart.

February 2022
I’m driving home from a friend’s and my cigarette lighter charger adapter for my phone is broken. I can’t use my phone to play music. I recall having seen a few old cds under the driver seat. I reach behind me as I start the drive, and the 3rd CD I grab is 65daysofstatic’s soundtrack to No Man’s Sky. When I open it, though, I find “Wild Light” instead. I excitedly pop it in, having not listened to it in some time. I am immediately entranced and destroyed by the static.

My heart has been awash in heartbreak for months. My spiritual journey has been one of trying to refind my way on a solitary path, while questioning and reevaluating, possibly even annihilating my concepts of love, partnership, and romance. In my worst days, meaninglessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts abound.

Listening to it now, versus my younger experience, this feels like a hymn to impermanence and by extension, emptiness. Perhaps this pops in my mind because earlier in the day, I had been reading a book by the Dalai Lama on Buddhism and the path to nirvana. In the first chapter, he goes over the four seals of Buddhism, the first of which is impermanence; the second is suffering; the third is anatta – no-self; the fourth is the potential peace beyond suffering. The thing is: if I were to summarize all of these, I’d say that the entirety of the four seals are the conundrum of living within emptiness but not seeing it. Impermanence is due to things being empty of inherent substance. Suffering is due to clinging to things as not-empty. Anatta follows as a corollary of impermanence as emptiness – there is no permanent soul/essence/substance behind phenomena. Peace is achieved through rectifying clinging by seeing things as empty. A longer description: there is no permanent essence behind any phenomenon – all is empty, i.e. a fluctuating process of appearing and disappearing without some ongoing entity/soul/form behind it, and yet, we suffer by clinging to things as more solid than this empty fluctuation, and therefore, peace can be achieved by the cessation of such clinging through the wisdom and accordant action in relation to seeing things as they really “are” (even such verbs as “is”/”are” can get us into philosophical trouble of unnoticed reification).

This song points to the whole flowing decay of the entire universe. It’s all a heat death infinity splitter – i.e. even atoms will eventually come apart into a splitting of the unfolding infinity we’re currently a part of.

With that in mind, the thrum of noise feels like a musical display of the wondrous unfolding and the seeming danger of everything falling apart, but much like the younger me felt emboldened by this song’s “lot of danger”, the realization of this impermanence invites us to let go of fear – there’s no self/soul/”I”/being that continues in this flux; it’s all merely flux.

For myself, I listen to it now and feel something I’ve been pondering for some time: even concepts, feelings, and attachments are impermanent. My desires for love, for the person who broke me, and for some sort of meaning attached to all the struggle start to decay in the static flux of the emergent abiding sway’s decay into the emergence of the next (riff on Heidegger). To return to Tibetan Buddhism: “Regard all dharmas as dreams.”

All is impermanent – even my “self” and any experiences it may have. Those are just as empty as anything else. All conditioned things are impermanent – even the very atoms that make up “me” and every single thought and feeling that arises as experience upon these component parts.

Nothing to Do…

If, if, if…
A set of checkboxes
Mark them all, and…
Get happiness?
Even a spiritual path–
A pursuit of spiritual materialism
An accumulation of ego
The doing of an “I”
“My attainment”
A misperception
Of Truth
“I” am not solid–an illusion
The word, a placeholder,
A Transcendental Unity of Apperception
My “Higher Self”?
Not like anything conventionally conceived:
The ebb and flow of everything
Not separate from it-
A divine chaos–unfolding
The beautiful, empty, mysterious Tao
Emerging-abiding sway of all difference
The path: There’s nothing to “do”
Nowhere to “go”
Enlightenment is here: in this moment
Nirvana in samsara
Just live: realize this one step.

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Inspired by a wonderful meditation this morning and all the wise things I regularly read: in this case, I’ve been particularly moved by Dainin Katagiri’s You Have to Say Something. This passage clarifies some of the final lines:

So, how can we practice zazen as an end in itself? All you have to do is take a step. Just one step. Strictly speaking, there is just one thing we have to face, and nothing else. If you believe there is something else besides this one thing, this is not pure practice. Just take one step in this moment with wholeheartedness. Intellectually, we think about the past and the future, but if we take one step, this shore and the other shore are now. Taking one step already includes all other steps. It includes this shore and the other shore. This one step is zazen.

I’ve also been amazed by a recent find of Loy Ching-Yuen’s The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao. I would put it up alongside the Tao Te Ching and the Dhammapada; it’s a beautiful intertwining of Taoism and Buddhism written by a true master from about a century ago. I plan on writing about several passages in the future. For now, enjoy these selections from the sections On Tao:

3. Life is a dream,
the years pass by like flowing waters.
Glamour and glory are transient as autumn and smoke;
what tragedy–for with the sun set deeply in the west,
still there are those
lost among paths of disillusionment.

Our heart should be clear as ice.
Forget all the worldly nonsense.
Sit calmly, breathe quietly, heart bright and spotless as an empty mirror.
This is the path to the Buddha’s table.

5. What labor we expend sorting out our mundane chores year after year.
But doing them without regret or tears,
without resistance,
that’s the real secret of wu wei
like the mountain stream that flows unceasingly:
Elsewise, all we do goes for nought.

We can hold back neither the coming of the flowers
nor the downward rush of the stream;
sooner or later, everything comes to its fruition.
The rhythms are called by the Great Mother,
the Heavenly Father.
All the rest is but a dream;
We need not disturb our sleeping.

To see his brilliant fusion of Buddhism and Taosim better, compare this quote with my analysis of wu wei here and my analysis of the famous lines about flowers falling in Dōgen’s Genjōkōan here.
Finally, my words here make subtle references to Chögyam Trungpa, Immanuel Kant, Martin Heidegger, and Gilles Deleuze, and this meditation and wordplay would never have come to be if I hadn’t recently read the Dalai Lama’s How to See Yourself as You Really Are, all of which (these myriad sources!) I highly recommend to anyone willing to begin a spiritual path with heart.


May this inspire your own investigations and journeys along the path, fellow wanderers. May you find ideas to play with and solace in the beautiful words of all these masters who have brought these insights into my life.

Gassho!