If a person is fortunate, the question will come. What am I, at my essence? Is there something deeper than the daily struggle to satisfy and solve?
In rare moments of brave authenticity, an earnest curiosity surges to the surface of consciousness. What makes this life worth living? Brimful with its ups and downs, what’s life really about, beneath the longing for solutions? It’s the question that will likely be there in the moments approaching the final heartbeat.
Have I lived? Did I miss it?
In the rare but precious times of relaxing the grip on immediate concerns, allowing this wondering to become primary, there can be a reckoning. It remains to be seen whether the moment of truth animates subsequent life. Mostly, habit reasserts itself, and then (so soon!) you’re saying Where did all the time go? What was it all about, anyway?
Perhaps the primary reason we keep ourselves busy, all our lives, is to hold at a distance that profound question: Am I really living? We tell ourselves all the things we’re occupied with are important, that we have “no choice,” no space for such deep reflection.
Anything to keep that comforting distance in place.
* * * * *
At some point before the clock stops, a kind of earnest search may have begun, perhaps becoming primary among a person’s concerns. There’s a longing to find the interior space where only authenticity lives, a quiet sense of well-being, noteworthy for its absence of striving and discontent. If there’s the memory of having been in that space, even fleetingly, the hunger to find it again, perhaps to linger there, can take on a quality of haunting. A whole new longing has started up. But this desire is of a different order from the sort having to do with finding the right partner or job.
Am I really living?
It’s because you know this place in you exists. The times you’ve felt it are not forgettable.
The spiritual life is a game of hide-and-seek, working to locate what’s hiding in plain sight. But really, it’s not hiding from us. We’re hiding from it. We keep ourselves at a distance from it, but seldom in all the earnest seeking do we realize we’re doing that. So a search is undertaken, sometimes with a doggedness that’s wearying. There’s the impression of not getting anywhere, or not far enough. Or of seeming to get there but then “losing” it.
Yet during the brief interval of being in that quiet space, it was impossible to imagine ever returning to the angst-ridden mode. Because from that peaceful awareness, the other “you” (the one capable of suffering, of seeking) was recognized for the insubstantial thing it is. (The two conditions are worlds apart, experientially.)
Such “relapses” can be bewildering, even painful. It may appear that trying harder is in order: steadier vigilance, more rigorous self-inquiry, acquiring more spiritual ideas. Judgment of one’s “lapses” can bring its own pain. Denial can come into the picture of self-awareness. All of it exhausting — and fruitless.
* * * * *
A person could wonder why being in the now, just the now, seems to come so easy for a little child. Or, say, a cat or dog. Neither toddler nor four-legged needs to strain to feel alive, to become caught up in the immediacy of the moment.
And it is surely the case that these innocent beings could not have the capacity to appreciate the experience of simply being here. For an adult human being has the awareness that a truly lived moment could be — and typically is — painfully otherwise. No, it takes a load of living, of wanting and not getting, or getting and then losing, to send a person inside, posing meaty questions about the meaning of life.
Even so, it’s useful to realize that the life force animating the small child doesn’t depart the scene, as growing up happens. The capacity for utterly relaxed, receptive, alive-feeling awareness does not leave us as we become adults. It’s just that the anguished matter of becoming a somebody sends the essential aliveness into hiding of a sort. Then we spend the rest of our unfulfilled lives scratching one itch after another, or struggling to heal all the damage, all the while rightly suspecting we’re missing the point.
* * * * *
When hide-and-seek has stopped, and things have gotten wondrously still inside, it’s not that the seeking finally discovered the hiding place. It’s that the dogged effort simply grew blessedly quiet. The senses came alive, the mind stilling. Something has happened to turn the head just slightly to one side or the other from where it’s been used to looking, supposing it knew what it was looking for. The “looker” sees — quietly receives — a familiar landscape from a suddenly new perspective.
What’s changed is the eyes, the ones doing the seeing. These are the eyes of awareness, not of effort, of thought. What’s taking in the now is the timeless child, endowed with pure conscious attunement. The strained searching has unwound to silence. The immersion in the moment is profoundly restful, the eyes purely receptive, absent the mind-driven effort of seeking. It’s as if everything seen were entirely new . . . and yet it’s familiar.
At such a moment a person wants nothing. Has forgotten any imperfections or discontents. There is only this, right here, in plain sight. It’s not to be clung to. The moment-to-come is not real. Only this one is.
Let go the impression a person has to work hard. It’s the mind, anyhow, exerting the effort. Stop thinking you know something. (What a relief.) Be transparent to yourself. Feel what you feel, without handling it. Be a little child, an animal. Just for now, this moment. Let your senses drink in what’s around you, whatever it may be.
All our hearts will stop. It’s never too late to live.