We all have moments of clarity and then we're confused. We're awake and then we're numb. We're buoyant and then we're down. Just as we inhale and exhale constantly, our wakefulness ebbs and flows.
The practice of being human is the practice of coming awake, staying awake and returning to wakefulness when we go to sleep. We go to sleep because we're mortal—not because there's anything wrong with us. This opening and closing is part of the human journey. Therefore the practice of being a spirit—in a body, in the world—is a practice of returning to our center, where we can know the world fully. Life has taught me two things about being centered. First, returning to our center, our solid place of inborn knowing, is only nourishing because it is through our core that we find our connection to the common Center of All Life. As thirst would drive you to a well, to drop your bucket and pull up water from the underground spring that feeds all wells, the individual soul is such a well that draws on the water of Spirit that feeds all souls. We need to know where our well is.
Second, the fact that we need to return to our center lets us know that we will drift away from what matters. This drifting is part of being human, and so, there is an ongoing need to find our way back to what matters. Most of us are educated to think that if we work hard enough and are good enough and disciplined enough, we'll crack the secret of life and live at the end of all trouble. While these traits are helpful tools, being human doesn't work that way. From the very start, we're asked to stay as close as we can to all that is alive. The point of our experience is not to escape life but to live it; and the wakefulness and sleepiness, the agitation and calm, the joy and suffering we encounter, are continual. Our aim is not to eliminate these conditions but to navigate them from a living center, the way you'd steer a boat at sea while balanced in its stable bottom.
So we each have to discover a very personal practice of how to return to what matters when we lose access to what we know. Losing our way is even more painful in our world of judgment and duality—a world of good and bad, and up and down, and more and less—none of which is specific enough to be helpful or to let us decipher the wisdom in direct experience.
I use the word "wakefulness" as a term for enlightenment. I believe enlightenment isn't a place we arrive at but a process we stay in. Wakefulness isn't a destination; it's a song the heart sings like a bird singing at the sight of light. Our time on Earth is constantly shifting and changing, and being human itself is a paradox—the being is infinite and the human is very finite. We are wonderfully left to live out the gifts and tensions of both.
Next: How to achieve wakefulness
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