It's easy to look around today and notice that our world is filled with chaos. State sponsored violence is on the rise in many parts of the world. All over this planet people are starving and dying, natural disasters are disrupting things, climate is changing, species are disappearing, resources are being rapidly depleted and civilization is quaking from massive shifts in human behavior.
Many of our traditional religious teachings inform us that humanity is in some sense broken, that we're atoning for the sins of our past human failings. The laws of karma and original sin are examples of such teachings. From the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve's consumption of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is a story most Muslims, Christians and Jews alike grew up hearing and believing. It teaches us that mankind disobeyed god's command to accept his law without question, thereby triggering a cascade of tragic life events that are still reverberating in our world today. That's why, whenever a global tragedy strikes, we hear biblical literalists describing the event as god wreaking vengeance upon humanity for having violated one of his laws. Now I don't know about you, but that description of humanity's relationship with god as one of a naughty child who's being punished has never felt to me like it's the truth. It's uninspiring, and it makes my heart clench with fear and guilt instead of expand with gratitude and love.
Meanwhile, I've noticed that our modern scientific teachings feel equally uninspiring. Scientists scramble constantly to design new mathematical formulas (or beef up the old ones) to explain the fascinating new things we're observing, but much of what they've been doing for the past fifty years has added little of genuine value to the compendium of human wisdom. If I discover a color I've never seen before and give it the name "lefleus," what have I actually learned about the nature of the color? Or about how colors work, or why they arise, or how they're all connected to each other? My sense of modern theoretical physics is that it's long been doing just that - creating complex mathematical equations and slapping them down like names on what we're observing - without really explaining what we're seeing or how the cosmos fits together.
After years of trying to reconcile the world's spiritual and intellectual teachings with my own experiences and observations of life, I've discovered that for me to feel happy and my heart to be at peace I must continually shape (and reshape) my own perspective of what and how I imagine this world to be, and then live according to my own realizations. Because my observations, feelings and life experiences too often contradicted what I'd been told to believe was true, the constant confusion I experienced had created within me a powerful cognitive dissonance that made me unhappy and downright mentally ill. That meant I either had to start trusting myself and my own sense of things, or else I had to accept without question the things other people wanted me to believe.
Tough call. Who was I to imagine I might better be able to understand and define my place in the cosmos than all the amazing gurus, avatars, thinkers and doers that have walked this world before me? Wasn't it true they were the smartest, most brilliantly innovative, most spiritually "tapped in" people who ever lived? Some have even been labeled gods and are worshiped by millions today. Then again, how did they get to be that way? By accepting everything they'd been taught without question, or by making the second choice - the harder choice - to trust themselves to be able to set out on a journey of intellectual inquiry and spiritual self-discovery and ultimately find a way home? What each of them had in common, I realized, was that they'd somehow found within themselves enough courage to trust in their own capacities. That empowered them to decide for themselves how they wished to perceive their singular precious life. Later, as their perceptions grew more clear, they then figured out how to expand that understanding through the broader lens of our shared humanity, so that others might find the courage within to embark upon their own journeys.
The moment I accepted my own truth - that I quite simply didn't believe a lot of the things I'd been taught since I was a child - I realized I needed to invest a lot more time in contemplation, study and actual experience of this mystery in which I am embedded. I also discovered, after much frustration and effort, that there exists a significant gap between what I know to be true about life when I'm in the thick of it (simply being) and what I'm able to say about it when I try to describe or define my experience in ways that other people can understand. I began to notice very quickly how many people seemed positively eager to argue with me over the descriptions of life I put forth, as if they could negate the truth of my experiences by challenging the language I used to describe them. What that's taught me is how to listen carefully and respectfully to others so I can hear how they are describing their own experiences, and to discern whether they're describing something that's similar to my own understanding using slightly different language, or if they're describing a life experience that's different from my own. I've found I can learn much from either situation without making anyone else's descriptions or experiences "wrong." I've also learned it's easier not to try to discuss what I've experienced or defend the way I've chosen to describe it other than with those who are - like me - sincerely trying to appreciate this mystery we're all experiencing, and who aren't convinced they already have all the answers.
If you're wondering by now where I've come to after years of intensive focus on the question, "what is life?" let me share with you what I've come to understand, which is precious little! You're free to quarrel with these thoughts, expand on them, embrace those that resonate with you or discard them in favor of your own interpretation. I simply offer them by way of explanation of what I've been doing, and am not attached to any as absolute truths. I change my mind all the time these days rather than allow it to grow calcified around concepts I'm not entirely sure are true, and am happier for the experience of that!
As yet, all I can know with even the slightest degree of certainty is that - most of the time - I'm sincerely grateful to be alive, and that the life force that has both created and moves through me seems to be a unified field that creates, animates and activates everything in this cosmos. I've come to perceive birth and death as doorways for consciousness, and sense that the life force that moves through those doorways is a force that has no opposite. I know that my spirit soars when I experience beauty, and it feels awe when it honors the vastness and diversity of this cosmos. Whenever I feel anything less than a soaring awe for life, all I need do is step outside and look up. In fact, I’ve learned that, no matter where I am, when I’m fully conscious of and present to life I hold the power to invite my spirit to soar continuously, because I can notice beauty anywhere and feel awe whenever I cease thinking and simply stop to BE with all that is.
I know my heart sings when it feels love, whether through the giving or the receiving. I know that when my heart sings of love I feel that every step I take is an act of grace. I've discovered I hold the power to invite my heart to sing all the time by unconditionally loving what I encounter, because I carry love within me in a seemingly endless supply. Loving life has become an important part of my conscious daily practice, and it's helped me to love myself as well as all else.
I know my mind rejoices whenever it reaches a breakthrough understanding around something it didn't previously comprehend. I've found that the truth is never mundane, never boring, never uninspiring or fear provoking. In fact, only my questions provoke my fears, never the answers I'm given. I’ve realized I hold the power to rejoice constantly, because I've come to recognize and appreciate my own astounding level of ignorance, so I now know I have the capacity to be continuously surprised and endlessly delighted by the introduction of new ideas and understandings.
As for my physical body, it feels relaxed and at peace whenever my spirit, heart and mind are in aligned focus around my spirit's intention. I know that I hold the power to feel relaxed and be at peace in every moment, because I've learned how to consciously align my spirit, heart and mind. When those three aspects of my inner being are working well together - with my spirit setting the highest intention, my heart pointing in the most loving direction and my mind selecting the wisest and surest approach - my body will not hesitate to calmly and peacefully take the desired journey, wherever it leads.
That's about it - all I really know about life in a few paragraphs. Along the way I've had to let go of many longstanding, firm beliefs I once held around concepts like liberty, the pursuit of happiness, patriotism, freedom, the value of material comforts, democracy, hard work, the special nature of humans and so forth, because I found them to be confusing to hold with real integrity. Most of the time I found I couldn't align my spirit, heart and mind around how to fully express those values in every situation, and that instead I was investing an inordinate amount of time asking my mind to explain to the rest of me why I wasn't able to do so. The only value I've found I can hold and express with any consistent degree of integrity, where all of me can remain in perfect alignment, seems to be around the value of love. In every situation I encounter, I've discovered that - if I don't know what to do - I can always ask myself the question, "Is this loving?" before I say or do anything to impact the life of another living being, or even the planet itself. If the answer is yes, I can feel confident that whatever I'm about to say or do will serve the situation, and that all of me will agree with it so there will be no self-rebukes or mental wars of rationalization later on.
Lately I'm even beginning to let go of my cherished beliefs around the existence of any original human wound, or sin. I've begun to wonder if we've been told for so long that we're wounded beings and have caused (and continue to cause) deep wounding to others and to this world that we've come to believe without question that this is truly who we are, that our human nature is such that we'll never be whole, or well, or healed. I'm even beginning to suspect that the wounds I worked so hard to "heal" in my earlier years may well have been the products of my fevered imagination, beliefs I created about myself based on the stories I was told (as well as the many stories I told myself) about the nature of this world and what we humans have believed ourselves to be.
What I'm discovering, as I center more deeply in the intention and direction of life being offered up by my spirit, is that my spirit feels indestructible, indomitable, irrepressible and fully empowered to take what may be an eternal journey toward infinite self-perfection. I don't have a clue how long it may take to get there, how many colorful body suits my spirit may try on and cast off along the way, how many sensory capacities, life experiences and thought processes my spirit may choose to cloak itself in, or how many uniquely different life forms it may wish to encounter and engage, but I'm okay with not knowing all that at this point in my journey. I have to be!
Actually, I'm doing my best these days to stop asking questions of spirit or imagining anything, and to instead notice what IS and discover if I can bring more love to whatever I encounter. When I love whatever is I no longer feel wounded, or broken, or fearful, or less than I imagine I ought to be, because those thoughts and feelings seem to dissolve in the wondrous ocean of love that fills me up as I give it away. I've therefore come to embrace that I'm eternally evolving, not endlessly healing, and to love my growth instead of curse my brokenness.
So then, now that all these thoughts and words and feelings have been committed to paper: What IS life, exactly? I have to confess that in truth, I still don't know. Then again, perhaps we're not individually meant to know the entire truth of life so much as experience it in its infinite unfolding, and if so I'm okay with this truly amazing journey!