We’re born. We grow. We learn. We grieve. We reemerge. We feel helpless. We overflow with joy. We dream. We fail to live up to our ideals. We transcend. We hesitate to trust our capacities. We shatter into a thousand pieces of love. We sleepwalk. We awaken, over and over again, living our fully and completely human lives to the best of our abilities, although not always to the degree to which we wish we were capable.
And this is life. Our very human life. My life. Your life. Our neighbors’ lives. Our children’s lives. Our parents’ lives. Their parents’ lives and on back as long as it has always been. We live. We die. And in between we sort it out as best we can in our own entirely and perfectly human way.
Although we’re incredibly complex, we’re not really very complicated. We are simply human beings, trying, often failing, and trying again to be the people we’d really like to be. And then…, eventually…, we pass on, sometimes tragically, sometimes mercifully, sometimes too early, sometimes having been infirmed by great age, disease or neglect. If our hearts somehow manage to muster up enough openness, courage and vulnerability along the way, we perhaps leave our mark in ways that deeply impact those whose paths, largely through happenstance, have intersected with our own. As much as many of us may feel that our lives should impact our present and future world in some grand way, the true work of being a human is simply to face who and what appears directly in front of our path and to do so with heart, humility, sensitivity, presence and generosity. And graciously we are allowed to be fallible. When we better the world, it happens largely one relationship, one connection, one step, one choice at a time.
A “Being Humanist“
I had three different lengthy conversations recently with old friends of mine, one a spiritual teacher on the Zen Buddhist path, one a spiritual teacher under Ramana Maharshi’s self-enquiry path, and the other a musician whose “prayformance” is his deepest offering of love and healing to the world. I experience each of them as brilliant humans and wonderful teachers in their own ways. Their subtle power lies within their humanity, their vulnerability, their personalness, their sensitivity, all held within the space of genuine awareness and presence. None of them are perfect, yet each in their own way is perfectly human. Our conversations offered me an opportunity to reflect upon my own “spirituality” and I’ve come to recognize that I am what I might coin a “Being Humanist.” I love being human and believe that no other layers, religions or explanations are necessary to live a profoundly meaningful “spiritual” existence.
As a “being humanist,” I fully believe that this life is all we get. Many people sidestep their true awareness of mortality, and in doing so they inadvertently avoid critical facets of life. When we back away from the sometimes comforting belief of an afterlife, a reincarnation do-over, or dissolving into pure awareness upon our death, what remains is a life that becomes sacred in and of itself right here and now. In my perspective it is an immense blessing to be human as we are endowed with the capacity to self-reflect, develop and maintain complex relationships, experience a vast array of emotional states, and perhaps most importantly experience the depths of presence, wonder, love and appreciation. Yet life, when provided with sufficient supportive conditions can also be blissfully simple. When we cease from expecting life to be ultimately fulfilling, we can relax into the perfection of its day-to-day ordinariness.
Death twitches my ear. “Live,” he says, “I am coming.”Virgil, Minor Poems, Copa
While I love being human, I in no way espouse that humans possess superiority or dominion over other people, animals and nature. Nor do I feel in any way an identifying pride in humans whose actions are harmful, unjust or exploitative. Unfortunately those are all too human potentialities as well. I also bristle at those humans who claim religious superiority and seek to impose their one true path to liberation upon others.
The Role of Awareness
In my experience, the real trick to being a human being who truly recognizes, loves and cherishes their humanness, is awareness. Humans have the extraordinary ability to be self referential and as such can cultivate a sublime awareness of their presence within their own life. They can experience their life as a witness to it and not just an actor within it. When witnessing one’s own life in the moment, we experience a sense of being awake, and amid that a deep appreciation naturally wants to arise. It is through the witnessing of our own life as it unfolds that we are able to appreciate all that is arising. When we live with an awareness of the limited time of our our lives and of others, a sense of sacred preciousness can arise as well, for we can recognize in the moment that that which is here right now will never appear again. Our time with friends and loved ones and our goodbyes upon parting can have a richness, for we recognize the sacred ephemeral space within which our interactions are occurring.
Meditation is often referred to as “practice” for it is exactly that, a practice of cultivating awareness. People often disappointingly believe that the act of meditation itself is supposed to be the place where deep transformational experiences occur. While it can work that way, the greatest benefit by far is learning to become a witness to one’s own experience. Watching one’s breath in meditation may seem boring, but the act itself of watching is only possible from the vantage point of witnessing. I encourage you to do it right now for three breaths. Just watch your breathing and you’ll find that here you are, witnessing and pausing rather than simply acting. Over time we can cultivate an ability to attend to our own lives as they unfold rather than just being whisked along for the ride. Our job, if we wish to awaken into the beauty of this human experience, is to simply watch as often as we can remember, to try to maintain a double directional focus of all we are undertaking, paying attention to what we are doing while simultaneously paying attention to our own “hereness” or presence while doing so. To live a life awake isn’t reserved for the “enlightened few.” It is available on a moment to moment basis to each of us, if we can simply be attendant enough to bear witness to that which is here right now.
“Eyes are just windows; they can’t see. You have to stand at the window, only then you can see.”Osho
We Are Human Beings
We are human beings, nothing more, nothing less, and in that lies the beauty that is available in life. Attempts to complicate things any more often serve to distract us away from the preciousness of that which exists right here and now. There are certainly challenges for all of us in life, especially for those whose conditions of safety/survival/mental health are particularly burdensome. Yet we do our best with what we have to overcome the obstacles which life places in front of us and learn as time goes on to embrace the entirety of our lives rather than simply those aspects which we prefer. While humans naturally work towards growth and change, being at odds with the reality of our lives is always a losing battle. These lives which confound us with their apparent imperfection are entirely, exactly, perfectly and thankfully all we have.