Looking life and death right square in the face
I believe that this is the most important thing that I can tell you. It is my pearl.
There is something that I would like to share with you, with the hope of getting you to experience a certain sensation. It is a sensation that I have found so powerful that it changes my perspective about life. It is in essence, a moment by moment state of being that is hard to attain and definitely hard to maintain. I have no idea whether you will feel this same sensation. Maybe it is like taking someone to a vantage point where the sunset is spectacular, and saying, “There – do you feel that – are you feeling inside what I’m feeling?” Everyone is different, and has their own way of thinking. But maybe with this one sensation, it is simple enough and basic enough, that it can be shared. This is especially true since it involves leaving your personality and personal story behind, thus getting us to common ground.
So here goes, please give it a shot. Get by yourself with minimal distractions that would inhibit your concentration. Read it slowly. Stick with it for a while to see if it works for you.
First, slow down time. Tick… tick… tick… every second is passing. Time keeps moving on, with each moment never to be lived again. Take a minute to watch it pass, notice it, as if it had some value and is worth watching it pass. Slow it down. Don’t think about the time that has past, nor think about the time that is coming. Make the “right now” the only thing to focus upon. Try and feel it? Sense it? It is you alive, experiencing time as it slowly moves along. Stop reading for a while and see if you can watch the moments go by.
Now let’s focus on a place. There is plenty going on in the world – everywhere – tons of stuff. But leave it alone for now. You are here and only here, so focus just on here. See yourself here, almost as if your eyes are floating out from your body a bit, turning around and seeing you in context of where you are. You don’t see yourself, of course, except for seeing your legs and hands and other parts. It is simply focusing and being aware that you are really here – right now.
Maintain the focus. Remember, try not to think about what’s going to happen or what you just did. Let it all go and just look at now. In fact, don’t think too much. Try instead to just sense yourself at this very place at this very moment. Do very little thinking. Tick… tick… tick… – here I am.
And finally, this is real. Wake up to the fact that you really are alive. You are in an amazing state called being alive. It is an experience that you get to have – being alive right here and right now. It is real.
That’s it. If you can focus your senses on these 3 realms (time, place, and alive), and temporarily isolate or postpone the normal flow of thoughts about your life, about the specifics of your surroundings, about occurrences from the past or plans for the future, then the HERE NOW becomes incredibly intense.
Stop and play with these 3 elements of time and place and life. It doesn’t take thought, but rather the sensation. It is not a bodily sensation exactly, nor really a mental exercise – it is something in between. It is some intense level of being conscious of yourself, maybe even being conscious of your being conscious. For a more interesting definition, you could call it looking life and death right square in the face.
That is indeed the crux of what I want to share. Hereafter, I’m just rattling on about things.
In the beginning, I found this sensation terribly unnerving. It made me feel alone, really alone, if you get my pun. And I felt dense. I was 19 at the time, very naïve, and already insecure about how much mankind knew compared to how little I knew. Beyond that, I was spending time in the deep woods of the Smoky Mountains where a person seems so insignificant and ill prepared Then with these “here now” sensations, it was as if I knew nothing about life itself.
As a means of comfort, I often reminded myself of the very phrase that I had used repeatedly to first help discover this sensation. I ask the question, “What is the meaning of life?” Then I respond to my own question with, “Answer it, John, you are life.” Now those words gave me some comfort to realize that I knew as much about being alive as other people – because I was looking at it. This is the experience of being alive.
The intensity of the sensation can be an eye opener. It can make the, often taken for granted, state of being alive, feel like a pristine privileged experience. The moment by moment experience can be so intense, that it makes days and years gone by, seem like they were lost in a flurry of mechanical thought – as if you had not even been paying attention to your life occurring.
But alas as I said, that “Here Now” sensation is hard to maintain. Fleeting might describe it best – in and out, momentary bursts of a new feeling.
I remember that at that time in my life, I was feeling quite aware of death. If this is life that I was being attuned to, then death is the anti-climatic end of it all. Death, as an abrupt end of existence did not seem right. It did not match the intensity of life. A short span of brilliance balanced with an eternity of non-existence.
Thereafter, I marveled at how nonchalant people were. “We’re going to die, and we don’t know what that means! We aren’t even paying attention to being alive! No one’s talking about it! It ought to be our most important and mindful topic!” These thoughts rattled me for a long time. And as I think about it today, it still rattles me, as I go along nonchalantly living my life, managing my affairs.
So what does it all mean – what do you do with this experience? I know that I made a mistake when I first stumbled on that sensation. It was having a big impact on my view of life. I was excited. I remember visiting my family in Miami, telling my mother about “this thing” that I can experience. Seriously, my explanation to her was not much better than that. Anyway, I visited a book store, and started browsing through a book on yoga. It was talking about the experience of the “true self.” “Eureka! That was it! That was my experience!” On further exploration I found that the proponents of eastern meditation also espouse a similar experience.
The “mistake” was that I then swallowed the belief that other people had digested this sensation, had already taken it to the great heights that I thought possible, and therefore they knew where it went. It was as if I had discovered the existence of a distant wonderful place, but was now meeting people on the way back. “We’ve been there,” they would say. “Here is what you will find, here are the rules and the way to travel,” and resolutely, “here is what it all means.”
I should never have let anyone tell me that. I had no basis to believe that “they” had achieved great insight and understanding or that their experience with this sensation had revealed to them specific religious truths. Yet, I bought it, hook, line and sinker. What I should have realized is that there is that chasm between what we know by this experience of being alive and what we choose to believe. That chasm has to be looked at very carefully.
I am not saying that “they” are all wrong, or that any religion is wrong. I only made the mistake of not recognizing the chasm, nor realizing that it is currently not breached with knowledge, but rather with a jump of faith. Had I recognized this, I would have analyzed it differently.
Again, it is not to say that any religion is wrong. I have great hope that there is something more to life than a simple birth-life-death existence. There is as much of a logical basis to believe that there is another side to life, for example a theory of God, as there is to believing that there is nothing extra at all. What we now experience as being alive and what knowledge we have of that experience, could change dramatically. What if God appeared? What if science proves some metaphysical twist in life? Things can change.
I find nothing wrong with using faith to adopt a particular belief. A person makes that choice based on their experience, their emotions, some common sense, an affinity for the resultant philosophy of life, and maybe, just maybe, a personal revelation that others are not privy to. Maybe.
Myself, I have wandered among the philosophies and religions. I even had what I term to be a revelation about Christianity. Yet I have backed off again to inspect the chasm. I have returned to the simple sensation that I described in the beginning of this article. Let me start again with “here I am, alive right now.”
I love this starting place. It is powerful. It tells me in a sensation, the basics of what I do know and what I don’t know. It has a special ability to make the troubles of our storied lives melt away or at least diminish in significance. I’m not getting along with everybody, work is tedious, life is not unfolding as planned, and the decisions are endless. Yet, I get to be alive, to see and experience life. No matter what happens or where I am, I still can sit and ponder that powerful sensation of just being here right now.
John Roozen © 2006