So often, in everyday modern American society, we receive the message that we are defined by what we don’t have – the latest cell phone, the ideal job, the perfect family, the nicest car or the right insurance. We judge each other by our failure to acquire these things. And we judge ourselves equally harshly, fueling a drive that is based in anxiety and comparing mind. This message is encapsulated in commercials, in packaging, and in the ways we talk about what it means to be successful. For most of us, not a day goes by that we don’t receive this message.
So tonight I want to offer you a completely different message. I want to encourage you to release yourself from a life driven by a sense of inadequacy, and to turn instead to a life that revels in the incredible fullness of all that you are simply by being human. Tonight I want to release you from living a life defined by what you lack.
At times I wonder whether the modern day preoccupation with distraction and material acquisition is actually based in a fear of death, a fear of facing that which is inevitable for each and every one of us. Perhaps, you might think in secret, if I just have that big, beautiful house and a device that gives me driving directions, then I won’t have to worry about the fact that I am passing out of this existence.
Yet even death is not our most present concern. Our true concern is to live fully while we are alive – to release ourselves from a limited view of who and what we are – to reconnect, over and over again, with that which is greater than our self, but arises through it – to discover that the true meaning of enlightenment is a direct experience of the wisdom that runs through all things, even the horrible ones.
Mind you that by ‘living fully’ I do not mean living large, or fulfilling all your sexual and material desires, or even being the most calm or the most wise. I mean actually experiencing firsthand the incredible fullness of each moment, the magnificent transformation that is taking place in every instant. Notice the incredible revelation of truth that is expressed by the fact that everything is dependent on everything else – not some things are dependent on some other things, but everything needs everything else in order to exist. This noticing is the foundational Buddhist practice of mindfulness – paying attention to this very moment so clearly that there is no one who pays attention and no moment that can be measured. Life is simply the bare threads woven together to make an infinite fabric.
Sound impossible? Well, consider how many times things have actually turned out exactly as you expected them. They may be something like what you expected, but are they truly arising exactly in ways that you can predict with precision? I didn’t think so. This unpredictability is the weaving, the activity of impermanence, that change upon change. Still, we know that things do not change at random, but are governed by the laws of cause and effect. Awakening to these laws at work in our lives, we can find bright clarity about how to live and we can find deep compassion in understanding that nothing separates us.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross put it beautifully when she said,
“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather our concern must be to live while we are alive – to release ourselves from the spiritual death that comes from living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”
So please check in with yourself. What is your most present concern?