Saturday, July 3, 2010

"I Just Feel Startled to be Alive."

This morning, during our monthly lay training group meeting at the zen center, a fellow dharma brother brought up several quotes from Diane Ackerman, as he spoke about the power of focusing on the sense gates of experience. Here is an excerpt of an interview with her:

Jill: You have been or still are a poet, a naturalist, a crisis-center worker, a small plane pilot, a teacher, an avid biker... the list goes on. What's one of the strangest or most interesting jobs you've ever had?

Ackerman: I had to pause for a moment, because it's not really a job. But I think just being a human. Every single day, without exception, at some point — it's not planned, but at some point, I just look up and notice the sky and think, Oh my God — we live on a planet. It's a planet, you know? And we've evolved. And there was blue-green algae. It seems so extraordinary, so improbable. I just feel startled to be alive. The planet is green; nature is green here. It doesn't have to be green. On other planets, the biology could be blue, or red. But we live on a green planet. I find it absolutely amazing, so this is not the strangest "job," but I find being alive strange and wondrous.

Wow! Don't you love that? Maybe not. I do though. It kind of does a nice number on the good old achievement chatter in the mind, the "need" to maintain what you have, and to become "better" than what you already are.

How about slowing down and being here now, as it is? Isn't this what Ackerman is reminding each of us to do?

There's so little reinforcement for this in our speed and achievement-driven society. But you know what? It's probably time to accept that too. Like the child who doesn't get enough love and attention from his or hers' parents (probably all of us to some degree), anyone who embarks on a life of being fully present is going against the grain. And that probably won't change much, no matter how popular meditation and yoga and tai chi and whatever else becomes popular.

Maybe you readers out there have already accepted all this. Or maybe you just think you have, which is certainly where I thought I was until recently. It's easy enough to be a rebel or a contrarian in public, but then when you go home at night to an empty apartment, or when things get terribly challenging, that's when the mask comes off and you're staring your scared self in the face.

It's actually hard to remember how startling it is to be alive when you can't quite embrace who you are in the world.

I see this in myself; I see it in others I know. The dance steps taken between the vast, pulsing expanse and the closed down little "self."

It's entirely sad and, also, startling in a way. That we are capable of such things. That people have such a plethora of ways to step away from their own basic lives. And that even so, some of us still wake up and learn to be with everything as it is.

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