A monk asked Yun Men, “What are the teachings of a whole lifetime?”
Yun Men said, “An appropriate response.”
‘An appropriate response’. This very well could be argued to be the entire point of Awakening in Life.
An appropriate response to our individual life, our relationships, our communities and culture, and to the world. And if we hope to have an appropriate response, it must include embracing the complexity of life and the world, in addition to awakening to timeless presence, which reveals more room to work with that complexity.
Awakening in Life includes embracing and penetrating the mystery of this life as we and it change, to make sense of it all as best we can for the purpose of a most appropriate response moment to moment.
Awakening in Life embraces the kaleidoscope of reality, which is always changing and unfolding. What is happening in this ever-changing life matters, the experiences of life are not simply for going beyond, or serving solely as exercises for meditation.
We and everyone in this world experience joy and pain, and we need to engage life to better understand how to support joy and to lessen pain, not just through the realization of timeless presence, but also by necessarily embracing and engaging the very forms of life we inhabit and share with each other.
Timeless presence gives us more room to respond, but it doesn’t say how we should respond or what we should do. We must live life in real time to continually discover the how and what, which is continually changing and evolving.
The Kaleidoscope of Reality
In interconnected contrast, and not in opposition to timeless presence, the phrase ‘Kaleidoscope of Reality’ orients us to the complexity and meaning of this world we inhabit, and what is needed from us.
Kaleidoscope is composed of three greek words:
kalos = beauty
eidos = shape or form
skopeo = to look to or to examine.
Kalos. We embrace life because we see it as inherently good and beautiful, that it is deeply meaningful that we are here and a part of this mystery of life together (even if we don’t always feel that way).
Eidos. We embrace the shape and form this life takes, and we look into and examine it. We look to uncover what has become shadow in our individual and collective experiences.
Skopeo. We look for and examine the nascent, freshly arising patterns and experiences, to know them on their own terms, and to make choices and be in this world to better respond and contribute to the well being of ourselves, others, and the world.
We seek to understand our current life experiences, to understand the problems and crises of the world, to understand what lessens suffering and cultivates love, joy, safety, dignity, and well-being.
We seek to understand how we see and experience the world in real time, to examine the very lenses with which we make sense of the world, and to strengthen, expand, deepen, and evolve our ability to understand the emerging complexity of the world and our life, so that we are more consciously evolving and responding with life, and less against it.
We seek to influence the present and how things are unfolding with as much wisdom and compassion as we can.
This embracing of emergence and evolving nature of reality also helps to temper idealism and perfectionism, as well as pull us out of complacency and spiritual passivity and bypassing. A path of classical awakening of timeless presence does include a quality of what might be described as perfect, but as such it can be easy for us to transfer that experience of perfection to this very imperfect world.
Awakening in Life means doing the best we can. And I do mean ‘the best we can’, aiming to neither come short of our capacity in this moment (wisdom), nor berating ourselves for not having more capacity in this moment than we can (compassion). As such, Awakening in Life emphasizes the cultivation of capacities over ideals. With a focus on cultivating capacities we position ourselves with the best possible disposition and skills to respond appropriately.