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2.1 Living With The Sacred ~ The Exquisite Risk - Daring to Live an Authentic Life ~ Mark Nepo

Movement 2 - Steering Our Way to Center

Living With The Sacred

A dog loves the world through its nose.
A fish through its gills.
A bat through its deep sense of blindness.
An eagle through its glide.

And a human life through its spirit.

  1. If everything is sacred, then why does it feel at times so far away? Perhaps this is part of the human migration to and from what is vital. For the miracle of WHAT IS is never lacking. It doesn't dwell or recede. It is we who, in our humanness, fall in and out of contact with it. When in touch, we are awake. When not, we are asleep or distracted or caught in the pain of living. When feeling the sacred, we are vital, even when in pain. When drifting from what matters, we feel drained of meaning.
  2. Yet, though it seems elusive, the sacred is always near. All the spiritual traditions agree that the atom of the sacred is the moment. In this way, living with the sacred means opening ourselves to each moment, which animals are blessed to do without any effort. But for us, this requires the fortitude of listening, since as human beings we can be distracted so easily into making everything into our own image. It's how our ego misuses our awareness, trying to install itself as God.
  3. I think I first became aware of the power of the moment as a child watching the wind when no one was looking. But it wasn't until I was crushed open to the moment by illness that I understood that all of life is waiting there. For years I had been seduced into THINKING about life, as if it were the same thing as ENTERING it.
  4. Now, it's all as simple and hard as this. Each moment is the entirety of life compressed in the experience at hand, the same way that each drop of water contains the entire ocean. Our job as human beings, then, is to be born again each instant and to die again each instant. For it seems that life is an endless series of births, deaths, and small resurrections through which we are renewed. Even more amazing is how the Universe itself is renewed by how we all live out this sacred cycle, the way that millions of cells die and replenish daily so that your body can go on.
  5. The troublesome gift for humans is awareness: the thing that pulls us into what matters, but which if indulged too much will drain us of what matters. This has been known for a very long time. Some five hundred years ago in the story of Gilgamesh, we find Enkidu as a human raised by animals. His is a story of the tension between presence and awareness.
  6. Before living with other people, he is completely free of memory and is blessed to be carried by each moment with very little consciousness. Governed by the moment in his animal state, Enkidu is fully present but incapable of both wisdom and fear. He might be clever in finding food and certainly can be startled by a larger animal, but he appears incapable of the deeper sense of these things. For wisdom here can be understood as a deep knowing of the web of life, while fear can be understood as an existential fear, the angst and press of emptiness misread as nothing. And both seem out of his reach. Yet as the story unfolds, Enkidu is brought into the world of humans and is befriended by Gilgamesh, the king. With this, he begins to know both wisdom and deep fear as his mind starts to work the essence of what he goes through AND starts to echo on itself, replaying and re-analyzing events and concerns.
  7. Enkidu's struggle portrays a life in need of awareness and a life plagued by awareness. From this ancient story, we can see that early in our history we knew that animals and infants share an Original Innocence through which they are blessed to know the sanctity of each moment. However, they are equally void of the awareness that can extract wisdom or deep knowing from their experience. Still animals and babies are also free from dwelling in the opposite of such wisdom - deep fear or the angst and press of emptiness.
  8. Yet somehow, even five thousand years ago, we also knew the burden of awareness and that humans as they grow drift into this paradox. The moment holds the secret of aliveness which our awareness can return us to, and yet our awareness, if not restrained, can pull us out of the moment and snuff our aliveness.
  9. I experience this every time I feel something so tender I could break and talk about it too much. Each time I walk deep into the woods with my wife and dog, they fall silent before the mystery as I start to babble my words of praise, flattening out the mystery. And they just look at me.
  10. So, for thousands of years the human struggle has centered on: How do we access that Original Presence waiting in each moment? How do we nourish that animal innocence we know as babies without getting lost there? And how do we make good use of our awareness to keep us living squarely in the sanctity of each moment? I don't know the answers to these questions, but it seems each of us must find our way to participate in the birth and death and resurrection of each moment if we are to fully live.
  11. As human animals, we have this mysterious consciousness to make good use of. If we don't, it just won't sit idle. No, it will run us. For awareness ignored or indulged, or used to avoid the experience of living, will take over our lives, pulling us out of the health of the sacred, making us sad watchers of the rain.


Introduction and Table of Contents ~ The Exquisite Risk ~ Daring to...

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