I woke this morning in a cosmic haze. By that I mean when I opened my eyes it took me a moment to come into my body. I had been elsewhere, astral traveling I call it. As I have journeyed the terrain of depression into the mystical life, of joy and suffering and back again, I have become increasingly and acutely aware of my place in the cosmos. It seems really hard to put it into words so that it makes sense to someone who has not experienced it. Suffice it to stay that I have moments of seeing myself and the rest of the world as one, as the energy we are, as the stardust that began 14 billion years ago.
The ironic thing about seeing myself as nothing special, another creature among billions, is that in that same breath I also get to experience myself as wholly unique, an unrepeatable configuration. No creature has ever come to earth in this fashion before, and none will ever come again. It’s the good news and the bad news, it means I have some measure of responsibility as a creature of this universe. Some of the most brilliant lights in the world remind me of just how rare it is that I am here in this fashion, this level of consciousness, for surely there has never been another life form such as us. As Mark Nepo puts it, “to have the consciousness of being that we are privilege to.”
How many creatures on earth have the capacity to be awake and mindful in body, mind and soul? The Buddhists have a teaching about this, about being mindful of the preciousness of being human and that we are blessed to be together in this life form at this moment. It is a rare thing, yet we often take it for granted.
I know I have taken it for granted – my presence here on earth. I rarely see the uniqueness of my own being, my own contribution. I carry an old message, a belief, that tells me it is self-serving to look at myself and see what I bring to planet earth. And yet I can’t deny that I was created from a process the universe has been practicing for 14 billion years. There is something overpowering about that thought. It draws me inward, to a deeper conversation inside. “Since I am such a rare life form walking this planet, what am I doing, and with whom? What will I do today and how will I do it? I am here today, awake, alive unrepeatable – so what is it that is mine to offer that is only mine? What can I do that no other can?”
I have gone down a road that is unexpected. The surprising thing is that these questions inside aren’t laden with guilt or over-responsibility, as though I have failed at something, that this human is simply taking up space and could be doing “it” better, faster, and more loving, more forgiving, more, more, more… but rather these questions awaken me, as if they are simply pointing me in a direction, like a compass, or a flashlight on a darkened path.
I look out my window and see the pine trees, the hawks, bluejays, and deer. They are also unique creatures that do things only they can do. So I ask the pine tree what it does that I cannot. I ask the same of the sparrow and the rock it sits on. I put my hand on my heart and breathe, chuckling to myself, asking the deer what they do that I cannot, what no other life form can do.
I carry this idea with me for a few days, and yesterday I was talking with a friend, trying to create a project and I could feel her energy was getting impatient and frustrated. At first I was pretty sure that it had nothing to do with me, that she was probably having a stressful day and all my questions about the project were adding to her monkey mind insanity. So I stopped and asked if she wanted to do this another time, that her energy seemed irritated, almost angry, and I was starting to take some of it on, as though I was responsible in some way. Which is when she said that all my questions made her feel like she never does anything right, that everything she has been creating in her mind around this project was all wrong.
I was stunned. I felt the tightening of my chest. How could she think this?! Why would she think this?! How the hell did she come to that conclusion, from what I was seeing as creative, thought-provoking and empowering questions!?! My eyes were tearing up, and before I let them well over, I simply paused, looked down at my lunch, and took a bite of apple. How could she say these things? Was I that much of a monster that my words were being heard in such a way?
I was baffled. I did not recall saying anything remotely related to what she was experiencing. The idea of me contributing to someone thinking they were wrong on such a scale really rattled me. I never want this for anyone, and certainly not because of me. I know the feeling of never doing anything right, I grew up immersed in it. It wounds you at the core of your being, it’s shame. And shame doesn’t say you did something wrong, it says you ARE something wrong.
As we sat quiet for a few moments my own innate sense of brokenness flooded my whole being, touching every cell, I could literally feel my body contracting, and the urge to flee expanding. I did contemplate just saying I thought we were done and perhaps we finish this another time. My lifetime mantra of “be strong, be good, shut up” was alive – it was checking in with my head to make sure that I was actually living up to its standards of being strong, being good, and shutting the heck up. What did I have to do to be strong? To be good? To shut up and be quiet? Then came a heavy sigh and I thought of my question to the pine tree, and what the pine tree, and the sparrow and rock told me. They said, “This, right now, is not what is uniquely yours to contribute. What you do with it is.”
As much as my heart was hurting and I wanted to escape, there was an equal tug to stay, hearing Mark Nepo’s words in my head, that I have a consciousness of being that is a privilege for me. And in that consciousness, we are inextricably entwined, together we suffer, together we rejoice and together we exist in life and therefore we are forever recreating each other. So what will I do today, as this rare form of life walking this planet, that is an honor to do? What can I do that is only mine to do?
I took another bite of apple, slowly inhaled a deep breath, and looked at her, with the pain still alive in my eyes, but looking at her with privilege, honor and knowing we are re-creating each other. I don’t remember what I said, I just know I did what only this human can do, what the deer and bluejays outside my window could not do like I can – belong to each other. I reached back 14 billion years to find my place, to find the blessing of our being together in that one moment – the blessing that had escaped me while I was immersed in the sadness of her words, and she in her frustration, self-doubt and shame.
So what can I do today, in this present moment that is only mine? I can remember that the ceaseless, restful creative energy that has moved the cosmos for 14 billion years is the same energy, the same force that moves the human heart, that moved my heart, and my friend. That she and I are uniquely designed and created to be a conduit of that energy for healing, for laughter, for creating, for belonging – something the pine tree, sparrow and rock cannot do in a way that is uniquely mine. If that is all I do for today, I think that’s enough.