Life is a gift. Yeah, yeah, you say, heard it a million times before. But it’s truly very hard to see life as a gift when we awake to it each day. It is a major spiritual challenge, in fact. So let us venture on a thought experiment to help clarify our deal with life. Many of us would consider a million dollar check to be an incredibly desirable and potentially life-changing gift. We could start a business or a charitable organization, pay for (or off) education, travel the world, and more! But what if someone handed you a million dollar check every morning? That’s kind of what life is like. We’ve been getting million dollar checks for awhile now and when we first got them, we didn’t really understand what they were or what to do with them. Maybe, on one ordinary day, we held that check in our hands and had an epiphany of how incredible it really was, or maybe not. Now that we’re older and have been told by many people about this check, we have some ideas about it. And we do have some vague notion of what it’s worth and what potential it has, but we’ve been handed so many million dollar checks that the mere thought of another one makes us yawn. And the next one we’re handed, well, we just stuff it in the bank- for the future, for another time. Because it will “always be there,” so it seems. But there will come a day when there will be no more million dollar checks rolling in and no more you to cash them into the bank. And sadly, hoards of money will be sitting in the bank that you didn’t do anything with. Maybe you could have changed the world. Maybe you could have accomplished all those goals that you thought were unattainable. You could have grabbed up every opportunity in life, but instead you ignored it’s great potential and stuffed it away for another time. To begin to take advantage of the million dollar check we’re handed every day -life- we have some conscious-raising to do.
There’s an ancient Tibetan Buddhist fable that does well in illustrating that every day of our lives really is equivalent to a million dollar check. The fable goes that a great, green sea turtle lived at the bottom of a wide ocean. And once every thousand years, the great sea turtle would surface for a breath of air. On this wide ocean, a large wooden ring was afloat. The story went that the probability of a particular human person being born would be as likely as the great sea turtle surfacing exactly through the wooden ring. I didn’t do the math on this one (area of a sea turtle’s shell divided by the area of an ocean, probability that the wheel be in the exact coordinate at the exact second of the sea turtle’s surfacing, assuming all temperature, pressure, and ocean currents constant), but it’s probably not far off from the probability of your birth. The genetic probability alone, of your particular persona arising in this world, is exceedingly unlikely. Thousands of parents and grandparents and great-grandparents ad infinitum had to meet and find each other tolerable in order to link into the creation of you. So, the probability of “you” is far smaller than the sea turtle’s hoop act. We tend to think of million dollar checks as pretty rare, but what’s rarer, is the creation of the exact genetic combination that is you. If the existence of you is so improbable and unlikely, more reason to think that everyday of you is it’s own winning Mega Millions lottery ticket.
But sometimes we can’t see life as a gift at all, let alone a Powerball prize. Sometimes life seems like just a pain in the ass. But that’s honestly because we aren’t “getting it”- we aren’t being really aware of what it is. For you and for me, there was a vastly unfathomable sinkhole of billions of years of nonexistence and nonexperience before our births and there will be another mind-numbingly gargantuan span of billions of years of nonexistence and nonexperience after our deaths. Right now is the one and only picosecond in all of cosmic history that we get to exist, experience, and live. It’s the one picosecond in all of eternity that the Universe is saying, “Ok, here’s your one, brief opportunity to experience me and maybe impact someone or something on the planet enough for your existence to live on in others.” To re-transform our daily life into the gift it really is, it’s all about our awareness. As we age and as we are educated, our awareness of our world and our place in it branches out to a fuller awareness and true consciousness. Children have so little awareness of the world and themselves that saying they have consciousness is a stretch. Infants, who are not able to think because they do not have words, do not have human awareness, they are not far from any other blinking mammal. But eventually, as we start to imagine our role as an individual in a world of other individuals and in a Universe of many worlds and how all things are connected and reliant on each other, our awareness grows. Afterall, it is awareness that is evolution’s lofty tool- the more forms of awareness an organism has, the more equipped it is to survive. And well, we have the ultimate survival mechanism- consciousness, the epitome of creaturely awareness. I’m pretty sure that many humans do not have full-fledged consciousness and certainly few under age 20 do. There definitely seem to be levels of human consciousness, changing with age and with individual. Infants don’t have it, the Buddha perhaps more than had it. A spiritual awareness is a not only a higher, more complete awareness – it’s surround sound awareness. A spiritual awareness, a higher consciousness, is what allows us to tap into the realization of life as a gift not only every day, but in every moment.
And that’s what spirituality is really about. Not god, not community, not church, not supernatural mumbo-jumbo. It’s about gaining a higher awareness of our connectedness to everything, to the specialness of this moment, to a greater realization of the value of our existence. It’s about taking that tool of evolution -consciousness- in our hands, to the next level. But you’re not the only one making awareness. The Universe engineered it’s own self-awareness- you. If you have any job, as a being in the this cosmos, it’s not your 9 to 5. It’s your duty to be aware of your existence, of your world, of the Universe. The Universe seems to have made you so that there would be something to marvel at all the marvels it had made. And in becoming a spiritual being, you promote your position in the cosmos because you have a greater ability to marvel at the specialness behind every second of existence (and because you have enhanced the Universe’s engineering project). Spirituality is seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. And if we can do that continuously, we will have the highest form of conscious awareness- which is exactly what the Universe wanted, so it seems. Of course, I am personifying the Universe when it has no persona. But the if the Universe “wanted” anything, it certainly wouldn’t want us to yawn at all that it has created. It wants us to see the amazing in the most simple of moments, in the most plain of creatures, in the most ordinary of days. Because no thing is simple, nor plain, nor ordinary! Everything that exists is the result of a 13.8 billion year old cosmo-evolutionary manufacturing. If you had spent eons making something and eons more guiding its every advancement- would you think it not special? The Universe “can’t stand” to see us bored by what it has made. In being spiritual, we learn to see the beauty and the remarkable in the most minuscule. So by becoming spiritual beings, we have fulfilled the need of the cosmos and learned to see today for what it really is- a million dollar check.