Fully alive

I have just watched a DVD on the assassination of President Lincoln. There was a guard close by but he was either dozing, distracted or in some other way “off guard”. Mind you, the attitude of being “on guard” all the time is quite demanding. The mouse waiting for the cat to move off, or the thief waiting for the family to go to sleep, has the initiative. What does it mean to be alert and awake?

The night of the exodus from Egypt “had been foretold to our ancestors … this was the expectation of your people” (Wis 18:6). They were waiting, “dressed for action” (Luke 12:35). This message – “stay awake” – is repeated several times in the gospels. I do not think we should presume we know what it means. It can be seen as being ready for the end, for our death, but this seems to “file it away” for later.

It is a quality to practice all the time. I was called to a meeting recently which I thought would be about routine business. In fact it was about a major decision and I was caught quite “off guard”. How does one develop a habit of alertness, like the cat watching the mouse hole?

I have referred before in this column to the work of Echkart Tolle. He has written a book entitled The Power of Now. He freely admits he is saying nothing new that has not been taught by all the religions of East and West. But he has a wonderfully simple way of encouraging us to be aware all the time, to be conscious, and this means getting out of our thoughts and into our life.

Let’s say you are waiting for a bus or a kombi. What do you do? Your mind is active thinking about the past and all the things that have recently happened: the problems, the hurts, the worries, etc. Or you dream about the future; what you plan to do, your hopes, etc.

Meanwhile there are people and nature around you and you don’t notice them. You do not have the past. You do not have the future. All you have is the present moment and you are not living it. Watch the bird, pecking for food but constantly alert to the slightest threat. It is constantly “dressed for action”.

Awakeness, alertness, adoration, enlightenment – they all convey the same message. And they all tell us that I can be free at any moment. I do not have to be enslaved by the past. I do not know whether I will have a future. All I have is this moment and if I dream it away I am not really living.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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