A Final Thought: The great awakening


By Mitch Allen

Have you noticed how we humans have an innate tendency to categorize, to label, classify and collect? We scan our environment for what is different, what is similar, what is known and unknown. We gather mushrooms and berries, collect rocks and seashells, and organize them into neat little piles.

We plant “flowers.” We pluck “weeds.”

Long ago we divided the vegetable and animal kingdoms into genus and species, euthanizing each of God’s creatures and mounting them one by one on a board, feeling anxious and incomplete until every known specimen was in a drawer, on a wall, behind glass, writhing on a pin.

We’ve drawn imaginary lines on the globe, dividing the earth’s dramatic topography into nearly 200 separate nations, each labeled with its own identifying flag stuck into the landscape, not unlike a pin.

Though we all share 99.9 percent of our DNA, we created the concept of race to distinguish ourselves—the Inuit from the Irish, the Swedes from the Sandawe. And we labeled these categories so even a child could understand—Red and yellow, black and white / They are precious in His sight—though every one of us is a shade of brown.

There is, of course, an evolutionary advantage to the gift of discernment: our ability to recognize a poisonous berry, the glowing eyes of a crouching tiger, the dialect of a member of an enemy tribe. But there is also a disadvantage: The desire to categorize so thoroughly is a gigantic boulder on the path to spiritual growth and inner peace.

For me, spiritual development is movement toward a sense of oneness with the universe, not separateness. It is movement away from the ego—the head—down toward the heart, down to the earth, humus, humility. The ego’s defenses are strengthened by the labels we give ourselves, thus letting go of my own ego becomes easier when I let go of labels, when I stop identifying with adjectives that describe who I am or what I am supposed to be.

“Enlightenment,” says Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, “is when the wave realizes it is the ocean.”

I misunderstood this quote at first. I assumed that enlightenment is when the wave realizes it is part of the ocean, but that’s not it. Enlightenment is when the wave realizes it is the ocean—and not a wave at all. We cannot be both. We cannot become a Child of the Universe until we let go of identifying as the handsome, clever, hard-working, patriotic, kind, strong and honest child of Margaret and Fred. When we do this, everyone around us—everything around us—seems less distinguishable from ourselves. Wei Wu Wei wrote, “Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself—and there isn’t one.”

Well, I cannot make that leap. I doubt anyone can. Complete abandonment of the ego—recognizing that you have no “self” distinguishable from the rest of the universe—is likely impossible for a mere mortal. Wouldn’t that make you God?

Not according to the Buddha. When asked if he were a god, an angel, a wizard, or a man, the Buddha said no to them all.

He replied, “I am awake.”

I guess the highest spiritual peak I have ever achieved is simply embracing the wisdom inherent in the phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I get that, and the sentiment fills me with thankfulness.

My own journey has been a winding road up a bewildering mountain, and the higher I climb the more apparent it becomes that the answers I seek are to be found behind me, back on the ground, in the dirt, the rich soil made up of the crumbling rock we cling to as we ride around the sun and organic material from life that came before me.

This may be why I like to garden.

I feel closer to God when my hands are in the dirt; I feel like a wizard when my tomatoes defy gravity, grow tall, and yield fruit, though the magic isn’t mine. God gave that power to the meek—to earthworms and manure.

I pluck the weeds in my garden, by the way, but my neighbor does not. Unlike me, he doesn’t discriminate between weeds and vegetables. He insists that they all deserve to thrive and that weeds are important because they hold moisture in the soil.

“But they’re so ugly,” I say, revealing at last that I am not The Awakened One nor even a Child of the Universe. I am still the sleeping child of Wayne and Peggy Allen of Birling Drive, where we worked hard, held our heads high, used real charcoal in our patio grills, and always pulled our weeds.


Categories: Smart Living