All my senses come to attention as I hear the sound of fire trucks passing through. I feel a slight increase in my breathing and send out my silent hope that whomever the fire trucks are for will be okay. As I pause to consider the situation, I’m curious to know why it often requires calamity in order for us to really start appreciating things and seizing the day.
My desk is a great example of how things become so easily ignored – all around me are photos of the people who are important to me, trinkets that have some sentimental value, cards given to me by loved ones, a medallion that Mother Theresa blessed, a small statue of the Buddha, and so forth. And yet even right now, my focus will wander onto other things, and I’ll completely fail to see what’s right in front of me. However, it has to be said that I’ve come a long way – these days I don’t need the wake-up call as frequently as I used to, simply because I have stayed committed to being present and staying awake, and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to make progress on that front.
But of course the reason I react so strongly to the familiar sirens now is because it’s personal for me – I used to be that person who stayed in the comfort zone until something came and forcibly shook me out of it from time to time. I was spiritually asleep, and these interruptions would suddenly show me the temporary and fragile nature of life. I would get a fleeting glimpse of what it was like to be awake, only to slip back into slumber again.
In the end, however, it’s these wake-up calls that have transformed me over time, and now that I know what to look for and how to respond, this has helped me stay awake for more of the time. If I have a day where I wake up feeling sore, it’s just my body telling me to take it easy for a day or so – it’s not a reason to complain or make excuses for my age. If I don’t always get what I want, rather than looking for someone to blame or playing the victim or doubting my competence, instead I just keep on living, knowing that good things are on their way, perhaps even better than what I originally asked for. When I lost my father to a heart attack, it became clear to me that I should never deny myself the opportunity to love, even when I have not been loved in the way I wanted. Unfortunately, that was a lesson learned the hard way.
I do sometimes think that I’d like staying awake to be easier, that it can be a hassle sometimes to have to constantly be vigilant and try to stay present for the important things. It’s like the old Zen tale of all the masters gathering to discuss where to hide the Key of Life. One suggests that they could hide it at the bottom of the ocean, but the others say it would be too easy to find there. Another suggests the top of a mountain, but again the others dismiss this option. Finally, after much discussion, they finally realize where the best place to hide the key is, the place where humans would never think to look - inside themselves.