Without a doubt, if there is one tangible benefit that has emerged from my contemplative journey over the last decade, it has been in my capacity to be more honest with myself. Not honest in the conventional sense of not lying, but an honesty that is alive and active, a type of commitment to working with the real, mundane facts of my life with as much clarity and compassion as possible. And like many contemplatives or meditators, my spiritual practice, which is a marriage of many different paths, has provided me with great skills to better hold all of my humanity, in all of its complexity and messiness, as sacred, total, whole, and worthy of honor and attention.
One re-emerging question has been alive in me since my first meditation retreat years ago and has slowly begun to pervade my consciousness more intensely over the last three or four years: At what point does my spiritual practice create space for me to actually rest and just be? To rest not as lying down or napping or sleeping, although this type of rest is sacred and essential, but the rest that I feel Jesus was illuminating when he was recorded to have said, “Come all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” I use the word illuminating because it seems as though Jesus is pointing out a dimension of reality that had been overlooked and forgotten by some. This pointing is an invitation for those listening to return or awaken to a dimension of reality that was already here but had unfortunately been bypassed. If I were to translate that phrase through my contemplative eye, it would read something like, “Let your attention relax (come) into the aliveness of your being (me) and if you learn to abide there you will find rest.”
We give so much of our attention to the more obvious transformational aspects of spiritual practice-greater attention, having more peace, the healings, the visions, and of course the bliss-but what about the miracle of being? Being is the most essential aspect of existence itself, but many people, including longtime practitioners, have completely bypassed this ever-present happening. In our efforts to be free, we can easily get caught up in the doing of spiritual practice, bypassing the more subtle and present reality of being. My intention is not to condemn the hard work and meaningful transformation that can come through exerting lots of energy towards our spiritual goals.
What I am presently concerned about is how the frantic energy of our times is completely influencing a hyper-extractive centered approach to spiritual practice. From my own experience, I can attest that this easily becomes a spiritual addiction that is destined to leave us tired and weary. That is why it is vital to have the teachings of Jesus and other contemporary insightful beings who caution us against the burden of living while bypassing the source and the collective field of who we are. Now it’s up to us to find ways to collectively reckon with this in order that we might begin this extremely life-giving inquiry into our basic nature.
What does it mean today for us to collectively reclaim the aliveness of being that Jesus speaks of as rest? (And for clarification, although I reference Jesus, this is not a religious question, but a human one; it is an exploration rather than an outline for achieving any particular religious-ideological outcome.) This is a question about being that hopefully reopens the human pathway for us to courageously start to inquire into who we essentially are even if our journeys up to this point have bypassed this inquiry.
I am hoping to provide an opportunity here for us to engage slowly and passionately around this question:
What is this aliveness of being that is here right now, as our aware presence?
I offer up this inquiry not as a recipe for awakening, or any particular experience, but for the sake of inquiring into the beingness of being itself. I hope to invite and inspire a desire to become curious about what it is that knows our experience, to shift our attention to being. And maybe, it is through this vehicle of inquiry that we may consider that there could be more to the reality of who we essentially are than what we have been conditioned to perceive currently.
Let’s take a moment and rest in this first inquiry together:
What is this aliveness of being that is already vibrating as our aware presence?
Allow yourself to simply become available for this inquiry. Don’t try to change anything about yourself or rush to fill in the inquiry with an answer. Just rest in the availability of your being. Rest in the aliveness of being.
I wonder if there are any ethical implications of this inquiry. Could a collective commencing and returning to this inquiry offer us in the realm of how to be and live? What do you sense?
Have you ever pondered, What does a life oriented towards the aliveness of being look like, love like, play like, speak like, eat like, or feel like?
One reason I think this inquiry is not as popular in the contemplative world of today is because many modern approaches to spirituality are centered around a promotion of wellness that is about perfection and becoming a better version of ourselves. nothing inherently wrong with this and at the same time, that lens feels off to me. It seems to position us in a place of deficiency, where our attention becomes stuck in the realm of becoming at the cost of losing touch with being.
Inquiring into being takes us on a different journey, a path to the realm of our humanity that Tibetan Buddhists have often referred to as the primordial space of being. In the Jesus quote above he called it rest. I have also heard this aliveness referred to as the groundless state, the Mother, awareness, heaven and many other names. What name we assign this aliveness is not as important as the recognition of this reality of being as a here-and-now reality that is accessible to all of us.
So once again, I invite you to take a moment and rest in another inquiry with me:
What is that which is aware of your experience?
Allow yourself to simply become available for this inquiry.
Is what is aware of your experience naturally present and aware?
Is that which is aware synonymous with your presence or is it different from you?
Inquire slowly. Notice how all the answers that come up in your mind are also known by that which is aware of your experience. Don’t try to change anything about yourself or rush to fill in the inquiry with an answer. Just rest in the availability of your being. Rest in the aliveness of being.
You can consider this inquiry when you awaken in the morning, when you are out and about in your daily routine, in your conversations, and as you fall asleep.
Let us go a little deeper into inquiry together:
Does this aliveness have a name or is it nameless?
Can you find any shape, size, color or location to reference it?
Take your time. There is no rush.
Where is this aliveness’s beginning or center? Can you find its edges?
What about its age or health status? Does it have a race or class?
Just inquire slowly.
If you become tired or fatigued from this inquiry, it could be a sign that you are exerting too much mental energy towards discovering something that you can grasp on to with your mind as the correct answer. Being is not a mental discovery but a recognition of what is already here now. I encourage you to let the frustration and tiredness be an invitation to stop, to surrender being the doer of the inquiry, and to maybe go do something that brings you joy. You can always return to this inquiry at a later moment.
For me, what is invigorating about this process of inquiry is the sense of awe towards life and the world that now resides deeply in my being. Who would expect there to be a connection between inquiring into one’s being and how we experience the world? I didn’t, but there is something here! When there are moments in my life that I feel separated from this aliveness, I can tend to those feelings with care without falling into the trap of shame like I used to. I recognize the feeling of separation as a part of the collective human journey rather than a personal flaw. I use the energy of longing for belonging as an invitation for me to return to the inquiry.
When I first began intentionally orienting myself towards being it wasn’t always full of awe and pleasantness. It still isn’t. However, a trust in the forever-presentness of this aliveness has deepened as I have returned again and again to this place of rest. I feel as though when Jesus said “Come all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest,” he should have added on the end, “You’ll be doing this for the rest of your life.”
So no, I’m not enlightened or awakened (just ask my wife). It is just my wish that everyone might know for themselves the beautiful radiant aliveness that we are and the potential collective impact for our world that lives dormant in this knowing.
I stand firm, ten toes down, in saying that inquiring into the beingness of being and learning to rest there consciously, is one emergent pathway to beholding the world with new eyes.
Rashid Hughes (he/him) is a writer, meditation teacher, yoga instructor and a restorative justice facilitator. He is the co-founder of the Heart Refuge Mindfulness Community, a Mindfulness Community in Washington, DC that is dedicated to inspiring Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to live with love and courage. Rashid is an Affiliate Teacher for the Insight Meditation Community of Washington DC and he is also a teacher of the Presence Collective. He holds a Master of Divinity Degree from the Howard University School of Divinity and has two recently published articles in Mindful Magazine “R.E.S.T.-A Guided Practice for the Tired & Weary” and Lions Roar Magazine “When Aggression Masquerades as Compassion.”