Just One Look Great NonProfits badge  
Subscribe to our free newsletter.


John Sherman


The other day, during an online meeting, somebody brought up the subject of death. And, understandably enough, the conversation included some speculation about the apparent deathlessness of the naked presence underlying all.

Over the thousands of years we have spent trying to make sense of human life, we have called this common experience by many names: god, spirit, true self, presence, silence, and so forth.

We have known of this phenomenon forever, but until now we had never found a way to use it directly for any purpose at all. Except, of course, as a justification for torturing and murdering one another or as a refuge from life itself.

We have been told by those we believe to be in a more exalted state of awareness than we are that this silent presence is our true home, and that we should strive to withdraw from the burden of life and abide there.

We have been told that life is not worth living, and that it's best seen as punishment for our desire to be separate from the silence.

We have been told that life is suffering. We have been told that our minds are a curse, and true peace can come only when mind is dead and thoughts about things are extinguished. 

Retreat, we are told. Rest in the silence and withdraw from the anguish of life.

These ideas are, of course, the most extreme examples of a general inclination to seek peace and to try to quiet the mind.

I too have the experience of something simple and vast and even deathless, always faintly present in awareness. So far as I can tell, it is indistinguishable from the faint sense of me here.

And this thought might be expected to lead to even more outrageous ideas about me, my station in the universe, and my purpose in life.

But the direct experience of this silent presence that results from trying to get a direct taste of me has the entirely opposite effect: it destroys the context of fear that has sickened our minds and opens us for the first time to the miracle of human life in all its complexity.

The mind that has been transformed by that direct contact with its actual nature, and has lost the context of fear that previously ruined the experience of life, now finds engagement with life itself to be the only source of true satisfaction.

So for me, the direct experience of that silent presence has found its true purpose, which is not as a refuge from life, but as the reason to live life as fully and directly as possible. And in living life fully, we find the true goal of all our striving to be ever present in the wild wonder of being human.

This life will return to the silence soon enough, but until that day I am content to stay awake and alive and ever more deeply engaged here.

And, strangely enough, the more I am fully in this life, the deeper and more permanently present is my experience of that mysterious presence itself.