The Fruit of Mindful Biology: Enlivenment

The Fruit of Mindful Biology: Enlivenment

What difference does a name make? Often, very little. But sometimes a new label clarifies what truly matters.
My spiritual journey began 35 years ago in Christian contexts: first Quakerism, then Roman Catholicism. One name for the goal of Christian worship is salvation (aka, redemption). We are saved from sin and the suffering it causes by turning our hearts toward God, particularly as embodied in Christ. For Quakers, this is an inward turning: toward the Light of Christ within. We connect with our innate godliness while honoring the godliness in others. For Roman Catholics, the turning is more outward: we connect with a God who stands beyond human weakness, an omniscient being who loves us and wants to save us.
More than a decade ago I started practicing in the Eastern traditions of Raja Yoga and Vipassana Buddhism. In both, the goal is enlightenment (aka, liberation, nirvana, realization, or awakening). In yogic traditions enlightenment comes from realizing that one’s individual nature, one’s soul, is inseparable from the world soul, or God. We gain freedom by claiming our connection to the timeless Divine, and the difficulties of mortal existence are seen as unimportant and transient. In Buddhism, the focus is not on the individual soul (a central Buddhist belief is that no permanent soul exists), but on the mind. With the right practice, it sees how worldly reality is impermanent, impersonal, and not satisfying. With time, these insights free the mind to recognize its source in pure awareness, which remains stable despite the chaos of daily life. By grounding ourselves in that stability, we liberate ourselves from suffering.
Although major conceptual differences separate these traditions, they share much in common. They all direct us toward connection and away from suffering.
I don’t worry much about the existence of God or soul. Regardless of what does or doesn’t exist, I know what I experience. At times I feel something divine in my chest, warm and full like the Light of Christ. Sometimes I sense a vast intelligence surrounding me and the world, and sometimes I feel inseparable from that larger intelligence. Other times, my painful stories dissolve like temporary ripples in the ocean of awareness, and I know that I am awareness itself.
So we have all these names: redemption, salvation, nirvana, realization, awakening, liberation, and enlightenment. They don’t mean exactly the same thing, but they point to a single phenomenon: the power of connection to free us from suffering. Now, athough another name isn’t needed, I propose one: Enlivenment.
We enliven ourselves and our world when we recognize that Life flows through all experience. We are healed when we connect with it. As we practice what I call Mindful Biology, we feel Life everywhere and always: in what we see, hear, touch, smell, taste, and in every bodily sensation. We realize how rooted we are in the body’s living processes. We begin to move through the world as Life, feeling no separation from it, and surrendering to our dependence upon it. Deeply connected with it, we accept Life as it comes and are freed from needless suffering.
Enlivenment doesn’t bump into questions about the existence of God or soul. We know Life exists, and we know how it feels. I have no problem with ideas about God or soul, but in Life I find something unquestionable. Neither science nor skepticism can argue with these basic truths: Life accompanies us in every moment, it supports our existence, it manifests intelligence, and it remains after our individual body dies.
When we know that we are Life, we know that even when our personal storyline goes awry–or ends, the larger part of us continues unchanged. Our self story becomes less important, a mere subplot in the grand narrative of Life. No matter what happens, Life moves through the world and the cosmos, self-balancing and whole. When we accept Life as it is, in all its power and glory, it offers both salvation and enlightenment. To know this–in our minds, bodies and souls–is to be enlivened.
None of this contradicts anything essential in the wisdom traditions of East or West. It’s simply using a different name.