“This moment, it's holy. But we walk around like it's not holy. We walk around like there's some holy moments and there are all the other moments that are not holy, right, but this moment is holy, right? “And if film can let us see that, like frame it so that we see, like, ‘Ah, this moment. Holy.’ And it's like ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ moment by moment. But who can live that way?”
- Caveh Zahedi, Waking Life (3:15 in this clip)
Ever since I watched Richard Linklater's groundbreaking film Waking Life in the early 2000s, these words have stuck with me.
They would come to me at the oddest times: while doing homework, walking to class or work, on my dusting rounds at the museum, before a client meeting.
I would ask myself, “What would it be like to exist as if this moment were holy?”
You could try it for yourself, wherever you are when you read these words. And if the word “holy” carries an uncomfortable connotation, you can replace it with something else: maybe meaningful, or significant, or momentous.
You don't have to try to make anything happen, and you don't have to be feeling good. You could be having a truly terrible day. Could you suspend disbelief for a moment and be curious about what would it be like to be having a terrible day that was somehow also holy?
When I do it, everything seems to imperceptibly slow down. My actions take on new weight, deliberation, meaning. My mind quiets and my senses open up. I become aware of possibility and magic. If I stay with the feeling, I can sense anticipation in my breath and my heart swelling in my chest. Not to be too dramatic, but it feels a bit like falling in love - that heady moment of stepping forward, completely vulnerable.
“I'd be open. And then I'd look in your eyes, and I'd cry, and I'd feel all this stuff and that's, like, not polite. I mean, it would make you feel uncomfortable.”
“Well you could laugh, too. I mean, why would you cry?”
“Well, 'cause ... I don't know. For me, I tend to cry.”
The metaphysical author and teacher Eckhart Tolle spent two years on a park bench in this state.
(Have you tried it yet?)
For a long time I wondered if I was supposed to do something with this feeling. It feels...momentous, if that’s the word I’m looking for. I would get caught between feeling like existing in the moment was enough and thinking I was supposed to do something about it.
Now I am newly appreciative of the Zen Buddhist saying, “Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.”
Or, as contemporary Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield puts it, “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”
Awareness of the sacred nature that underlies everything has never stopped mystics and contemplatives from living everyday lives. Jesus walked, ate, drank, and slept like the rest of us. Monks and nuns of all religions tend gardens, cook, and do laundry (and sometimes even play pool) between prayers and study.
Embracing the holy moment is not retreating from life - it is bringing that awareness to life. It's the opposite of checking out. When our work and recreation and daily business of living are threaded through with this deeper meaning, they themselves become sanctified, transformed by our awareness.
“What is the purpose of life?”
“To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool!”
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Breakfast of Champions
Physicist John Wheeler posited before his death that we live in a “participatory universe” that changes and reacts purely because someone is watching. In the same way, I believe that the most mundane of activities becomes fundamentally different when experienced with this kind of attention. But don’t take my word for it - try it for yourself.
“Who can live that way?” Zahedi asks rhetorically. Certainly not me, not all the time - but in each moment, with each breath, I have the opportunity to return. Being human is not about living in a state of perpetual bliss - it’s in our nature to forget. But it is always possible to remember, to keep returning to that state of grace if that’s what we want. And it will transform your life, if you let it.
I’ll leave you with a song that’s kept me company most of this year. It always helps to bring me back, and I hope it does the same for you.
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