Stuff happens. Now what?

The answer is…more stuff! The continuity of existence is existence itself – an unbroken timeless non-event in which nothing is actually ever the same, and thus never changes. In essence, nothing happens continuously.

This conundrum notwithstanding, from time to time most of us would like to stop the world and get off. This is impossible, so we retreat instead to the confines of our own familiar mind-cave, creating the powerful illusion that the stuff that happens needn’t concern us. As if in a dream we watch TV, go to the movies, read books, listen to music, nibble on chips, jiggle our legs, chew gum and accumulate possessions; in short distracting ourselves in every way possible from the groundless, ungraspable experience of continuity.

Moreover, our ordinary perspective is limited not only by mental and emotional distractions but also by our actual inability to fully understand what is going on around us. Although we know that cause and effect are real and comprise the essential fabric of continuity, we are incapable of fully observing cause and effect in all their subtle manifestations so it is only the grossest and most obvious forms which generally attract our attention. Much of the time, we are bewildered.

Occasionally, we find ourselves open to a wider experience of the stuff that happens. We’re caught short by a sudden flash of color, or rendered speechless by the unexpected screech of tires braking to a hurried stop. At such moments the vividness of continuity hits us and we are suddenly and fully awakened. Our preoccupations, habits and mental constructs are instantaneously dropped, and the full power and spectacle of existence rushes through us. Labeled “peak experiences,” we quickly retreat to our “normal” view of reality and get back to the business of crawling around the safe little cave inside our minds.

There are opportunities, however, to fully and intentionally engage with the energy of continuity, and practices that can be employed to encourage and sustain that engagement. Recognizing that our natural awareness, unmitigated and unmediated by thought, is always available and is essentially of the same nature as continuity, the cultivation of such engagement is the great work of wisdom traditions stretching back many thousands of years. Culture and technology have changed, but the nature of mind has not. Thus the lessons and experiences of those who have developed methods and practices devoted to the awakening of mind remain relevant and are of great value in this materialistic age.

It is taught that true awakening arises simultaneously with the awareness of suffering. If we exit our safe little cave, we experience the unhappiness of all cave dwellers, and the profound experience of that suffering is acutely painful and heartbreaking.

Thus the engaged experience of continuity is not comfortable or without great challenge. Infinite open-endedness can feel peculiarly claustrophobic, relentlessly present and completely inescapable. There is no retirement from continuity, no turning back, no stopping the world, no time off. And despite this, having tasted the truth, retreating instead into our mental cave feels insufficient, unsubstantial and false.

Making the choice and effort to be awake and engaged is at one and the same time very outrageous and yet completely ordinary. According to the great teachers, this is the only way we can be of real help to others at all.