Life is miraculous

You are presently engulfed in a miracle beyond your wildest imagination. Its brilliance is so astonishing that you are forced to avert your gaze, thereby perceiving a mundane, lifeless world instead. Based on this innocent mistake, humanity has adopted the philosophy that reality is fundamentally lifeless. This philosophy is not only wrong, but tragically so: it is the root cause of the angst that is rapidly turning our world lifeless.

Part of you would like to believe in miracles, but your intellect informs you that this is just wishful thinking; a fantasy, born of rogue neurotransmitters ruthlessly evolved to distract you from the cold, hard truth. As it turns out, this is precisely backward: it is the standard view of reality that is based on faith. If one is ruthlessly honest and rational, one cannot help but discover the miraculous.

While I cannot promise to show you this in its entirety, I hope to give you the slightest nudge toward it.

Look around at this remarkable experience called "life." Take a moment to really drink it in. What is it? What's causing it?

Surprisingly, careful analysis reveals that reasoning and evidence cannot resolve such questions in the slightest. To give just one of an infinite number of examples: you cannot calculate the odds of this all being a simulation, without resorting to fundamentally untestable assumptions about whatever is "outside" of the simulation. Or maybe all of reality popped into being, fully formed, five minutes ago — with only the appearance of a real past (including planted evidence, false memories, etc.). Your intuition that such a thing is "unlikely" is based on the assumption that your memory and accumulated knowledge are authentic a plainly circular endeavor.

This result is well established: evidence does not allow us to determine which of an infinite number of strange possibilities is most "likely." The usual solution is to say that since we cannot distinguish between them, we are logically free to choose whichever we like — and many people find the standard view of physical reality (called "materialism") to be most sensible. But it is crucial to realize that this choice is not, strictly speaking, rational. It is a matter of pure faith, now and forever[0].

It may seem like all worldviews suffer from this problem, but that just isn't so. You see, if you really are an individual being at the mercy of an external world, then any evidence you gather is inherently untrustworthy. In that case, you really can’t differentiate between the many possibilities, and are therefore free to choose one. But how do you know that you are such a being? Because you trust the supposed evidence?

Consider if you were, in some sense, the very self-aware ground of reality itself, having a peculiar dream called "my adventures in physical reality"[1]. In that case, you would not be limited to the sort of evidence that constrains an individual being embedded in a fundamentally external world. Being the very ground of reality, you would conceivably have access to a mode of knowledge that doesn't rely on inference, but instead lets you directly and infallibly confirm the truth of your condition[2]. In other words, you could prove it.

To take a lifeless world of "pitiless indifference"[3] on pure faith, or to discover with flawless certainty that you are miraculously dancing this "reality" into existence: that is the remarkable choice on offer.

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” — Hafiz

So how might you—the self-aware ground of reality—awaken to your true condition? If the world you see around you is a dream of sorts, how might you become lucid? As with a regular nighttime dream, the key is to undermine the illusion that your mind uses to keep you asleep.

Look around. While you cannot be sure what is actually happening, notice that something certainly seems to be happening. Take your time and confirm this. It is critical that you are left with no doubt about it[4]. If you do doubt it, simply notice how doubt seems to be happening.

Now look carefully at that-which-seems-to-be-happening; this wondrous field of experience. If we were forced to answer what it is "made of," we would be hard-pressed to give a meaningful answer. Perhaps the closest we could come is to say that it's made of the sheer fact of experience itself. Try and get a taste of this. This "sheer stuff of experience" is luminescing in the shape of your life, through all sensory fields[5]. Notice how the presence of this luminosity is, in a sense, what it means to "be alive."

Now ask yourself again: what's causing this glorious experience? Your mind desperately wants to answer in terms of physical reality, so now remind yourself of the precise sense[6] in which you have no reason to believe that such a thing even exists. Your mind will rebel, but keep at it. Gently remind yourself that it cannot possibly know what it claims to know.

Locate the precise sense in which this wondrous tapestry of experience is fundamentally mysterious. Immerse yourself in that recognition for as long (and as often) as it feels comfortable.

One way to deepen the process is by considering the following variation on a skeptical hypothesis we considered before:

  • Reality suddenly popped into being, fully formed, in this very instant.

Which instant? This one. Which one? This one. Etc. Allow each moment to be completely freshas though you've never experienced anything ever before. After all, as far as you can possibly know, you haven't. Notice how memory feels so convincing even when you know logically that it shouldn't be.

It may be helpful to reflect on how this practice is simply the most radically honest thing you could possibly do. You are giving your complete attention to what is unmistakably here, while withdrawing it from what you imagine to be there. Reflecting on this should allay any suspicion that we are doing something weird here, or trying to lead you to a particular conclusion. On the contrary: you are trying to discover what reality is like prior to any assumptions about it.

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.” Philip K Dick

Note that we are definitely not saying that "because life is mysterious, it must be literally miraculous." In other words, that just because you can never trust an explanation for life, you should conclude that it therefore does not have one. That would obviously be bogus.

But if you remain with the mystery precisely enough, there may come a day when you finally stare this astonishing fact of experience directly in the face, fully divested of all your (unjustified) beliefs about it. That moment is said to be like coming home to a place you never left; a primordial remembrance of why you began to dream in the first place. What makes it so hard to communicate is that it is not a particular experience; it is a revelation about the very nature of experience. If I were to describe it poetically, I might say it like this:

At the heart of existence is a primordial paradox so delightfully absurd that the merest whiff of it triggers an entire apparent reality to dance exuberantly into being. This dance is happening ever-fresh in each moment. The present show is called "my life" — but I am not actually the imaginary character seemingly at the center of this life, navigating it; I am the entire show; this radically alive, self-existent fabric from which all shows are made; whose purpose is to dance realities into seeming existence. I birth myself into each such reality from countless perspectives, to explore myself from all angles. These perspectives are called sentient beings.

The word "miraculous" is appropriate for two reasons. First, this realization reveals a remarkable sense in which the "sheer fact of experience" is spontaneous and uncaused. Second—and perhaps more importantly—it gives rise to a transcendent wonder, awe, gratitude, joy, and love beyond all comprehension[7].

I laugh when I think how I once sought paradise as a realm outside of the world of birth. It is right in the world of birth and death that the miraculous truth is revealed. But this is not the laughter of someone who suddenly acquires a great fortune; neither is it the laughter of one who has won a victory. It is, rather, the laughter of one who; after having painfully searched for something for a long time, finds it one morning in the pocket of his coat.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, Zen master

It is the faintly whispered memory of this primordial condition that births our intuition that life is sacred, that we must treat each other and our world with unflinching kindness, and that it all deeply matters in a way that our models can never capture. The further we wander from this realization, and the more we convince ourselves that reality is fundamentally lifeless, the more we turn it lifeless. This self-fulfilling philosophy operates ruthlessly, without fail. While I cannot prove it to you, that is the root cause of the devastation you see around you today.

Let us reverse it before it's too late.

So close you can't see it
So deep you can't fathom it
So simple you can't believe it
So good you can't accept it

Tibetan Buddhist saying

When I've asked shamans about the sickness of the west, they say: "it's quite simple: you have severed your connection with spirit… unless you reconnect with spirit and do so soon, you're going to bring the whole house of cards down around your heads and ours."

Graham Hancock

Reverend Richard Elvee: Dr. Wheeler, who was there to observe the universe when it started? Were we there? Or does it only start with our observation? Is the big bang here?

Dr. Wheeler: A lovely way to put it"is the big bang here?" I can imagine that we will someday have to answer your question with a "yes." [...] Have we had the mechanism of creation before our eyes all this time without recognizing the truth? That is the larger question implicit in your comment. Of all the deep questions of our time, I do not know one that is deeper, more exciting, more clearly pregnant with a great advance in our understanding.

Bernardo Kastrup: The present moment is the cosmic egg described in so many religious myths [...]. It is a singularity that births all existence into form. It seeds our mind with fleeting consensus images that we then blow up into the voluminous bulk of projected past and future. These projections are like a cognitive ‘big bang’ unfolding in our mind. They stretch out the intangibility of the singularity into the substantiality of events in time. But unlike the theoretical Big Bang of current physics, the cognitive ‘big bang’ isn’t an isolated occurrence in a far distant past. It happens now; now; now. It only ever happens now.


Q: What you're describing sounds lovely, but how do you know it's not just another nice story generated by your (very physical) brain?

A: Here's what to do when this question arises. Ask yourself: sure, it could be, but why do I have this suspicion in the first place? Why am I not worried that it's a trick of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? If you carefully recall the sense in which neither explanation is "more likely," then you may begin to sense how such questions are baseless, and merely serve to distract you from getting to the bottom of things yourself.


[0] What do we call a belief based on pure faith that preaches fundamental lifelessness? Perhaps a death cult?

[1] We are not advocating solipsism, the idea that you, personally, are the only conscious being. The "you" whose dream it is is not your everyday self.

[2] By trying to imagine what such infallible self-validation might be like, you are assuming that it falls into the category of experiencewhich is, after all, the only thing you as an (apparently) individual being can imagine. And as we know, any experienceno matter how convincingis indeed fallible. So no matter how hard you try to imagine it, you will end up concluding that it couldn't possibly be infallible.

As it turns out, it is not "like" anything—in any sense that you can imagine. That is what makes it famously impossible to communicate. And yes, I know this is not a satisfying answer.

[3] "The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference." Richard Dawkins

[4] Though doubting it has become a popular trend in academia. Some modern philosophers and scientists indeed try to deny consciousness.

"Let me be as clear as possible: Consciousness doesn’t happen." Michael Graziano, professor of neuroscience at Princeton.

[5] For extra credit, notice that it is true for your mental field, as well: that space of thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. This may be harder to see at first, but it is crucial for awakening. Here are some other tips:

  • Normally we think of consciousness as being "over here" while the world is "out there." But as we've seen, your (experiential) reality is made of "the sheer fact of experience." Consciousness is just another word for that. In other words, find the sense in which your reality is made of consciousness.

  • Notice the sense in which you cannot be sure that the past really happened. Loosen your certainty about the nature of time.

[6] I often use the term "precise sense in which." That is because there is (obviously) also a sense in which you should believe in physical reality. But you already know that sense all too well.

[7] Nurturing these qualities can also speed up awakening. As you settle into the mystery, they may naturally arise to varying degrees. The reason we haven't suggested that you nurture them is, again, so that you do not think we are leading you anywhere.