I keep thinking about all the circumstances and events that led to me being here, right now. How my ancestors had to have XYZ happen to them. How my parents had to meet. All of that and many more things. It’s a wonder. So often I feel blasé about being alive because when there are nearly 8 billion people in the world, is it really such a miracle to be in human form? Is it really so precious? According to many spiritual teachers, including mine, yes.
Take this story from a Buddhist text. The Buddha spoke to a group of monks and said, “Monks, suppose that this great Earth was totally covered with water and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole into the water. A wind from the west would push it east; a wind from the east would push it west; a wind from the north would push it south; a wind from the south would push it north. And suppose a blind sea turtle was there. It would come to the surface only once every 100 years.
“Now, what do you suppose the chances would be that a blind turtle, coming once to the surface every 100 years, would stick its neck into the yoke with a single hole?” The monks answered, “It would be very unusual, sir, that a blind turtle coming to the surface once every 100 years would stick its neck into the yoke.” The Buddha replied, “And just so, it is very, very rare that one attains the human state.”
What a statement! What odds! It’s hard to square that with our current population, but that’s a human-centered perspective. Think about all the plants, animals, insects, bacteria even. There are probably 8 billion bacteria on my pinky finger alone. So in that context, wow, yes, human life is a wonder. That’s even more true when you take into account infertility. I know many, many people who have struggled to get pregnant. They had to get IVF or a sperm donor or a surrogate. They’ve suffered miscarriages. They’ve tried for years. It’s not so easy to get pregnant.
Being a person is like winning the lottery but it’s easy to forget that in the humdrum of daily life. When you’re struggling to pay your bills or the roof leaks or you’re irritated with your neighbor, being alive doesn’t feel like a wonder. But it is. We often search outside ourselves for wonder. We want to be wowed by a beautiful sunset or a spectacular show. We want to string together a life with one memorable experience after another by swimming with dolphins and climbing a volcano. But what I’m learning is that just to be alive is awe-inspiring. To take a breath. To pump blood through our bodies.
My rabbi, Michael Lerner, often says if you want to feel more awe, go outside every night for a month, look at the stars, and say, “Wow! Fantastic! Amazing!” I think you can do the same thing with yourself. You can look in the mirror, notice your chest rising and falling, and say, “Wow! Fantastic! Amazing!” Because it is.
I dream of a world where we recognize the wonder of being in human form. A world where we understand how rare and precious it is to be alive on this planet at this time. A world where we remember taking a breath every day is a miracle to behold.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.