So, this morning while meditating I once again asked myself the classic spiritual questions:
Who am I?
Why am I here?

I have posed these questions countless times over the years – just put them out there, over and over and over, never expecting a reply, from the universe or from myself.
But this time, today, strangely, the answer came, immediately and without hesitation. I have to admit, it was a bit of a shock, after waiting so long in the understanding that the questions were really to some extent rhetorical, just the queries of a simple man putting in another day in the salt mines of enlightenment.

I had come to realize with some finality that grand explanations and the subtle forms of self-realization were not for peasants like me. For me was to ask the questions dutifully, and then listen to those who, they say, had heard the answers.

But then, today of all days, in a quiet voice and without pretention or celebration, I was informed.

The answer to the first question depends, of course, on precisely what this “who” is.

If I am but Michael Murphy, I am a coherence of cells and atoms vibrating for a time here amidst all else, the same as the leaf gleaming in the sun, the water making that indescribable gurgling sound as it runs over the rocks, the breeze as it sways the distant tops of towering trees. I know this particular coherence that is Michael Murphy is transitory and, soon enough, the intelligence of the universe will arrange for it to be surrendered. I have flipped and flopped for my time like a fish on a beach and soon I will find my way back to the sea and be immersed in the source of all. The desperate time of flipping and gasping on the beach will be forgotten as it is unified with the immeasurable fabric of the universe and is seen as no more and no less important than everything else, which is, that means, a lot. After the dissolution there will only be seeing, pure seeing, but no awareness of seeing, and that, though perhaps initially strange, will be enough.
There is of course that reluctance to surrender identity that has been experienced by every soldier who, after being alive every moment of his life, then finds himself hung up on barbed-wire in a wide open field of fire and whose last moments are expended in a wide-eyed and perhaps disbelieving attention, and every shard of awareness suddenly finds itself standing, still unknowing, before the doorway to death, and perhaps if one is fortunate one is given a moment that seems outside time and within which all the frail vibrations of difference suddenly seem so precious, even in their ridiculous fragility.

Or maybe you throw a clot and your spirit has flown before your forehead strikes the sidewalk; or maybe you are in a sterile room somewhere with strangers leaning over what is left of you as you lay there in a sleep so near death that only the merest film of paper could fit between you and the great immersion and then, among the beepings and the glimmering lights, the paper is slipped away and you are gone, never again to know that you know yourself, or to know that you know others, never again to reside in that silly belief that it is the knowing of the knowing, the simple observation of that which is other as other, or at least appears to be other, that is so precious that our momentous and hard-won deal in falling away from God, the deal that lets us not only see but see that we see, seems a deal worth making. That is what I am.

And as to why I am here, my purpose? When the answer was at last revealed it was no great surprise. The voice said, you are here for one and only one purpose, and that is to learn, to learn lessons defined by the greatest and grandest teacher, the intelligent universe. Surely I did not choose them, these lessons, indeed, to be honest, I earnestly protested that I would prefer other, simpler tasks, endeavors less demanding, less requiring of struggle and pain and confusion. I wanted, as they say in AA, “a softer and easier way.” But I did not get to define the curriculum of this life, though at times I did resist and sit in my chair petulantly, without moving, bereft of attention until I at last understood that by ignoring what life teaches it is only the student who is harmed, not the teacher, who is all.

So I am left, like all of us, to look back and wonder what I have learned from this life, if I have learned what I was supposed to learn, and if I have learned it well enough. I can turn my eager face to the illuminated universe and ask: Am I done? Is what I am now enough to allow the unmitigated immersion? Are there any shards, any protrusions or irregularities in my being that might give ontological slivers to the all-one? Nothing could be worse than to knock on the great gate to the universal mind and be rejected, denied entrance in the same way Harvard dissed me in my earthly life, sent packing, or rather not permitted to unpack the boundless detritus of ten hundred thousand incarnations, each another step in what seemed an eternal, boundless desert.
Ultimately, who I am is what I have done, the seamlessness of my being in each moment, each unseen situation – it must be so that the challenge can be fresh that we cannot easily recall past lives – the game cannot be rigged, at least on the conscious level. I have been the passenger of many bodies, I have fused the awareness of the unknown with the known, I have walked in calm compliance with the sacred words, I have trod on when I know not where the path is leading. All are the same.

And so, similarly, the answer to both questions is the same; who I am is defined by why I am here, and why I am here is itself defined by who I am. Then, and only then, at last, I am and am not.