As I was weaving through the traffic on the superhighway, dashing home after a long day spent rushing between hospitals, doing my forensic psychology thing, the realization came to me, again.

This is it.

That day, I realized, I had thought about things, talked to people, written reports.  A usual day, filled with usual things.  But as I cruised the highway I experienced a moment of something like pride, a moment of appreciation.

This is it, I realized.  Right now, I am doing what I am suppose to be doing, being what I am supposed to be.  There is no more than this.  This is it.

The first instances of this realization occurred as I lay in my bed, an early teenager, there in my parents’ house, at the beginning of what was to be a long, long journey – the shape, texture and direction of which had yet to be determined.

I am alive, I thought back then as I rose up on an elbow, in the room I shared with an older brother.  How is it that I am alive? How is it that I came to have this unique opportunity to experience the world?  I lay there, and my 13 year old brain was amazed at the very possibility of being.  It all seemed so unlikely, so improbable, that I should be right there, right then.  But there I was.  Then I got up and went to school.

Some years later I was working at my after school janitor’s job.  I was slopping the mop back and forth on a bathroom floor, thinking about the universe and everything, just mopping and thinking there in the darkened, silent room when, suddenly, the realization came to me, as certain as the dawn, coming so powerfully that I had to stop my mopping and stand there, the long heavy metal pole in my hand.  The sensation was like light, and it was beyond words, but it seemed to let me know without a doubt that I was a part of everything, that the universe and whatever there was other than the universe was doing just what it needed to do, and I was a part of that, and that was okay.  There was order, coherence, purpose in everything.  I didn’t need to worry or fret.  Then the feeling, that certain awareness, slipped away like water swirling down a drain and I was left standing there, puzzled, intrigued, and content, all at the same time.  I finished mopping the rest of the floors.

Years later I was roiling in a sweaty crew at the lip of the stage during an Allman Brothers Concert at the old Boston Garden.  They had played a long set, and played well, and the dark cavernous Garden was filled with the vibrant musk of collective adolescent ecstasy.  Gregg Allman bent to the mike and introduced the piano player and announced offhandedly that it was the piano player’s twenty first birthday.  By pleasant coincidence, it was also my twenty first birthday.  It was that kind of night.  Then they lurched into a ripping rendition of Whipping Post.  That was it.

Still later I was hitchhiking down through Vermont in the mid morning.  It was hazy, and a soft drizzle was dropping out of the grey sky.   I had spent the week-end visiting friends, including a certain special someone who has since disappeared into the past.  The green mountains surrounded me as I tromped through the soft gravel on the roadside, around the long loop of the entrance ramp.  My sack of clothes swung over my shoulder.  Suddenly I stopped and looked around at the rising mountains, smelled the rich air, stood in the perfect solitude in that place, and realized; this is it.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow, years ago, wrote about peak experiences, moments when we know with certainty that there is nothing more than right now, when we understand that we seem to be where we need to be and, in fact, that we are what we need to be.  He tried to understand what caused those moments to happen, how they combined acceptance, excitement, and contentment, perhaps so we could have them more often.  But, like any treasure, their value is in their rarity.

These moments are distinct from alcohol or drug induced frenzy; they include a modicum of intellect, of pensive self-reflection.  Though the conditions for their occurrence can be facilitated, they often arrive unbidden and, when pursued, such peak experiences are exasperatingly elusive. They appear to be stages, or manifestations, of some longer journey or striving, moments when the digging struggle of life breaks through some wall to open air and a wide vista of the world is exposed to light.

Science might say that they are manifestations of instability in the temporal lobe of the brain, seizure-like phenomena, perhaps related to the strange experience of deja-vu.  Dostoevsky was an epileptic and attributed some of his most inspired ideas to seizure related activity.  For certain, these moments are beyond ambition, beyond the daily grind of survival, but not necessarily apart from the simple experiences of life.  They can occur when a small child turns up her face to ask for a glass of milk, or smiles when you bend over to lift him from the crib; leaning over, you look into his eyes, and understand with every fiber of your being, this is it.

Whatever it is about these moments, whatever causes them or prevents them, life would be empty without them.  Life would be unrecognized and unrecognizable, unappreciated and dank, and we would have failed to contribute our small load of awareness to the Big Picture, failed to see what is there to be seen, and to be what it is possible to be.  “It doesn’t matter where you are, or even who you are,” I find myself saying to people these days, “it only matters how you are.”

For only then do we understand; this is it.