I’ve been thinking a lot about this word lately—on several levels. In English, aware means knowing, conscious, mindful, informed, perhaps wise. Strangely enough, however, there is a Japanese concept spelled the same way in English, but pronounced “ a-wa-re’ “. I first learned about this term at a retreat where the speaker defined it as meaning “happy-sad.” I found this to be a fascinating concept and one for which we have no parallel in our language. Apparently this term comes from a certain historical period in Japanese literature. I have researched it a bit, and it seems to really mean the poignancy of life. It is the emotional realization that everything in life is transient and impermanent, which makes it all very sweet and sad at the same time. As a parent, I would compare it to watching your child take his first step, and then he is walking and running and soon he is grown up and leaving. You know each stage is fleeting as it is happening, and there is both joy and sorrow in this. This word aware’ touches me deeply. I think it defines the human condition. It is the enigma that we all struggle with—how to be happy and how to deal with sorrow and suffering.
This all became even clearer to me this week when I participated in a Tonglen meditation. Tonglen is a Tibetan meditation known as a Giving and Taking meditation. In this particular style, we were guided to inhale the suffering and grief of others (the “stuff” of life, as Tara Brach intoned) and to exhale space and openness. We were guided to note the feelings in our body as we did both. I had the remarkable realization that the bodily feeling associated with sadness, anxiety and grief was actually the same as that associated with happiness, joy and spaciousness. This knowing that happiness and sadness are inextricably interwoven became palpable to me. It is certainly something I understood on some level already, but this was truly more visceral and beyond words.
Dr. Heather's musings about medicine, mindfulness and life.
Heather Krantz, M.D.
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