While not an exhaustive exploration of the view of Awakening in Life, what you see below explores some core orientations and tenets of Awakening in Life. I have included a video commentary and a more full written commentary. Both the video and the text overlap, but also have differences, so I encourage you to check out both or whichever one suits you better.

Core View 

The following is the most succinct summary for Awakening in Life, and what follows and what is in the video above is an unpacking and deeper exploration:

Our awakening begins with ourselves, as we are, nakedly in this moment. But if our awakening is to be for more than ourselves, then we must embrace our life and the world threefold: as our opportunity to awaken, what we are awakening through, and what we are awakening for. The Bodhisattva ideal of serving others requires us to not just awaken to timeless wisdom, but also to embrace the kaleidoscope of our living embodiment in this life, an embodiment which includes ourselves, others, and the world, an awakening that includes everything.

Awakening in Life is a path of returning home to ourselves again and again, with radical curiosity, working with our living experience, both embodying and realizing timeless presence, and in real time, embodying all of who we have been and who we are becoming: bringing to light those parts of our being that were to difficult to hold in the past, and welcoming our individual and collective unfolding, embracing and penetrating the mystery of this life as we and it change, to make sense of it all as best we can for the purpose of a most appropriate response moment to moment.

Awakening in Life is showing up more fully like this, more capable of responding to the complexity and challenges of our lives and of the world, and to remember and root ourselves in that which is most good, beautiful, and true.

Three-fold Awakening in Life

Awakening in Life embraces our life in three ways:

1. As an opportunity to awaken.

We don’t need to find special conditions to awaken. Obviously we might seek out supportive environments from time to time for formal practice, like a retreat, but these conditions aren’t inherently necessary or a dependency for awakening. Said another way, wherever we are, no matter our circumstances, we have an opportunity to awaken. This isn’t to say that all circumstances will be relatively of the same ease or difficulty to practice or awaken. But indeed, wherever we are, whatever we’re experiencing, is an opportunity for awakening.

What is realized: No resistance.

2. What we are awakening through.

Not only do we not need special conditions to awaken, we can take our whole life intentionally as our practice, in all its forms, in all areas of life. We can still make great use of time-tested practices, specifically designed for the purpose of awakening, which will certainly make our path of awakening more intentional and effective. Here we are simply recognizing that it is not merely through these formal practices that we are awakening, we are awakening through everything. And at some point in the path, if we haven’t yet realized that, we will inevitably have to contend with this fragmentation of our own awakening, and embrace the intimacy of life as our path and practice in its entirety, with nothing left out.

What is realized: Nothing left out.

3. What we are awakening for.

We might not seek special conditions to awaken, and we might use all of our life and experiences as an opportunity to awaken, but what are we awakening for? Here, we realize that our life isn’t something we’re merely trying to go ‘beyond’ or ‘get around’. Life is why we are awakening. We are awakening to be more present with ourselves, others, and the world, to be more responsive and engaged with our life.

What is realized: Full embrace.


Timeless Presence and The Real-Time Kaleidoscope of Reality

Awakening in Life includes both timeless presence and engaging in real time, the kaleidoscope of reality.

Timeless presence can be described many different ways, and even to different shades, if you will, of what those words are pointing to. In classic awakening as seen in a tradition like Buddhism, we are aiming to awaken to how we and things really are, for example an experience of no-self, emptiness, and non-duality. These experiences, states, and realizations are considered unchanging and unconditioned. Emptiness isn’t something that’s part of our experience sometimes, and other times not. Timeless presence is always already the foundation of our experience, permeating who we are. Awakening in Life includes realizing these timeless truths for ourselves.

At the same time, Awakening in Life embraces in real-time, the kaleidoscope of reality, which is always changing and unfolding, and we are a part of this. We are an embodiment of this. What is happening in this ever changing life matters. We and everyone in this world experiences joy and pain, for example, and we can be engaged with life to better understand how to support joy and to lessen pain, not just through the realization of timeless presence, but also by embracing and engaging the very forms of life. Kaleidoscope is composed of three greek words: kalos/beauty, eidos/shape or form, and skopeo/to look to or to examine. We are embracing life because we see it as inherently good and beautiful, meaningful that we are here and a part of this mystery of life (even if we don’t always feel that way, it permeates our existence). We embrace the shape and form this life takes, and we look into and examine it. We look to uncover what has become shadow in our individual an collective experiences. We look to understand the patterns of life. We stay with the nascent, not-yet-know, freshly arising patterns and experiences, to know them on their own terms, and to make choices and be in this world to contribute to the most good we can.

Radical Curiosity, Intimate Response

Radical curiosity includes the experience of being engaged with our experience, the willingness to see and understand our experience as much as we can. Our experience here includes our individual experience, as well as our shared relational and communal experiences, and spans as big as the world and the universe, inside and out.

Radical curiosity requires a foundation of feeling what we’re experiencing clearly and as fully as we have, which can be understood for example through one of our 5 physical senses. If we are trying to make sense out of what we visually see, it’s helpful to physically see and sense what we’re seeing as clearly and fully as we can, and from there we can best understand and interpret what we’re seeing. This process of understanding and interpreting requires curiosity and the blending of not-knowing and knowing (or the willingness to know) at the same time. From this radical curiosity, we will inevitably have a natural response arise to life, our embodiment and enacting in life will arise, and most likely with more wisdom.

Radical curiosity doesn’t mean having a pleasurable or positive desire or having approval to that which we are curious about, whether in ourselves, others, or the world. In fact, this is in large part what we mean by ‘radical’ here – our curiosity isn’t dependent on approval or disapproval. We might have any number of flavors of about how we feel about what we’re being curious about. Radical curiosity just means that we are engaged fully enough to best understand and respond to whatever we are investigating. That being said, it’s often the case that we’re less likely to want to be curios about that which we dislike, and yet ironically, it’s often those painful or repelling experiences that most need our radical curiosity, engagement, and response.

In the context of classical awakening, this radical curiosity helps us to move beyond, well, merely going beyond experience. We’re staying with experience. We’re not simply witnessing experience, but actively engaged with experience for the purpose of an intimate, responsive relationship with life.

Healing and Integrating

Awakening in Life includes bringing to light those parts of our being that were to difficult to hold in the past, individually and collectively, particularly emotional, relational, and traumatic experiences. We bring compassion to bear on those past experiences because this fragmentation that occurred in the past is arising ongoing in the present moment of our lives, impacting our embodiment and experience of life right now. Through reclaiming ways in which we have felt fragmented in our self, we integrate more of who we are, more of our innate and evolving capacities, and we experience more fullness in the present moment, both in our presence and response.

Awakening to timeless presence provides us more room and clarity through which to see our past, to experience how the past lives in the present. Healing allows us to more fully embody all that which we have awoken to.

An Appropriate Response: Emerging and Evolving

A Zen Koan says:

A monk asked Yun Men, “What are the teachings of a whole lifetime?”

Yun Men said, “An appropriate response.”

This very well could be argued to be the entire point of Awakening in Life. And if we hope to have an appropriate response, it must include embracing the complexity of life and the world. Awakening in Life includes embracing and penetrating the mystery of this life as we and it change, to make sense of it all as best we can for the purpose of a most appropriate response moment to moment.

We want to understand our current life experiences, understand the problems of the worlds, we want to influence the present and how things are unfolding with as much wisdom and compassion as we can. In particular, we aim to understand how we see and experience the world in real time, to examine the very lenses which we make sense of the world, and to strengthen, expand, deepen, and evolve our ability to understand the emerging complexity of the world and our life, so that we are more consciously evolving and responding with life, and less against it.

This embracing of emergence and evolving also helps to temper idealism and perfectionism. In a path of classical waking up to timeless presence, which does have a quality of being perfect, and as such it can be easy to for us to then transfer that experience of perfection to this very imperfect world (imperfect here meaning changing). And to further this point Awakening in Life means doing the best we can. And I do mean ‘the best we can’, neither coming shorter than our capacity in this moment, nor berating ourselves for not having more capacity in this moment than we can. And so, Awakening in Life emphasizes the cultivation of capacities over finite end goals (aside from certain realizations in classical awakening). With a focus on cultivating capacities we position ourselves with best possible disposition to respond.

Trust and Hope: Rooting in the good, beautiful, and true

In the midst of complexity and challenges, what do we come back to? Perhaps even better, where or to what can we root ourselves?

Rooting ourselves in classical awakening, in that which is always true in our experience, in radical presence, openness, stillness, etc.

What we find to be deeply good in the world, what is beautiful and inspiring to us, and what do find is true right now. All of this is subject to change and development, but in any moment, we can come back to what they are for us in this moment, as a place to rest and as a compass for finding our way in this world.


Awakening in Life includes a focus on embodiment, with our body being the lived point of all places in this life. Even in all the deep experiences we can have on the meditation cushion, you always have a body. When we drop fully into presence, it’s quite extraordinary to experience all at once, both timeless presence and our lived experience, our personalities, our hopes and dreams, our pain and suffering, everything we were, are now, and are becoming, is experienced right here in our embodied existence. By body, at first I definitely mean your somatic physical body, but embodiment includes much more than that. For example, we experience correlations in our body with patterns of thinking and feeling and sensing the world. Our experiences take root in our body. Because of this, our bodies are indispensable sources of wisdom and memory, and through a cultivation of embodiment we can more fully awaken, heal, and respond to life. As such, we can integrate many practices of awakening with embodiment, making our awakening much stronger and more rooted and integrated in our lives.

Questions for Awakening in Life

Inquiry is a core practice of Awakening in Life as it naturally embodies much of we we’ve discussed here. A few simple questions to contemplate:

Who am I? Who are we? What is this?
Who was I? Who were we? What was that?
Who am I becoming? Who are we becoming? Where is this all going?

May this be of benefit.
Ryan Oelke
Teacher, Awakening in Life