From "The Wonder of Presence" by Toni Packer. (c) 2002 by Toni Packer. By arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston,

Someone asked, "Does it really matter if we 'wake up' or not?"

A little while ago I took a walk up a hill. What a delightful morning! Warmth and coolness were present at the same time. Gentleness pervaded the air, and birds were singing everywhere. Wet, sodden shoes passed by the croaking pond where tiny little skimmers crisscrossed back and forth on the surface of the water, leaving their ever so delicate tracks.

On the big upper field several deer were grazing. Looking up at the intruder, their long white tails twitched a little as we looked at each other. Then they kept on grazing. Colors dotted the sun-drenched field, and blooming grasses were swaying in the breeze. The fragrance of wild roses filled the air. If you had walked along with me this beautiful morning, we both would have laughed at the question whether it matters if we wake up or not.

Had we been caught up in anger, worry or frustration, we wouldn't have laughed. We would not have seen the lovely vibrant field. We have so many questions. Whence do they arise? Are there deeper motives to our question? Can we wonder about it and look? Someone asked , "Is there such a thing as ultimate, complete and total enlightenment?" Are we really asking, "If there is such a thing, can I get it?"

Where does wondering about complete and total enlightenment come from? And from where does wanting it arise? And the frustration about not getting it? Doesn't it all come our of our deep inner discontent with ourselves, with others, and with the world? Sometimes we can't even say what it is that causes it; we just feel painfully out of sync. There is an inner meaninglessness, a feeling of hollow emptiness. Not the emptiness of vast open space, but a feeling of nothing of value inside, feeling lonely, cut off from happiness and alienated from people. There may be the fear of abandonment, or feeling unloved. All of these things are going on in human beings.

Out of the desire to fill up the inner depletion and find lasting contentment may come questions about enlightenment, and with them the yearning to find meaning and not feel isolated from everything and everyone. The brain creates endless concepts and fantasies to alleviate the inner suffering.

If we become increasingly transparent to these movements of thought and feeling, we will realize that inner pain is not dissolved by conventional ways of dealing with it, materially or spiritually. Money, position, acquisitions or relationships have not brought lasting contentment. Religions beliefs may provide illusions of security and support, but for many of us they simply have not worked. We have wandered from one belief system to another, attracted by promises of salvation, liberation, or enlightenment, but real hunger for truth and clarity can be stilled only with genuine food.

The discursive mind is capable of throwing up doubts and skeptical questions at any time. Maybe we suddenly find ourselves in quiet openness, a profound stillness without any feeling of lack. Then thought comes in and begins to wonder: "Will this last? Can I get it back? Was it real? Was this enlightenment or is there more? It doesn't seem enough." Thinking about a past moment of freedom immediately sows the seeds of doubt by asking, "Is this all there is? It can't be! There must be a more convincing experience than what I just had!" Thoughts grow like clinging vines that choke the living presence. Truly being here is being unknown, unknowable, unadorned. Being here is absence of doubting or affirming thoughts about myself. It is the absence of me! Thoughts that arise about me are just thoughts, with their enormous power to obscure clarity.

Is it our task to find out whether or not there is total and complete enlightenment like the Buddha proclaimed? I always liked the Buddha's sayings: "I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled enlightenment, and that is why it is called complete, unexcelled enlightenment." No-thing, no one to attain it, spaceless space, no one there to occupy it. Just alive presence with the evening star in the sky. Dying to all the stuff imagined and clung to about oneself - what I am, what I was, what I will be, what I could be, should be...

Can we see all concepts as concepts with deepening clarity and wisdom? Not immediately lurching toward something promised in the future that has its sole existence in thought? Can we clearly discern what constitutes thinking and what is actually present right here without needing to think it? Can we discern it effortlessly?

The open windows, fresh air touching the skin, bright sunshine everywhere, all kinds of twittering sounds, crows calling and breathing, pulsating life! Caw, caw, caw, caw.

..Sensations throughout the body, breathing, beholding it, not the words, but the aliveness of it all. Can we realize now that "complete unexcelled enlightenment" is a concept?