Freedom of Awareness

19 Apr

My all time favorite commencement speech is by David Foster Wallace given at Kenyon College to the 2005 graduating class.  It came to mind earlier this week while talking to my sister about the realities all around that so many of us remain completely unaware of.

The short film above is only an excerpt, but it is the first way I encountered the speech and so it is the way I share it with you.  You can find the full speech text online or the full audio on YouTube.  It has also been published in book form:  This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

I could excerpt a whole lot of awesome quotes but I will just include a few sentences from the ending of the original speech.   These sentences highlight the point I was making to my sister which is that the self-awareness journey I’ve been on has made me aware of not just more about me, but more about people and life in general.  This awareness is liberating but can also be painful.  However, I wouldn’t trade it for “ignorance is bliss”.   Wishing you all well on your own self-awareness journey and I hope you enjoy the film and speech as much as I do.

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.

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