What is real? That is the question, that is always the question. Is it the drama, the surface results, the triumphs or disasters of life? Spiritual leaders unanimously declare, each in their own ways, that whatever happens serves a purpose at the spiritual level. “We always make a profit!” Gurdjieff, an early 20th Century spiritual leader, used to say. In the business of spiritual evolution nothing is wasted, every experience contains a treasure. This is so, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. So, where’s the gold in our travail, how do we apply this idea to our everyday experience?

One way to answer this question is to examine our attachments, the things, situations, and people, the lose of which would create the greatest pain. Where do we place our identity? Which part of our personal illusion do we hold most dear, or are we even aware of it as illusion? Where, to whom, or what, do we give ourselves away? What or whom do we think we would just die without? For, when we consciously join the spiritual path, when we decide to “awaken”, we are making a commitment to discover those areas we are stuck to like glue. They are the source of our insanity, the place where we lose it.

It’s not for nothing that many traditions call this process Work. For our personal illusion carries with it the conviction that certain events will destroy us, and, while the I AM that we are is indestructible, choosing to place our identity, our sense of who we are, in something that is transitory, and clinging to it when it vanishes in the eternal current of change, will certainly create the illusion that who we are has changed or been destroyed, an illusion that has all the trappings of reality.

So this is really about “letting go” and “going with the flow”. Ideas that are no longer novel, perhaps, but continue to be valid. Work, in this context, is not the drudgery that we normally define it to be, but rather is concerned with the struggle to bring conscious awareness to as much of our daily life as possible. The practical ramifications of this are enormous, when it is taken seriously. It requires us to release our identity from everything and everyone that we value, while still continuing to value them. A seemingly subtle, but significant distinction.

Life takes on a different hue when we decide to Work in this way. At times, it looks like we signed up for experiences that our surface self would prefer to avoid, which is really the heart of the inner conflict awakening ignites.

What is real then becomes, who am I, which is really the perceptual ground for the first question, what is real. Our perception of our identity profoundly impacts our perceptions of everything else. It is this question that defines Life’s Mystery, a question that we must live without expecting an answer.

The mystery is unknowable, but it is possible to know who we are not. For instance, we are not what people think of us, or what we think they think of us. Certainly we are not our possessions, our clothes, our money, our careers, nor even our accomplishments, and certainly not our relationships.

We can begin to find solace for this ache in some simplicities, moments when we feel a deeper connection, when we actually have a fleeting experience of truer Presence. There at least we can feel closer to the Mystery. We can teach ourselves to seek out these moments. They can become our focus of attention.

Imagine a life where this becomes the top priority, the search for closeness with the Mystery.