“The quickening” is an ancient term signifying the beginning of life, the first time an expectant mother feels her baby’s kick.
Modern technological advances have shifted the definition of life’s beginning closer to the time of conception. Today, a new life is sometimes defined in terms of “viability,” when a developing fetus can survive independently of its mother.
The viability definition has issues.
First, I’m not convinced we ever develop the capability for survival independent of others.
Second, viability is an external assessment of life that is removed from the intimate experience of life. Everything has internal and outside perspectives, and they always differ.
This post looks at “the quickening,” or life’s beginning from the intimacy of the experience. My viewpoints have no objective validity beyond what it feels like to be alive.
I believe three quickenings bestow human life; the development of awareness, consciousness, and grace.
Our life is the manifestation of these gifts.
I don’t remember becoming aware. No one does.
Awareness is a tricky thing. Merriam-Webster defines it as “knowledge and understanding that something is happening.”
This first quickening happened before I was born. Perhaps even before I started kicking!
Thinking about the dictionary definition of awareness got me wondering if plants are aware?
Sunflowers turn to face the sun and track its motion across the sky. That clearly signifies “knowledge that something is happening.” Whether a sunflower understands this is an open question.
How about my cats? Are they aware?
The answer most certainly is yes! They have clear knowledge and understanding when their 5pm feeding time approaches.
Awareness arises through relationships triggered by sensory stimulation. Only recently, we have learned that individual trees are responsive to changes throughout their entire woodland community. This is accomplished through underground fungal networks extending over long distances. Trees even share nutrients when community members are in need.
Are trees then aware?
In the first quickening, life extends awareness.
We would be wise to return the favor.
Now the slope gets slippery.
To be conscious is to be aware that we are aware. Rather than a mere stimulus/response relationship, consciousness adds an external witness to the act of awareness. We call that witness “Self.”
This is a huge deal.
Do you remember your very first experience of consciousness?
Strangely, I do.
I was six years old, playing tag in the front yard with a bunch of friends, when suddenly, it hit me like a bolt of lightning, “I am me!” The realization stopped me dead in my tracks.
That evening, and for days afterward, I couldn’t shake this new feeling of an internal “Me” witnessing an external world.
I must have been a weird little kid!
Is there really a separate “Me?”
Physicist Neil Bohr wrote, “Consciousness is the singular, for which the plural is unknown.”
That quote has occupied my thoughts for years!
“Self” arises from trillions of collaborating cells in our body.
Whether “Self” is form or an illusion is hard to say.
I began practicing meditation nearly two decades ago. In deep meditative states, the “Self” disappears. Where does it go?
Consciousness presents more questions than answers. Its arrival is the second quickening. The second gift given by life.
It’s a shame we often take it for granted!
Now we’ve crossed the Rubicon.
Every culture attempts to understand, define, and control grace, usually to wield power.
Such efforts harken back to the historical definition of the quickening. Namely, an outside perspective of an internal experience that’s beyond understanding.
Mystics refer to grace as “enlightenment.” Enlightenment often connotates achieving an “advanced” state of “Being.”
This is not my experience of grace.
Grace came upon me without warning. I can’t say exactly what it is beyond a foundational change in perspective.
Grace is not something I “earned” or “deserved.” It simply arrived as a gift, a quickening that changed everything. The contemplative Franciscan Friar, Richard Rohr, compares grace to light, “not so much what you directly see as that by which you see everything else.”
My fear of death dissipated with the arrival of grace. I can’t say why, except rather than feeling that life is about me, I suddenly felt that I am about life, a universal force that flows on within me and without me (tip of the hat to George Harrison).
People have differing beliefs regarding the origin of grace.
I believe it is indigenous, arising in the absence of “Self,” answering questions regarding meaning and belonging.
Life’s highest privilege is to sit with gratitude in the presence of grace.
Grace is the third quickening.
It completes life’s journey from “I” to “We” to “One.”
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend.
To receive my latest posts directly, click subscribe and fill in your email address in the box at the bottom of the page.