We’re human—how fortunate and precious! Now what?
Reflecting on the preciousness of being born human is an exercise in gratitude and in defining priorities. Here we are, human beings able to make life choices, to try them on for size, and to adjust where necessary. Among those choices, we have access to spiritual teachings and practices that can help us develop the qualities that we value most. But this singular opportunity won’t last forever.
What’s so precious about human life?
First off, we can begin to count our blessings this very instant. Unlike many other human beings in the world, we have shelter and enough food and water; we can access technology; we’re able to read and understand what’s written in front of us; and we probably won’t be persecuted for our political or religious convictions.
And just like other human beings in the world, our lives are a mixture of joys, sorrows, and challenges. What really takes an ordinary human existence and turns it into a “precious” one is the discovery that we have the power to use most of these challenges to learn more about ourselves and open our hearts. We have the ability to recognize our habits and work on changing the ones that are counterproductive. We’ve observed that our minds may be unruly, but they’re not unworkable. We have spiritual, contemplative and meditative practices that help us train our minds. In short, we have everything we need to change our lives for the better. Right here, right now, we can make this moment a constructive, caring, meaningful one.
Contemplating the precious human life
Considering the opportunities that go along with a precious human life is a core Buddhist reflection designed to shake us humans out of a deeply ingrained tendency to take our situation for granted. Most Eastern philosophies and religions accept the concept of reincarnation or rebirth. Buddhism and Hinduism, for example, generally posit that one’s present life is the result of past actions and intentions, and one’s current actions and intentions will influence how and where one’s next life will begin. Indeed, in Buddhism the human realm is just one of many potential destinations! Buddhists are encouraged to reflect upon how many other forms of existence are out there and what their lives might be like. To drive the point home, it is suggested that they look under a rock in a lush forest and try to identify the numerous creatures hiding there, then imagine how many more of these there are than humans in the world. What is life like for them?
In the West, most of us have a hard time imagining that we could reappear as a garter snake, centipede, or shrew rather than take birth as a human next time around! But while the notion of reincarnation may not predominate, an article published in 2018 by the Pew Research Center states that 33% of American adults actually do believe the idea of reincarnation of some sort to be plausible.
Whether or not you’re one of them, considering the benefits of our current situation builds gratefulness, and gratefulness builds happiness. Guided gratitude meditations are an agreeable way to get into the habit of being thankful for the opportunities of the moment.
Giving meaning to this precious human life
Developing the ability to bring about our own genuine well-being and to help others is surely one of the most worthwhile things we can do with our lives. But it’s often so much easier to give in to distraction and busyness than to work on ourselves in any meaningful way. The practices of mindfulness and awareness meditation are powerful antidotes to the habit of distraction. They help us develop quietude, an appreciation for the moment, and an understanding of the functioning of the mind. This understanding leads to self-awareness on many different levels. The more aware we are of our own patterns and worth, the easier it is to feel empathy for the challenges of others as well as to cherish their qualities.
Through our practice, we find that even unwelcome situations can be fertile ground for self-improvement thanks to the kindheartedness and introspection that we’re developing. And as our meditation practice gives us a keen sense of impermanence and the preciousness of the present moment, we’re increasingly aware that there’s no time to lose. There’s no better time to get our priorities straight, there’s no better time to be grateful for this precious human life and for all of the opportunities it provides.