Diana Winston: The Meaning of Life and the Human Awakening

Headshot Winston 2015 (1)Excellence Reporter: Diana, what is the meaning of life?

Diana Winston: I have two intertwined responses to the meaning of life question:

  1. To awaken
  2. To help others awaken

Let’s start with Part 1. The human capacity to awaken is vast. But what actually does awakening mean? For me it’s the recognition that within each individual is the potential for awakening out of our ignorance into to deeper love, self-awareness, compassion, and wisdom.

Most of us are ruled by our unconscious habits. These habits (cultivated over time through our life experiences, family conditioning, trauma…) force us into further states of separation, isolation, anger, resentment, depression, anxiety, and greed. When we realize we don’t have to be a victim of these tendencies, we begin the first step of waking up—the recognition these tendencies are not who we are, but that we are so much more profound than that.

Most of us need some type of practice to help with our awakening; just the recognition is not enough. Generally a spiritual practice like meditation (mindfulness is my preferred method, but really any practice undertaken with rigor, commitment and authenticity will suffice) and psychological tools are tremendously important to help us understand ourselves more clearly. And we can’t abandon our body. What we put into our bodies, and how we nurture and treat it, is part of the waking up process.

Then we just keep working on waking up. We heal the wounds of childhood. We find places where we are blind and bring light in. We notice where we are hurting ourselves or others and we get to the root of it and transform it. We find compassion for the parts of us that were off limits. We learn to forgive ourselves and others.

With a practice and tools under our belt, all of life begins to conspire to help us wake up. In fact, some of the messiest, scariest times in life become gifts that lead to deeper states of awakening and more and more maturity.

Then comes Part 2. Waking up doesn’t happen in isolation. We wake up for the sake of all beings. We wake up so that we become better equipped to serve and help others awaken to their own inherent wisdom and compassion. In fact, even the individual work we do in Part 1 can be seen through the lens of Part 2. Our awakening is part of the vast web of human and planetary awakening.

The less we act from our reactivity—from our isolation and neuroses and sense of self-importance and blindness, the more others and our planet benefit. First we transform, then all of our interlocking communities feel the reverberations: our partners, families, neighborhoods, professional life, communities, and institutions of which we are a part. The more of us who do it, the more the larger institutions begin to reflect the wisdom and compassion. We become beacons of light for those who are looking. And our very existence can help them begin their awakening process.

If we wish, we can make a commitment to service as a practice of awakening. Service is a large category and to my mind anything can fit here that works to alleviate suffering. We can make all acts that we do become service. We can sow seeds of joy, connection, compassion in whatever field we work in, or as a parent or friend or activist or caregiver.

Some of us may choose to be more active, working explicitly to end injustice, racism, violence, greed, and war. Some of us may be drawn to environmental activism, working on behalf of the planet. These forms of service can be an expression of our waking up. And as the earth transforms, so do we.

The caveat is that our service is conscious—it can also be used as a pathway to greater self-understanding, love, internal connection, and compassion, which takes us back to Part 1. Serving actually becomes a path of practice.

As we awaken, so does the Earth. As the Earth awakens, so do we.


~Diana Winston has been the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center since 2006. She is the co-author (with Susan Smalley, Ph.D.) of Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness and the CD, “Mindful Meditations” (2008). She has been teaching mindfulness nationally and internationally since 1993 and has brought mindful awareness into schools, hospitals, businesses, and nonprofits, as well as to leaders, educators, and health professionals in the US and Asia. Her work has been mentioned in the New York Times, Newsweek, O Magazine, Women’s Health Magazine, CBS and ABC News, and the LA Times, among others. She has been called by the LA Times: “one of the nation’s leading mindfulness teachers.”

Copyright © 2016 Excellence Reporter

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