March 27th, 1845, marks the birthday of German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen, the recipient of the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.  Dr. Roentgen was awarded this prize for a discovery that he had not set out to find but rather stumbled upon. His finding, which continues to transform diagnostic medicine of today, was so unexpected and mysterious that he named it, “x-ray.” 

Dr. Roentgen’s capacity to recognize the unexpected hinged on his ability to remain aware.  Awareness may be defined as, “observation without judgment.” 

Each day, we are offered our own life experiences that help shape and guide our human development.  During times of peaceful stability, we find it easy to live with open-hearted spaciousness. We relish moments to “observe without judgment” the amazing conditions of our human existence.  These are the times that, like Roentgen, we may make remarkable, unexpected discoveries that may guide our future life course.   

During times of unique uncertainty, like those of today, awareness can be sorely challenged.  We struggle to label, classify, organize, categorize, criticize and develop opinions. Our observations become contaminated with judgments, and awareness may be lost.   While some judgments are essential for our well-being, some may spring from unreliable sources. They may become enmeshed within unwarranted and unrecognized biases toward others and the conditions surrounding them.  From such a foundation, our perceptions may range from incomplete to deceptively distorted. 

Dr. Roentgen was so uncertain of what he was observing, that he continued his investigations of x-rays in secret, fearing for his, “professional reputation if his observations were in error.”  We may feel a similar fear when called upon to disentangle ourselves from preconceived notions, habits, beliefs and behaviors that no longer nurture life. 

It took seven years for Dr. Roentgen’s observations to be recognized by the Nobel Committee.  This reminds us that collective awareness is enhanced by time. It takes time for the intuitive, resonant voice of compassion that resides deep within us to surface.

Wilhelm Roentgen provided a model of both awareness and generosity.  He sought no patent for his discovery believing x-rays should be, “publicly available to all patients without charge.”  We, too, are at our best when we open the tight fist of grasping to find infinite space and resources for all.

Conditions in our world today have disrupted our typical patterns of living.  We may view this as a burden or as a great opportunity to use this gift of time to develop awareness, observation without judgment.  Imagine. Our spiritual awareness may flower forth in ways as holy, mysterious, and unexpected as Dr. Roentegen’s x-rays.   

  Betsy Schussler

   | Image courtesy of Colin S. Foral