Webster’s dictionary defines translucent as “letting light pass through, but not transparent.” A transparent object, like a clean sheet of glass, is almost invisible. You see everything through a transparent object as if it were not there at all. An opaque object, on the other hand, blocks light completely. A translucent object allows light to pass through, but diffusely, while maintaining its form and texture. Objects on the other side cannot be clearly distinguished. A crystal is translucent. So is a sculpture of frosted glass — if the sun were to shine on it from behind, you would see the light passing through the sculpture, and it would appear to be glowing from the inside.

Translucent people also appear to glow from the inside. They have access to their deepest nature as peaceful, limitless, free, unchanging, and at the same time they remain fully involved in the events of their personal lives. Thoughts, fears, and desires still come and go; life is still characterized by temporary trials, misfortunes, and stress. But the personal story is no longer opaque: it is now capable of reflecting something deeper, more luminous and abiding, that can shine through it.

Contemporary translucents defy many of the spiritual concepts we have inherited from religious traditions. The thousands of people I have spoken to in researching this book are not recluses. They play vigorously in their relationships with others, their work, their creativity, and their political and environmental causes, but they play to play more than to win. Translucents display an above-average generosity of spirit. Giving to other people and to the environment replaces Iago’s habits, based in lack, desire, and need. Above all, translucents have a humorous and often irreverent relationship to their personal life, beliefs, and identity.
Translucents do not fit established pigeonholes. They generally don’t follow one particular teacher, teaching, or group, although many have in their past. They are not “spiritual” in any way that can be obviously recognized through lifestyle choices. As a group they display as wide a variety of occupations, appearances, and educational and cultural backgrounds as humanity itself. They generally don’t identify themselves as “enlightened” or as having attained anything, and they are also not trying to become enlightened. They are not overly materialistic or spiritually cynical. Translucents are not uniformly vegetarians, political liberals, religious zealots, new age hippies, or self-improvement junkies. And they don’t all wear Birkenstocks.

The word translucent refers to the degree of embodiment of a realization, not to what has been realized. Hence it is a relative term, like interesting, inspiring, boring, or idiotic. These words are relative because not everyone agrees on their meaning. You might find opera inspiring, whereas someone else might be put to sleep by it. Relative terms also have no finite end. You can be “quite boring,” “rather boring,” “really boring,” even “extremely boring,” but however boring you may be, you can always outdo yourself the next day. There is no such thing as “ultimately boring.” Relative terms shift, from day to day or hour to hour. You might be really boring on Monday but more interesting on Tuesday.

Absolute words, to the contrary, are black and white, like an on-off switch. French, married, and dead are examples. “He’s quite French” sounds a little strange, doesn’t it? So does “I am married on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays but single the other days.” And what about, “The doctor says she’s dead, but Frank doesn’t agree. I feel I need to get to know her better before making a judgment.” Enlightenment has generally been used as an absolute word. Even though people don’t agree on what it means or to whom it applies, those who talk about enlightenment claim it is a defined condition, and one is either enlightened or not. (Usually a man is telling you he is and you are not, so you’d better do what he tells you.)

Translucence is subtler; it is relative. One can always become more translucent, one may waver in the degree of translucence, and the people I feel to be most translucent may differ from your top ten.

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