It was like I’d been robbed. As if someone crept into my dark house in the night and made off with what had always been my dearest possession: my sense of who I was. But gently, without confrontation or uproar, like a cat burglar, or a pickpocket. No evidence of thievery: just the quiet but unmistakable space of the absence.
Strangely, in the stunning aftermath of that removal, my self was no longer dear. How could it be that I didn’t miss the long-familiar thing (let alone attempt to forge a replacement)? The relief was that vast, that delicious.
I had not known how heavy “I” was, how much work it had taken to carry it, until it was no longer there.
But how could I still be? Until that night, I’d have said that the only way my dear old self could disappear would be at the moment of the stopping of the heart, or perhaps at the onset of dementia. Yet somebody . . . something . . . was clearly still here, aware, alive. Functioning, even. Able to clearly think, but absent the familiar torment and constant self-reference.
I hadn’t known such a thing was possible. Without all I’d been blessedly relieved of, what did it mean to be this human being?
* * * * *
Beloved thief, that enabled life to begin in earnest! The pleasure of moving through an ordinary day, in this extraordinary world with its wind and cut hay and snow and black ants — being with all of that, and even (yes) with the difficulties (my tormented children, the perennial shortage of money, the ever-deteriorating body). How could it be that the world — “my world” — was its recognizable self, and yet the experience of it so utterly changed? How could it be I was remote from none of it, and yet the encounter with each moment had this quality that was utterly new?
It’s about being human. This wasn’t personal to me. We’ve all been given this gift.
The departing self had taken with it all its cherished possessions. Like the compulsion to mentally process everything. The capacity for fear. Ambition, agenda, resistance, stress, guilt. Attachment of all kinds. Hope! The future no longer held significance. (How could it, when it no longer felt real?)
No longer did “I” seem to need protection. Nor did things need to be any certain way for me to feel peaceful, content, safe. I stopped wishing for safety, or expecting it (let alone imagining I could assure it).
I knew there was no such thing as safety. Or stability, or control.
If anyone had ever told me, before, that someday I’d come to rest in that knowing, without being paralyzed with fear and the desperate clawing for control, I’d have said the person was a fool or a liar.
Was delight gone, or love? These things only exploded, having lost all sense of limitation, all the tentativeness that comes with conditions, with fear. Savoring was turned high, the heart buoyant, at last uncontained, free to rejoice, the way a child would. Nothing that had seemed ordinary any longer was.
When life was turned inside out, it felt less like I’d lost something than that I’d been given the most exquisite gift. It certainly seemed like a blessing granted from out of the blue. Yet . . . the new way somehow felt familiar. As if something in me had “known” this all along. Only now had I finally seen what had always been there. And how clearly I could see this too: it’s about being human. This wasn’t personal to me. We’ve all been given this gift. We just spend our poor lives not knowing it, looking elsewhere to sources that cannot hope to approximate the miracle within.
Was I robbed or given a gift?
The heart relieved of restraint, no longer afraid of breaking; the mind rinsed of judgment and resistance, no longer recoiling from a devastating truth, nor grasping for a control it finally knows it can never have — such a mind and heart are discovered to be radically porous, tender functions of an ordinary human existence. In no way are you at a distance from life. How could you be? There’s nobody there to feel separate, to recoil or judge or flee from. When the self no longer feels real, momentary life is “what you are.”
The gift I was given, when I was robbed, was to discover, finally, what it is to be fully human, and yet not to be identified with any of its moving expressions. If that isn’t a miracle, I want to know what is.