We are all our lives estranged from our very selves — that stillness at the heart of each moment, the space that gently cradles every difficulty. Even a momentary delight is held in that space. For the truest self is its own felt presence, independent of outer conditions, of emotion and idea.
A long-ago experience comes back to me when this became vivid, this independence of conscious awareness from even a moment having joyful content. It occurred fairly early on in the exploration of what this new awareness was about, what it “felt” like in the utterly changed mode of existence that had begun some months prior.
My sweetheart and I were camping on his remote land in Maine. It was a glorious morning, the sun newly come up over the granite cliff, the river gleaming far below. We’d gotten the breakfast fire going. He had just laid a filleted bass into the iron pan bubbling with oil. The smell was heavenly. His beard was white, his cheeks brown from the several days in the sun. He was grinning like a boy, happy to be just where he was: our favorite place on the planet, with the woman he loved, the fishing giving up its delicious aroma. My heart surged at it all. The prospect of another whole delicious day spread out before us.
The electric sensation of the absence of anything at all — of inner space itself — was its own reality.
It would have been hard to imagine, just then, a more fully satisfying and alive mix of things. What moment could ever come near to this one? But here was the shocking thing I noticed: when I tuned into that underlying sweetness that had become a constant companion, over the preceding months — that exquisite stillness seeming to “contain” all things — I could tell it was clearly independent of the momentary particulars. Not only was it distinct; it was of a subtly different quality. Beyond joy, beyond contentment, the underlying condition was itself ecstatic.
What impressed me, most enduringly, was how one had nothing to do with the other. The electric sensation of the absence of anything at all — of inner space itself — was its own reality. It was neither caused nor improved by the circumstances of that moment beside the fire.
It is this we are stranded from, our underlying condition.
* * * * *
What was gradually becoming apparent, in those early days, was that this innate sense of timeless well-being had always been within me, only (until recently) I’d hardly noticed its presence. But now I was able to recognize its ongoingness, all the way back to childhood. It was palpable.
As I looked around at others of my kind, the millions of upright, intelligent, and largely tormented mammals, I knew the same to be true of them: that to a person, this thing was real, was within, even if they had never detected it (nor perhaps ever would). Or maybe they had fleetingly sensed it, only it didn’t register what that flickering moment of awareness had indicated: that the peaceful stillness was their deep and truest nature, where no suffering could be. It did not need to be obtained or earned. They couldn’t see that — appearances to the contrary — this reality did not come from outside themselves, as it might have appeared to, nor did it actually come and go.
There was only ever the appearance of separation from their dearest selves. Just that they kept forgetting to turn toward it. To notice the silence underlying all the drama and longing, to feel all the way to the interior, to what was unreachable by the mind, untainted by misfortune.
Or maybe they did go looking for the intuited inner truth. Just that in the search, they used their tortured minds, their aching hearts, which kept trusting the seeming reality of the self they appeared to be. They hadn’t yet been able to see what was beyond what they meant when they said “I,” the space from which none of it could be taken so very seriously.