There is a line clearly dividing the first 50 years of life from the years since (twelve, at the present accounting). From here, looking back, it’s as if the time before were black-and-white, two-dimensional, a pencil sketch of existence. Though at the time life often appeared (and felt) luxurious, if sometimes tainted with worry and dissatisfaction.
I thought it must be lucky when a writer happened onto the other side of that line, the life-after-death that begins when the mind has grown quiet. When life (no matter the present-moment content) has become sumptuous. A writer, if she tried hard enough, could maybe get somebody’s attention, could render paradise vividly enough that no one would be able to turn away from the prospect for themselves. Their own powers of envisioning – sinking into what it would feel like to be constantly peaceful, without angst or fear or loneliness – would engender such a warm and constant presence that longing for all other things would fall away. They’d see that what they could bodily intuit must be innate, within, awaiting discovery.
Something is happening there. Something radical. The great sweetening is taking over, disassembling so much that seemed to matter, and the original vitality is assuming its rightful place.
I used to think if I tried hard enough to describe how things had changed, and if I did it publicly, in a way others could overhear, my account might nudge some to reconsider their lives. To see if life couldn’t be lived differently, so sorrow and longing wouldn’t saturate them, so frustration and anger would no longer be their bedfellows.
But words (however clear and urgent) are only so useful. They are, after all, part of the problem in the first place. Words, like ideas, are stand-ins for reality. Which means they are frequently in collusion with ego. It’s all spun out of the mind, which is so noisy the silence cannot be heard.
* * * * *
I’ve come to see there’s really very little one person can do to inspire what isn’t already aching to happen. Someone cares about this or they don’t. At least, not enough to make it the centerpiece of attention – without which nothing fundamental will change.
I cannot endow another with that singlepointed focus. It grows all on its own, like a flower or a weed no one planted. It emerges from the dark earth of a person’s soul, the quiet of the middle of the night, the airless heart of despair, where nothing is left but giving up. Then there comes the turn toward the flame in the night on the other side of a field, the face in its instinctual turning toward a just-opened window with a little breeze from a direction you never knew was there. That moment is blessed.
Sometimes I attempt to open a window. Strike a match. But maybe no one is there to turn toward the breeze, the flame. Never mind. I can only do what I can do.
Here there are voices insisting – but what a difference a teacher can make, has made, when the readiness is there. I see the truth of that. I do what seems possible. I set aside a lot to be with one who is ready to be done with the old way. I will respond, sometimes into the middle of the night. Maybe into old age.
* * * * *
And sometimes – more and more, it seems – there is the expression in someone’s eyes, or in the voice, or in the letters on the screen, that says something is happening there. Something radical. The great sweetening is taking over, disassembling so much that seemed to matter, and the original vitality is assuming its rightful place. In the bones, in the gestures, in the work, the play. In perception, in thought (which happens now by choice, no longer by crippling default). Sometimes there is a trembling voice on the phone, eyes filling up in the face of someone sitting just there, and what the person says is some version of this:
I don’t know what’s happening to me, but God, oh my God.
Nearly always we end up laughing. Amazement has no words. It has laughter, and joy that seems to come in a flood.
I could sit all day and all night, every day for the rest of my sweet life, being in the presence of one (and another and another) who has happened onto the other side of the line dividing fear from love. For that is what it is. That is one way of saying what it is.
When I am in the presence of that, I just want to bow my head. Not to the person exactly but to the miracle of a world where such a thing is able to come about, transformation on such a scale. But I keep my head from bowing, because I don’t want to look away. I want to look and look into the blessed eyes of relief, of stunned amazement. Tenderness pooling in those eyes. And why has this person come to sit here? Not because “help” is sought. Such a one no longer wants for anything at all. It’s that they have been wandering around unable to explain what’s happened, their loved ones looking quizzically at them, maybe in alarm. Or maybe they themselves don’t understand what’s going on. They want to be with someone they don’t have to try to explain anything to. Like seeing in the mirror, that deep looking into the eyes of one who feels the same way.
There are people living their ordinary lives in this quiet amazement. Softness comes into the world wherever they go, whatever they do. Mostly, they are not understood. It doesn’t matter. They don’t mind not being understood. They don’t mind anything at all.