“I don’t know what you have experienced to make you “know” but I haven’t, so don’t give me that crap!”
My husband was expressing his dismay over my encouragement to keep his heart open to the love that surrounded him, and to remember that the door to his heart opens from the inside. He is always in such pain, having been chronically depressed since childhood. He struggles through the dimness and density of his layers of weight, not only metaphorically but also in the reality of his body. I have experienced something years ago that shifted my world view in what seemed like a matter of seconds, the kind of seconds that last throughout one’s life, ticking away but stopped in deep memory, waiting to hold and sustain me when I forget.
My husband and I had been having one of many “nature of reality” Sunday morning discussions, and often our conversations would end with him insisting to me that I can’t make my own reality.
“OH yeah, watch me, here I go!” And I would point out that his view excluded my point of reference, but mine included his.
Inevitably he would respond: “But yours is wrong!”
For many years I had been on a spiritually seeking pathway, trying to find a philosophy or structure that I could adopt as a roadmap to nirvana…or some such heavenly state. During my teen years my mom and I had discussed God, and I had proclaimed it all bullshit. She had asked me to keep my heart open, and had said that all paths to God are valid.
When I said, “Mom, you aren’t getting me- THERE IS NO GOD” She replied, ever-calm, that that is a valid path to god.
When I yelled, “How can you believe in a god that has allowed your husband to be killed in a car crash and looked the other way with all those poor people you try to help?”
Mom just quietly answered that she couldn’t have made it without the strength of her faith. This would send me off in a rant against organized religion and the historical damage to humanity that had been caused by the patriarchal paradigms such religions had made the pervasive social norm. I believe her quiet non-engagement with my fury at finding my self disillusioned with my growing awareness of the pain of the world actually shortened my adolescent rebellion at my family of origin’s unconditional love of the world and its people. She simply gave me nothing to push against.
In some ways my journey in my twenties was to find one of those paths to god that I could fully embrace. How could declaring no God be a path to God? My mother must not know anything! A “Doubting Thomas” by nature, and raised loosely as a Christian, I never met a religion I didn’t pick apart for what did not work for me and my philosophy. Which was just about every aspect since my philosophy was such a moving target in my 20’s with every reading pushing and pulling at it like taffy on a pull machine. Catholicism? I couldn’t buy a religion that had you confess your “sins” to a god who was supposed to already be omnipotent, but doesn’t know if I’m sorry for what I had done? Judaism? The inherent sexism I read into the Hebrew tradition immediately put me off. Hinduism? Sorry, but monkey-faced or elephant-headed gods seemed like a cartoon-like attempt to translate myth into a leap-of-faith I was not ready to make. I played a bit with pagan and Wiccan rituals, but felt ridiculous and out of place in a modern suburban neighborhood bowing to our trees. Even Buddhism insisted that the point was to accumulate merit for the next existence- I wanted support and understanding for this existence, now.
I already had 2 children by the time I was 24. I was taking classes at night; I was aiding in a preschool where my son attended, and cleaning houses on the side to make ends meet. I had taken an eastern philosophy class and was recently focused on early morning meditation, the only time I was free from the soon- to- awaken demands of my life.
I would move through the darkened house, feeling the cold, hard shift under foot from carpet to floor as I put the coffee on, then shuffling in to the only open space in that tiny house to light a flaring match to the long candle stick on my mini altar. Day after day, for about 2 months, I would try this, most of the time frustrated or constantly distracted by the heater’s ticking, the dogs scratching, the coffee brewing, or the patterns of shadows on the wall made by the candle light.
No matter my effort, my inner words always raced and rambled, refusing to quiet, refusing to allow the peace that the books and classes said existed for those who practiced. I often got up from my half-lotus position with minor excuses- was that the kids stirring? Did I forget to put the coffee pot all the way in? Oh, the dog needs to be let out. Now my leg itches, or a myriad of other ridiculous ideas or memories that pitter-pattered at the window of my brain, my imagined altar of light never allowed full focus.
Then came one of the rare days where both kids were in carpools and I had a morning at home to myself to catch up the seeming self-perpetuating pile of laundry. I decided to get back to the meditation that was such a miserable failure earlier that morning. I determinedly re-situated myself on the carpet, facing a bookcase with my eclectic altar, and re-lit the candles that were supposed to be my focal point. I was PMSing, irritated at my husband for making fun of me as he poured his coffee and got out the door for work, chanting “OM.” So I approached my meditation with resentment and a bit of fury. My mind went from peaceful thoughts to cursing god- “If you are there, why can’t you show me, why can’t you reveal yourself, why the big secret? If you are there, why all the suffering? What about the children? What about war?
Are you even worth pursuing? What am I pursuing?” It felt as though there was a tender, yet impenetrable membrane that if I could just push through I would be born whole and radiant and forever in peace.
The internal rant went on, “Don’t I love enough? Haven’t I helped others enough? Don’t I deserve the giant love too?” My chatter then turned to challenge: “If you don’t show me- I’m giving up! I don’t have time for this, I don’t have support for this, and you have given me nothing!”
At that point I actually smiled, realizing I was making myself grand. But a Sufi poet, known as Hafiz wrote these touching words about God, “ God revealed a sublime truth to the world/ when He sang,/ “I am made whole/ by your life./ Each soul, each soul /completes Me.” These words had given me a gift lodged solidly amidst the other bits and pieces of my “pick and choose’ religious ramblings: As much as I yearned for God, god yearned for me.
That morning’s intensity soon faded with the dryer’s buzz. Sighing, I got up, feeling a bit sad that I was going to melt back down into the drudgery of daily mechanics with out aspiring or finding something a bit more. I gathered the warm, detergent- perfumed laundry from the dryer and dumped it on the second- hand bright orange couch we had in the living room. I folded without awareness of the clothes between my hands, sorting it into piles by ownership and drawer distribution. My mind was on mundane things like the making of lunches, picking up the carpool, shopping to be done, interlaced with the countless thoughts that pierce our concentrated focus with a thousand arrows of distraction.
I was walking into my bedroom with a neat stack of t-shirts and was turning to the dresser to pull open the wooden drawer when I was suddenly filled, I mean FILLED, with Love. Beaming through me, surrounding me, shooting out from every tip of my finger and each toe- a golden, all-consuming Love. It continued to build until I was down on my knees with tears streaming down my face and nothing else in the world but this floating elation of being safe, being cherished beyond comprehension. It built more still, vibrating through my eyes and lips, in and out of my ears, my genitals, my organs. I felt I was on the edge of joyfully bursting apart and as suddenly as it came- it was gone.
I collapsed on the pile of shirts on the floor and continued to let the tears spill for some minutes before my mind returned from infinite gratitude to thought. And somehow I knew that these bodies simply cannot contain this amount of love. I knew that so much more existed than could be perceived by these bodies that it was an act of love that it is held back.
I went to my journal and tried to write about it, but my pen wouldn’t move. I had been held in the hands of all-ness. I had been given the sign I had demanded as a petulant child might demand candy. I felt humbled, awed and relieved. I felt sad that it was gone and a giant hole remained that was at once unbearable and familiar: The forever yearning. The void that everyone is desperately trying to fill with drugs, TV, art, exercise, religion, human to human love- all inadequate to the job.
It dawned on me that we aren’t meant to stay in constant connection because we wouldn’t function on the daily level that the body needs to journey through these lives.
After that day, I know. I guess I always knew but it had felt as though a distant light kept moving away as I moved toward it and I was so tired of the darkness and dreariness I didn’t realize the light was in me, at all times in me. Trite, cliché, yet I just needed to lift my heart and eyes to stop peering at the darkness.
On that day of my husband’s outburst I turned to him and told him– I did have experience that told me we are love and that it is each of our journey returning to love that we are here to live. And I found my mother’s words lowing out of my mouth and toward my husband- keep your heart open, all paths are valid.
I carry that moment in my soul, and I have had a few other moments, again often at times when I am actually looking away at every day chores of life. Suddenly, I will be swept away by beauty or peace or utter contentment and then I can endure the more painful aspects of life that are the deepening, the enriching points that work to make the love we are, all the deeper. I carry this faith to this day.
Hafiz, as translated by Daniel Ladinsky, The Gift,
Stunning. Somehow you have described in words what cannot possibly be described in words. Thanks for sharing this.
Remarkable. In so many ways. I will be pondering this for a long time. Thank you for candidly sharing such an intimate experience.
Simply amazing. Thank you for putting into words and sharing this supremely personal story.
Simply Profound. All these years we have corresponded and I knew there was a strong woman on a spiritual journey. I respect and partially understand the experience.
Thank you! Your kind words are always welcome, dear one!
This story popped up in our new Retrospect feature “Past Stories You May Have Missed,” and I’m so glad I clicked on it, January! What an extraordinary account! I experienced something very similar in the midst of a panic attack. It changed me forever, and after decades of debilitating attacks, they simply stopped. And, it IS all about love. How incredibly fortunate we are to have received these epiphanies to help us deal with the unending pain and suffering and to also recognize, appreciate, and acknowledge the beauty that exists at the same time. It’s heartening to have read your account…thank you for sharing your story with us!
Oh Barbara, just what I needed to hear today. Evacuated from my mountain town, and feeling adrift as we all struggle with the unknown in this Covid time, I needed to remember my own inner compass, my own true experiences..your kind words reminded me! Sending love!❤️