When I first encountered the idea of meditation it seemed interesting, maybe even important yet I got nowhere when I eventually tried it out. It bored me and my mind raced with ideas, memories, things to do, unfinished business when I was expecting some kind of esoteric experience. Once I even became quite frightened and thought, hey, is that it?, remembering maybe that scary line from my religious indoctrination, that no one can look upon the face of God and live. Understanding the practice, much later, as a means to becoming present, abiding in that deeply rooted state, as Tolle describes it, gave me a more concrete as-it-were, way of understanding what I found intuitively appealing. Joie de vivre is the real face of God, not the Biblical projection of fear.
My most profound experiences, given this understanding, can be explained as having entered into the state of presence. I once burst into tears before a Van Gogh, in the Toledo Museum of Art and just as unexpectedly broke down at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and as I witnessed and caught my daughter’s slippery, primeval womb exit. I stood on the chilly December shores of Lake Superior anticipating a sunrise, the intensity of my consciousness gradually increasing until the sun’s appearance was accompanied by a metaphoric crescendo of a thousand voice chorus in the sky; Staring out the window of a European train watching the world unfold; captivated by a passage of Chopin; delighted by a Beatle riff, a flourish of paint, a flattened tin can, a splatter of rain against the window, reading/writing words that seem to magically materialize and cohere and express something true, at the heart of reality, doing the same visually with line and color – all moments of awareness, of felt interconnection, interrupting a dysfunctional stream of mind-chatter that otherwise dominates and subdues the joy of being.
Riding in the front passenger seat of a car going through a major intersection at about 25 mph I saw another vehicle obviously failing to stop for the light, impact unavoidable. I jumped instinctively into the area separating the bucket seats (no seat belt on) and, in slow-motion, felt the impact, felt myself falling into the impact, felt a delicate slice in the back of my head, was very aware of the careening auto and of myself being thrown out onto the road, rolling to my feet and running like a rabbit to the roadside, knowing I was now on foot on a very busy thoroughfare and aware also in there somewhere that my father’s brother had been killed when the car he had been thrown from rolled over him.
I had had a dream early that morning that a nurse with a clipboard came up to me lying on a gurney, saying, “I’m sorry, but you’re gong to die.” This came back to me in a flash while I lay on a gurney in the emergency room hallway and saw a nurse come up with a clipboard, look down and ask…, well, she was retrieving standard admittance information but it gave me a start. As I lay there waiting I became increasingly anxious, perhaps slipping into shock. I found my consciousness suddenly located, not in my head as I normally thought of it but in my lower spine, sort of “looking up” and experiencing the arrival of sensory data, sound, temperature, words, light on a pre-interpretation, pre-naming level, as raw data. It was extremely strange, despite several previous psychedelic experiences, and extremely frightening. I felt that life was a delicate vulnerable thread in a torrent of churning jetsam.
What unites these experiences is that they occur in that gap in mindstream called presence, triggered by some intense or novel experience. They are also colored by the confusion and fear that a belief common to our culture engenders, the belief that we are separate and vulnerable, isolated individuals. When the contrary fact that we are interconnected is felt, not thought, the confusion and fear dissipate, replaced by a state characterized by a feeling of peace and joie de vivre with the depth of those feelings potentially fathomless and referenced throughout history in terms like mystical, cosmic, peak experience, godhead, expansive continuum, etc; That felt interconnection is awareness, of being. The feelers via which we experience go deep and wide. If we are absolutely interconnected then we feel the full reach of physical reality, the inseparable but simultaneous layers of past and future and most profoundly, the ground of being out of which the illusion of form flows. In this state we dwell en-joy and we are moved to acts of creativity in the dance of life.