“Spirit in the World” suggests great deliberate efforts, but also what Virginia Woolf calls in her posthumous journal, Moments of Being. “Behind the cotton wool is hidden a patter; that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.”
Those moments of realizing that we are part of a greater whole—a great evolving, moving work of art—are among the greatest moments of awareness we can have. The mystery is why we don’t attain this state more often. Our usual state of distraction is an obstacle, so is fear, but even more durable is delusion. In the words of Madame de Salzmann: “There is reality and, at the same time, there is ‘me’—my ordinary ‘I’—which pursues an attitude that will let it preserve its continuity. It may be afraid for moments, but it is cunning and never truly shaken. So long as I have not seen this and suffered with it, nothing new will appear. I must accept this.”
There is no killing the ego, according to Madame de Salzmann, because it isn’t really alive. It is a kind of appliance, a generator wired in to the house to kick in and run things so there will be no lapse in basic comfort when our connection to the outer power source fails. (Living in the Northeast, staring out at a deep blanket of snow, I can’t help but make power analogies). The “me” that we usually call ego in this culture always wants to take over and run things, to perpetuate the illusion that it is continuous and continuously in control. All it is really is a collection of habits of thought and behavior—all built around the master assumption that “I” am the center of the universe, that my experience is above all mine.
But there are moments of being. In these moments, the attention is more collected, not dispersed outward like it usually is, chasing every thought and experience, endlessly spinning an “I.” Instead, it is turned inward towards the source of thought and experience, towards the simple, mysterious experience of being here: “A double movement takes place: a movement of awakening, of sensitivity, of vision and a movement of letting go, of receptivity, which needs to become deeper. These two movements complement each other.”
Awakening is an action of both mind and heart. The mind gathers the attention, becoming finer, quicker, in response to the deepest, buried wish in me, to be what I really am—while the heart opens to receive and accept what is, including the undeniable truth that I usually am not what I am—that the self-contained little thought generator of the ego is usually whirring away . This takes practice. We must repeat and repeat the small movement of coming home to ourselves. But moments of real being can also descend like grace in the midst of ordinary life, often in the midst of a great shock that temporarily stuns the ego with the amazing news that it is not in charge after all, that we are all part of a far greater whole.
In the next few days or weeks, I am going to unfold the tale of how such an experience came to me…..