Harry Potter mania is in full swing. In this house, too. I recently saw the movie with my 21-year-old daughter, who happens to be the same age as Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Harry Potter was her childhood. It was very poignant to see these now beloved and familiar characters and the one in the seat beside me now grown up. I cried.
From the time my daughter and Harry were both 10 years old, the great contemporary fantasy saga about the “boy who lived” were a refuge and inspiration. That a kid could seem to be ordinary–and not just ordinary but very lacking in the eyes of the unseeing and uncaring adults around him–yet turn out to have magical powers this was, well, magic for Alexandra and for millions of readers who suspected as much even in the midst of the rampantly materialistic and crazy world we live in.
It is good and natural in such a world to reach outward for a greater idea or unifying principle to guide us. Yet, seeing Harry Potter reminded me how important it is to open up fully to our own experience. Unclasping the grip of our identification with the thinking to really investigate the senses and the feelings and our awareness of the whole of our experience can give life a magical quality. Deeper ways of sensing and knowing can open up.
Times when we feel lost or times when we face great challenges can naturually loosen our grip on what we think we know. Other ways of sensing or intuiting or feeling can suddenly appear–and these little glimpses can feel like invitations to enter a broader and deeper ways of experiencing our lives. These moments of seeing or intuition are not as spectacular and irreversible as having an owl appear telling us that we’re meant to be at the Hogwarts School to receive a different kind of training. But they can still be indelible.
Let me tell you a wee little story. Many years ago when I was a young person living in Manhattan, I came to be completely disillusioned with my supposedly cool job chasing books to turn into movies and with the life I was living–chasing images of what it meant to be successful and cool. I suddenly felt desperate to find out what life–what was behind it. I would come home from work and lie on the couch and think about the cosmos and wonder what it was all about, just like a little kid. Suddenly, it was my priority in life, knowing for myself what the meaning of life was–what the purpose of my small life was–and I didn’t care what anybody thought about it. I stared reading books about Buddhism and Taoism and the Gurdjieff Work, and one night I had a very strange dream. There appeared a symbol that was unlike anything I was reading about or unlike anything I had ever seen. It looked a bit like the dharma wheel except that it looked Celtic or Nordic. The spokes looked like waves. I would draw if for you if I could (and maybe one of you will see it on a pottery shard in a museum). The message in the dream was that this symbol–and the understanding behind it–has always existed–and always appeared and disappeared. The message was to look for it–to learn to be sensitive and alert and search. The message was that there was a way of living that leads to understanding that pre-dates any known religion or school and that it somehow lives on in us. It welled up from the depths of my human being.
Someday I may find this wheel. In the meantime, I have learned this: A wheel with eight spokes is the symbol of the Noble Eightfold Path, which the Buddha described as the way leading to the cessation of suffering and to awakening. It is used to develop insight into the true nature of reality…. and to eradicate greed, hatred, and delusion. According to discourses found in both the Theravada and Chinese Buddhist canon, the Noble Eightfold Path was not invented but rediscovered by the Buddha during his search for liberation. The scriptures describe an ancient path which has been followed and practiced by all the previous Buddhas who have sought self-awakening and liberation. The path was taught by the Buddha to his disciples so that they, too, could follow it. Here (according to one account) is the Buddha:
In the same way I saw an ancient path, an ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times. And what is that ancient path, that ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times? Just this noble eightfold path: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration…I followed that path. Following it, I came to direct knowledge of aging & death, direct knowledge of the origination of aging & death, direct knowledge of the cessation of aging & death, direct knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of aging & death…Knowing that directly, I have revealed it to monks, nuns, male lay followers & female lay followers…
The spokes of the wheel, the steps of the pathhe speaks of have to do with living in an awakened wayin every aspect of our experience. In my experience, this wheel appears to us when we are open and ready. It is like a door that swings open and shows us a magical new world.