It took me a long time to realize that reading and dreaming about seeking truth–seemingly wasting time and escaping into fantasy and deluding myself that I had all kinds of powers and potential I don’t possess–has actually played a valuable role in my life and in my inner search. Here is an example from my teen years.
I was determined to make the room to be a psychedelic sanctuary, an exotic private sanctum that was open to the innermost secrets of cosmos–just completely separate and closed to the oppressive atmosphere of the rest of the house. I prevailed on my father to bold a three-foot black light to the ceiling. This plunged most of the room in darkness and cast certain things—anything white and the bold fluorescent “Day Glo” paint in my psychedelic posters–in an intense ultraviolet glow. Like the psychedelic movement that inspired me, I wanted to make what was usually invisible visible, to open new doors in perception.
I remember lying in that bed reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, imagining myself as young Siddhartha in ancient India, leaving home to become a wandering ascetic. I pictured myself in a vast forest, fasting and meditating, becoming one with the animals and the stars in the night sky. There was no doubt that I was searching in the dark, daydreaming instead of really seeking. But there was an intuition in the midst of all that imagination that glowed like my white sheets under black light. I knew instinctively there was enormous hidden potential in my own body and mind. I sensed the truth—the real truth–was not an equation or a verbal proposition to be thought. It was a reality that had to be perceived. I didn’t know how to go about it but I knew that I was meant to receive and transmit the truth, to live it.
The summer after I graduated from college, the black light and the posters were gone, but sadly so was that sense of self worth and possibility. In college, I imagined I would experience discovery and relief—that I would find a path or a way—and I didn’t. There were bright spots, interesting people and courses, but one night in a college library there came a reckoning. I really didn’t want to study the Tao Te Ching or the Upanishads or the New Testament—I wanted to find someone to teach me how to live them. I wanted to see and feel and live a new way more than I wanted knowledge.
I tried to hide my spiritual longing under a protective layer of decadence—although I couldn’t look all that dangerous because I looked about 12 years old. But my friends chided me for my hippie leanings. In the end, my advisor warned me away from graduate school, calling me a “seeker of truth.” I graduated sad and lost.
Today I realize that this open, wondering, wandering time, this time of feeling lost, was crucial. Very, very slowly, it allowed unused muscles in the heart and mind to develop. I learned to be with the unknown.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue,” writes Rilke. “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
It has become a cliché these days to talk about the numbing effect of our technology, the way the constant stream of information and entertainment we receive can leave us passive, vacant, sterile. I will never again bolt a black light to the ceiling of any bedroom I inhabit. But I vow to unplug from time to time, to sit and walk and be aware. I’m going on retreat tomorrow for a week. But I won’t be meditating all the time. I also vow to wander in the hills around the center, and dream.