Years ago, riding the IRT train from Brooklyn to Manhattan, rumbling from home to job and back again, exhausted, yearning, I stared up at eight lines by Langston Hughes. “Luck” was part of a New York Transit Authority’s program called Poetry in Motion. But I remember feeling as if it was a message just for me.
Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy
Sometimes a bone
To some people
Love is given
Hughes, who died in 1967, lived in New York for significant parts of his life, and “mightily did he use the streets,” another poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, once said of him. “He found its multiple heart, its tastes, smells, alarms, formulas, flowers, garbage and convulsions,” she said.
I believe that Langston Hughes found the deeper truth or dharma. Like any great poem, “Luck” includes many facets of truth, but one he captures is this: we pine for love. Yet all the while we pine and plot and feel cut off from the happiness that others have – there is heaven, waiting. When I first read “Luck” on the IRT, it seemed that heaven was a cold consolation prize compared to flesh and blood love. Years later, I am interested in how we can be given heaven and not find that wonderful.
People in all times and places tend to infuse heaven with the pursuits and qualities valued in their time and culture (i.e. as a happy hunting ground or full of Platonic contemplatives). In our time, I think heaven is that state we call Consciousness or Awareness or God or Mind that contrasts so dramatically with most of the thinking that happens in our grasping, self-centered little brains.
Lately, I’ve been dipping into contemporary literature on near death experience, preparing to write about my own. Here is one characterizing feature of modern heaven, as presented like this in the current bestseller Proof of Heaven: “This other, vastly grander universe isn’t ‘far away’ at all. In fact, it’s right here….It’s not far away physically, but simply exists on a different frequency. It’s right here, right now, but we’re unaware of it because we are for the most part closed to the frequencies on which it manifests.”
We are not just inextricably connected to a vast and mysterious Whole–that unknown vastness is in us. This is so because Consciousness is the basis of the all that exists, and consciousness is in us. We glimpse this at times, in the midst of great shocks or at other moments when our minds are open, moments when we stop pining and pining and thinking that the little that we know about ourselves is the whole of it.
I remember so vividly riding the IRT, looking up at “Luck” by Langston Hughes, feeling hopelessly trapped, held back, sealed me away from the life I wished to live, a life full of love. Yet some days, I would be surprised. Some days, sitting down to meditate or in nature or even just meeting the eyes of a friend—not the dreamed-of love, mind you, but an actual friend—I remembered that life is so much bigger and more wonderful than I usually think it is. There is so much more to it.
I never thought I would write a sentence like this, but here goes: The key to finding is belief. But belief is not what we ususally take it to be, not clinging to a set of propositions or images. It is the capacity to stay open, to believe that whatever we think life is, there is more.