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

Is flung

To some people

Love is given

To others

Only heaven.

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.

11 thoughts on “Luck

  1. Yes, belief that those hints, those moments when something from within is speaking to me it is something from a higher place,from deep within, from the subconscious.I often don`t have the time to stop and listen to these hints that arise to stay open to them as they are clearly saying something that a part of me really needs to acknowledge.Yet so often I turn away. thank you..

    1. Thank you, Martha. Those moments can be so fleeting, so delicate. They are easy to skip past or otherwise dismiss. It’s good to know we have company.

  2. Your piece also brought back to me all the years I road the IRT from Brooklyn to Manhattan for school or work or play..and how so many moments on those long crowded (and sometimes quite empty) rides brought time to look, time to see, time to learn something about time and space and how I was a part of it. I have always been a watcher, and a questioner too, and I believe that those times awakened in me a bigger quest: to ask why? why there? why here? what is it all for? Questions never end.. Just discovering blogs..what an interesting extension of writing for just oneself..thank you for your words..

    1. Thank you, Martha. New York is a wonderful place to nurse big questions, on the train, on the street, in the flow of life…because big questions and truths are also in movement, aren’t they?

  3. I would like to share an experience that perhaps illustrates what it means to me to “stay open.” The experience also gave me some tiny inkling of what it might mean to “sink below the Ego I”.

    Some years ago, in May I was drowsing in what we call the “Riviera Spot” in my garden. It’s a corner where a brick wall and a fence reflect the early morning sun. The air might be as cool as 50F but the sun feels very warm on the skin. The last of the tulips were aglow in the early morning light; the first leaves of spring were vibrant green.

    As I drowsed intensely aware of the sun, the air, and the fresh colors around me it suddenly came into my head that millions, no! – billions, no! – trillions! – of chemical reactions had to be happening with immense precison in my body to sustain my consciousness in this moment of beauty. My mind boggled – and my awareness slipped outwards, as it were, into the garden – and it hit me that an unthinkably large number of chemical reactions were holding “just so” to create the small space of beauty that was my garden in that moment. Then, of course, my mind entirely crumbled at the thought that in fact every chemical reaction in the whole universe had to be holding “just so” to sustain my teensy-weensy puny little consciousness in that moment.

    When I recovered, it then occurred to me that maintaining that the universe is the result of billions of years of random hit-and-miss development towards ever greater complexity is a far far greater leap of faith than accepting that some form of immense mind is at work sustaining my speck of consciousness in the vast beauty in which we are so profoundly embedded.

    And for anyone who wonders – the only mind-altering drug involved in the experience was a cup or two of regular coffee.


  4. I travel 40 miles to work along some of Irelands most spectacular and desolate coastline and tend to get lost in my own thoughts as our transport trundles along. I was sitting gazing across at Slieve League and Benbulben, and some sheep grazing in the bog and became conscious of a pulse running through everything-the sea, the earth, the sheep, my fellow travellers, the air we were breathing, the sky. Fleeting but intense and I can’t look at those sheep in the same way again :-)
    I think we get little glimpses if we’re not wrapped up in ourselves and at a point of surrender/open to the moment. Fleeting but very beautfu.

    1. Hi Fiona, What a wonderful glimpse of reality–I can feel the life in it.

      My daughter is visiting the Irish countryside this coming weekend. Someday, I hope to, as well. Such beauty in what you share.

  5. Hi Tracey. I hope she enjoys her trip and gets to enjoy some of the unspoilt beauty. I live on the west coast near Céide Fields (a 5000 year old farm system found under the bog), Croagh Patrick, Benbulben and points in between and spend my weekends hill walking. I walk with a group called The Foxford Ramblers and we have lots of photos on the FB page of here abouts if anyone would like to browse them.

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