“Of all the pitfalls in our paths and the tremendous delays and wanderings off the track I want to say that they are not what they seem to be,” writes the artist Agnes Martin. “I want to say that all that seems like fantastic mistakes are not mistakes, all that seems like error is not error; and it all has to be done. That which seems like a false step is the next step.”
I walked back to my ex-boy friend’s apartment, shaking with sobs. I wasn’t harmed. Settled at the long dining room table in my ex-boyfriend’s book-lined loft, tears streaming down, I choked out the story, insisting that I wasn’t harmed. Never mind the weeping, I told him. I am fine, really, perfectly calm at center of the storm you see. My ex-boyfriend looked miserable. The crying went on and on. He pushed a twenty dollar bill across the table towards me, repaying me for the groceries. I brushed it away and he pushed it back. Just take it.
We aren’t in control in the way we think we are, I told him. Things happens, even terrible things, but they are not what they seem to be. And we aren’t alone. There is a light, a luminosity behind the appearances of this world. There is a luminous, loving intelligence above us, watching over us, caring for us. I knew how this sounded. Religious, mystical, unbelievable. Do you believe me, not about the mugging but about the light? He shook his head no, scowling softly, sorry for me. He just could not.
In the weeks and years that followed, I learned this is how it goes with personal revelation. I was an unreliable narrator, no more so than any other ordinary human, but still very limited, subject to dreams, to the wheels and levers of conditioning. But the experience never grew dim. I told it to people I trusted, or the dying. I told it to my father in his last days, and to another dear old friend near his end. I sure hope you’re right, he said.
What we really have to share with one another, I learned, isn’t any precious spiritual treasure but our common poverty, our inability to hold anything in reality, our crazy minds that can’t stop thinking, substituting thoughts and dreams and memories for reality, our vanity, our stubborn insistence on ourselves, our capacity at times to give all this up, to be still and not know. Over time, the experience became a crash course in our common human situation.
In a sense we are drifting through Hell’s Kitchen, lost in thought, and all the while there is a great force of love, a light of awareness, a great Presence above us, waiting to be received. The highest reaches of the Cosmos, the highest Heaven, Truth, is right here, right now, seeing us, forgiving us for not seeing, accepting us, waiting to deliver us from darkness, our littleness, our striving separateness. I learned that we are meant to be part of a greater whole. Along with these tricky little conditioned brains and sensory systems, I learned, we inherited other capacities, other possible postures and attitudes— giving up and receiving, surrendering.
11 thoughts on “After the Light”
We dwell within one another we do, this is the story of Good Friday and of Easter too, you have lived it once more. It is a divine and eternal dance, a perichoresis, an indwelling of the spirit.
Thank you, Ron. That is what I felt and continue to feel. I love that Greek word–it means in dwelling?
Indwelling is right, it is a marvelous Greek word used by the early church fathers and mothers, to describe the mystery of the Trinity. Perichoresis (peri-kor-es-is), refers to the indwelling of the Trinity, of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so intimately connected within their unity as one that there is an indwelling between them all. And that this indwelling is shared with us, in and through Christ as the Incarnate Word, the Logos, the Word Made Flesh.
I like to think of as a Christian version of InterBeing and interconnectedness from Buddhism. Sunyata – Dependent Arising; where we are intimately interconnected to everything else in life, with one another, with all of creation. The Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, calls this concept interbeing, in his book, The Heart of Understanding, where he teaches that “To be” is to inter-be, and that “we cannot be alone, exist alone without anything else.”
The point of surrender for me was hitting bottom and just admitting I was licked. I was sitting in a treatment centre looking at the 12 steps hanging on the wall, thinking “I’ll never get the 3rd one” and realising that I didn’t have to “get it” all I’d to do was try and at that a great feeling of peace emanated from the core of my being. A “White light” experience which seemed to go on for ever but which really only lasted a few minutes.
I’ve found to bring my will into line with that power there are numerous surrenders throughout the day. Not conscious a lot of the time but at the end of the day while reflecting back I become aware of them and likewise there are times when it all gets onscured in daily living.
This wonderful piece is, for me, a deeply touching reminder of an absolute truth which flows into us, through Grace. Thank you, Tracy, for this heartfelt memoir.
Thanks for sharing such insightful and profound words. I have copied some of your writings to my facebook page -giving full credit to you. Not sure how I found the Parabola website, but glad I did. I recently survived a stroke, at 51 years old. Your publications helped sustain me through this period of surrender. Many thanks. BTW: Feedback has been “Awesome”, “Profound”.
Thank John…and Lee…and Fiona, I just cleaned up all the typos and dropped words. Thank you for kindly overlooking them and for your generous comments.
Came across this earlier
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you feel and do about what happens to you.”
Taken from the foreword written by Harold Kushner, to Viktor Frankls’ book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.
Thanks, Fiona. This is the rock-bottom truth, isn’t it?
Thank you. Pushing the money back and forth was a wonderful touch in this frightening and redemptive story.
I have had so few personal revelatory experiences.
Once though, when I was walking in a small gorge out west, I looked up and around and everything above and below me, plants and sky, m and the grazing cattle—all seemed lit from within. I wanted a word for it and searched and searched. The word is Immanence.
My trip was lovely and I hope yours is too.
Thanks, Regina. Immanence–beautiful. I just returned from the U.K. I had a lovely trip, thanks.