“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.