Life at the Center – September 2014

I never believed in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus or the stork bringing babies, even at the youngest age. On a different front, stories of an arc full of animals and of dead people coming back to life also seemed impossible and illogical to me.  My parents made no effort to encourage my belief in these things or to dissuade me in my demands for ‘truth’.

Facts and logic were paramount in my thought-processes. When my mom asked 3 or 4-year-old me one day what I was digging for so hard in my sandbox, I answered: “Dead Indians.”  Why did I think I would find such a thing in our backyard?  “Well, you said Indians used to live here, so they must have died here; if they died here, they must have been buried here, so I’m going to find ’em.”

As a young child I attended Sunday school at the Unitarian Church in Fresno, California, which my father and mother had helped to build. There I learned that people all over the world followed different religions, and that they were all part of my human family – even if they believed in things that made no sense to me. I was very curious about the Egyptians and why they would take so much care preparing for their after-death state. Why would they need all that stuff after they died?

In highschool, I couldn’t buy into the rah-rah hype of the popular kids’ Young Life bible study group, which denied much of the science that I loved, such as dinosaur bones dated over 100,000 years old. I longed to become part of my friends’ Jewish community, but the Chosen People doctrine prevented me from doing so. I WANTED to find something spiritual; I was simply unwilling to abandon my reasoning faculties to do so.

Finally, in college, Cliff passed on to me an unfinished essay called “The Religion of Solidarity” by the utopian novelist Edward Bellamy when he was about 23 years old.  Bellamy felt that he never in his lifetime exceeded the insights he captured in that early writing, and he asked for it to be read at his deathbed.

I remember my awe of recognition when I got to this uplifting bit of Bellamy’s poetic prose:

There are few of an introspective habit who are not haunted with a certain very definite sense of a second soul, an inner serene and passionless ego, which regards the experiences of the individual with a superior curiosity, as it were, a half pity. It is especially in moments of the deepest anguish or of the maddest gaiety, that is, in the intensest strain of the individuality, that we are conscious of the dual soul as of a presence serenely regarding from another plane of being the agitated personality….Often does it happen in scenes of revelry or woe that we are thus suddenly translated, looking down calmly upon our passion-wrung selves…At such times we say we have been out of ourselves; but in reality we have been into ourselves; we have only just realized the greater half of our being. We have momentarily lived in the infinite part of our being, a region ever open and waiting for us.   (read full text here)

Bellamy’s words at last struck a chord in me.  Yes, I DID have that sense of being an impartial witness of my own thoughts and emotions. There was a real me, ever-present, surveying my dreams while I slept and waiting for me whenever I woke up. It watched my thoughts and moods, and I knew it to perceive every instance of my waking and sleeping life.

About that same time in college, my brother one day carried me over his shoulder, with me literally kicking and screaming, into his pre-med anatomy dissection lab and plopped me in front of a dead body. Un-animated, it was utterly different from a live human body. It didn’t even really freak me out, as I had dreaded. It was like seeing a wax figure. What had animated this form not long ago when she was a living person, and where did that something go?

I thought of a candle, first lit with fire and then dark after the flame had gone out. The logic of science is that energy cannot be lost or gained; it can only be transformed. The spark that brought light to the candlewick cannot leave the universe; it is ready to be relit somewhere else. It made sense to me then that the light that had left the eyes and the laughter that had left the mouth of the human being at death was simply latent, ready to spring back to life.  I put that logic together with my recognition through Bellamy’s words of an inner, serene and infinite being.
This realization dawned on me: I am energy, not matter. I am a SELF that is not bound by this body, mind or world. And everyone else must be, too.

This event made a profound impact on my life view, without violating my standards of logic.

Yesterday, my mother-in-love Sue shared with me a Bellamy-type experience in the nursing home in California where she is living with and dying from bone cancer. She told me over the phone that she felt completely disoriented, as if the caregivers had moved her bed, leaving her clueless as to where she was.

When I asked her to hand the phone to a nurse, I was assured that Sue was in exactly the same room where I had visited her a couple weeks ago. Back on the phone herself, Sue further confided that she was so ashamed of herself for having yelled at her husband and at an aid a couple hours earlier, only to be told by the nurses that nobody was in the room with her, and that she couldn’t be making all that noise. It was utterly an uncharacteristic event and Sue was mortified. And now she spoke as the witness, reporting to me all these strange goings on in her head. Together, we determined that her new pain medication was the probable culprit and she decided to go for a day without taking it.

As I write, Sue is clear as a bell again today and remembers all of her confusion from yesterday. No matter what is going on with her disintegrating body or occasionally drug-entangled brain, that shining Self is present, and still reporting in. And when she stops reporting, and when there is no light in those dear eyes, I will trust that the flame has simply disappeared from view, and can never be really be lost. That makes scientific sense to me.


Resting in Stillness and moving in Joy with you,

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