Note: BWIWD = Back When I Was Dying. For previous chapters, see posts December 9-12. I will collect the entire series into an e-book when done.
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF MY DISCOVERY: PART 4
My particular discovery process might sound extreme, and yet it is not that unusual. In the business world, for example, though seldom talked about or even consciously recognized, trust-in-the-universe resides at the very foundation of the entreprenurial spirit that veils those who work for themselves from those who depend on a paycheck.
Trust is not logical, not an aspect of the rational self that we have been taught to construct and guard since birth. Our exit from the warmth and security of the womb bursts us into an alien world where, unless securely held by a nurturing presence long enough for us to find our feet without fear of falling, we lost trust in the grounded beingness of existence.
In order to live in a world where things appear to be separate, we had to learn how to separate from the mother in a way that invited independence while maintaining connection. Yet most of us remember our mothers as either too detached or too familiar. The push/pull of the changing mother/child bond set up a lifelong paradox: how to simultaneously embrace both a healthy sense of self and healthy relationships with others?
Depending on our reaction to our perception of how we were mothered, we tend to identify with one side or the other. Either we fixate into a remote detachment that is commitment phobic and terrified of intimacy; or, feeling needy, dependent, and terrified of abandonment, we obsess on the other, want to control him or her. Whichever side we gravitate towards, we attract others to us who represent the opposite pole in order to maintain the familiarity of the original push/pull.
However, unless we get stuck, we do naturally continue to evolve. At some point in our lives many of us take the next step, discovering that we have unconsciously switched places and ended up on the receiving end of what we had once given out! We begin to see the other as behaving like we once behaved and vice versa; and moreover, with chagrin and even shame and embarrassment, we begin to understand just how difficult and even impossible it was for the other to deal with us! By changing places, we get perspective on our original identification and thus recognize our own part in the situation; we begin to have compassion for what it feels like to be in the other person’s shoes; and, most crucially, we begin to recognize each other as partners in a powerful, invisible dynamic that, once recognized, transforms into a boring, repetitive drama.
In other words, once we switch polarities, the projection loosens its grip and paves the way for an awareness of the push/pull pattern in ourselves that has its origin in how we were originally nurtured — or not. Eventually, if we are diligent, we learn to take back a projection each time it occurs and to expand the range of our awareness by consciously holding the paradox of polarity in order to continuously refine the ever-shifting balance between independence and connectedness.
Ultimately, we find that as we continue to refine our capacity to work with both poles of any seeming contradiction, we deepen our appreciation of them both and realize their unity. They not only affect one another, they are aspects of one another on a continuum that includes the space that defines the distance between them. In other words, to become aware of both poles at once is to embrace the space between them as a unified field.
And yet, there’s a difficulty. We don’t know how to widen awareness without losing the pivot point that keeps us grounded. We’re taught to focus on one thing at a time, and move in linear fashion from one thing to another. So, to rear back and let our eyes go fuzzy, to lose the usual narrowed focus, feels weird. When we simultaneously and deliberately direct awareness in opposite directions — to both the very small and the very large; to both points and the spaces in which they are held — we start to feel spacey, dizzy, even nauseated. It takes practice and persistence to easily shift our focus from zoom to panoramic and back again.
Back then, before I struck out on my own, I had a dream, of Neitszche’s eye, like a camera lens, widening, narrowing, focusing in and out. I realized, upon awakening, that this dream metaphor was key to my mental and spiritual evolution.
As we learn how to embrace the space between any two seemingly opposite points and see them as a unified field, we make a startling discovery: space is not empty. Despite the push/pull dramas that result from our seemingly separate existences, at a deeper, invisible level our individual being is continuous with, and but an aspect of, the primordial ground of Being that rounds the world into one. Far from being empty, space is full, a plenum, liquified; there is no space left over from or within Being, nothing that separates anything or anyone from all that is.
Thus — and here, finally, I come to the point of this seemingly abstract, even spacey discussion — there is no way for us to fall, no reason not to trust.
And yet, unless we are fortunate enough to experience a safe maternal presence when young for long enough, we forget this fundamental grounding within the whole of being. And who does not forget? There is always some kind of glitch in the mothering process. Our mothers too, had to negotiate the tension between self-will and self-surrender. As did their mothers before them. This tension, as long as we occupy bodies which appear as separate, never goes away entirely. The continuing tug between self-sufficiency and self-surrender is one of the hallmarks of being human.
Like individuals, various cultures stress one side of the equation at the expense of the other. It’s a cliché to say that eastern cultures value harmonization and western society values striving. We westerners are taught from birth to stand on our own, do our own thing, compete, fight to win. Death, in the worldview that we have inherited, feels like losing. Doctors and patient’s families often feel they have failed when, despite their best efforts, the loved one dies.
And yet, and yet . . . amazingly enough, despite our entrenched cultural emphasis on ego, individualism and self-sufficiency, there comes a point in our short or long or even longer lives, when, unaccountably, most of us are blessed to enter what does appear as an entirely other atmosphere; a moment when, through no fault or virtue or decision of our own, we wake up into what we would, if we could but fall back far enough, remember: we awaken into what feels like the hushed, sustained presence of grace.
Just when we least expect it, toward the end of life if not before, grace tiptoes in and saves us. Unexplained, undeserved, and bearing divine benediction, grace bestows its miracle: many, if not most people, especially if they are fortunate enough to undergo a prolonged, but not too painful dying process, do move into oneness with being and die peacefully, in the arms of Love.
And grace often blesses family and friends as well. How many times have we heard someone say that they felt a shock of revelation when they viewed the body of their loved one and realized that it was empty. That the person who had inhabited the body was no longer there. That the body, far from being the person, was merely the container. And that this recognition gave them closure, peace.
For those who are fortunate, the death process itself feels like a benediction, with all participants surrendered as one in the hushed presence of grace. The atmosphere in the room changes, lightens, charges with mystery, numinosity, even majesty, as beings from both sides of the veil intermingle, hold vigil, joyfully witness and participate in the loved one’s climactic passage from this dimension into the next.