Note: BWIWD = Back When I Was Dying. For previous chapters, see posts December 9-12. I will post the entire series as an e-book when done.
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF MY DISCOVERY, Part 3
So, then the question arises: do we trust the universe? And if not, how do we learn if we can?
I had to ask myself that question, back in my early 30s, when I popped through our cultural bubble to find myself a stranger in a strange land, with little self-awareness and no real plan. Had to ask it once, and then again a few years later. Both times, it seemed as if my life was over. Both times, a creeping depression had settled in, taken me down and held me under.
Somehow, I intuitively knew that trust couldn’t be drilled in like the nuns drilled the catechism into me as a child. Back then my internal state was that of chronic dread: like Chicken Little, I was sure the Bomb would devour the sky.
Later, as a young adult weighed down by a vague generalized anxiety, at some point I began to wonder: is my chronic fear a rational response to reality or is it paranoid? I figured I might as well find out, since my only alternative was to die, slowly through depression, or more quickly, a suicide.
I knew intuitively that the only way for me to find out if I could trust the universe would be to take some kind of enormous risk that scared the hell out of me. In order to jump-start my life, I would have to deliberately immerse myself in a situation where I didn’t know if I could survive. I would have to leap blindfolded, into the void.
On the first occasion, I forced myself to punch through groggy exhaustion and rise from my basement bed — where I had been drowning in the foggy winter drizzle of Marin County, California. Steeled against depression’s inertia and moving like a robot, I dressed in warm clothes, hiked down the hill, and, in a moment of heart-stopping bravado, stuck my thumb out. Though scared shitless, I had determined to hitch north on Interstate 101 for the weekend with a dollar in my pocket and no sleeping bag.
Needless to say, the adventure jolted me into aliveness. By shifting into survival mode I tuned into the universe.
The second experiment also involved little access to money. And this time survival mode stretched into years. I had to learn if the trust I had uncovered that earlier weekend was just a fluke, a lucky accident, or if I could actually trust the universe for an extended period. I wanted to see if I could make a habit of trust and live inside that.
Again, I not only survived, but thrived. By staying in the moment and opening to the opportunities embedded in the here and now; by noticing and consciously working with all exchanges with the environment; by feeling my way along the trail of synchronicities like I would later follow the thread of white water down rapids of the Colorado, I surrendered to the flow of my life. Both times, I opened to the current of my own inner trajectory, on high alert, fully alive, and exhilarated.
I still work with fear. I view fear is an early warning device, a signal that something new is coming for which I must prepare. Preparation is internal: I move into awareness through the breath, focusing precisely there — here, now — allowing the rhythmic inhale/exhale to blend and expand into spaciousness, attune to the whole, surrender to reality.
What I have learned to call “unprocessed fear” — fear that is not consciously held in awareness but simply reacted to unconsciously — was, and of course is . . . not unusual. Indeed, now transmogrified into “the war on terror,” unprocessed fear has corroded our culture to the point where it infects the air we breathe. We can sense fear as a thick, dirty, ubiquitous fog that clouds perception, exhausts our adrenals and dulls our responsiveness to the point where only the most aware among us realize that they too — despite their will! — have absorbed the culture’s chronic state of high or subtle anxiety that runs on underneath all plans and projects and destroys trust in the self, in others, in the flow of life. And of those who are aware of their participation in the general anxiety, and who refuse to medicate themselves against it — a very select group — how many of these rare ones then rise to the challenge by consciously asking themselves, “Can the universe be trusted?’ And how many of these then devise an experiment to help them find out?
For me, the only way to learn if I could trust the universe was to jump blindfolded off what might have been a bottomless cliff. Was to actually invite into conscious awareness the classic nightmare that most of us undergo at least once in our lives — the one where we fall endlessly through space until sheer panic shocks us awake.
My discovery that the universe can be trusted transformed my experience of life. Rather than seeing/feeling myself as separate, I sense my connectedness. In learning to trust the universe I recognize my own nature and the nature of the universe as, at some deep and mysterious level, harmonized. They sing the same song and are made of one substance. I and the universe are one.
By jumping off the cliff, I shocked myself awake. I awakened to the present moment, and glimpsed into its stunning, unexpected gift: the all-encompassing Love at the heart of being.
From then on, I knew: if I had the courage to follow my nature, then Nature would support me.