You wake up from a fitful sleep. The dread of the dream you just had is forgotten. You look up at the ceiling, look up at the simple patterns the moon casts above you and on the walls.
You’re thirsty. You walk downstairs and turn on the small light fixture in the hallway. You look at it in a way you never have before. It’s not a large or particularly special light (or so you’ve always thought, or not thought – because you’ve never even noticed it before.) The light attracts you and you wait there, breathing.
Something has changed but you’re not sure what. You wonder if you’re feeling Ok, if you’re not coming down with something. Your head feels strange, not dizzy; just different. The way you’re processing what your senses are taking in isn’t normal. What you suddenly understand is that for the first time in many years, you’re feeling the sensation of being of alive.
You’re the type who goes to movies. You read books. You’re what some call a consumer, a connoisseur of life’s finer things. You ski every winter and you vacation in far off places; you do these things, not because you’re a hedonist, but to shock yourself into feeling, into believing, that everything you do and say isn’t just some rote thing. You want adventure, novelty. But none of it lasts, you think. Of the things you pay for and toil for to make you less bored, none ever work for more than a few hours, and so, up until this moment, in a small but very real way, you’ve been waiting to die. Not wanting to die, you don’t want to die, but waiting nonetheless.
What you have in your possession, (even though you feel you’re basically a happy person,) is never quite enough is it? You wake everyday hoping that today is the day you’ll win something or create something or stumble upon something that will be so significant that it’ll change everything. But the day comes and then it passes. You work and you eat, you make your phone calls and have your meetings. You see your spouse and your children and sometimes you feel a glimmer of something akin to love, but mostly you’re tired. And at night when you lie in bed (you don’t actually tell yourself this, but you don’t need to):
I am hoping that what I was looking for today, I will find tomorrow.
But tonight, all that’s changed hasn’t it? You’ve come for a drink of water, that’s all. You woke up and felt one of your most familiar sensations. Thirst. You’ve had this one for as long as you can recall. The machine of your body is telling you (whoever you are) that you need more fluids to stay alive. Whatever that is. Now, you don’t have to look far, or spend anything, or win anything. You’ve stopped believing in things that are not real, in some sense, you’ve become devoid of knowledge.
Not that you don’t know things; facts and names of people and places and makes of automobiles; (Boston, Joaquin, and Lincoln Continental) you haven’t forgotten those. What you no longer know, what you no longer believe, is that the miracle of your having been born is something to ignore, something without any real significance. At this moment, you have forgotten that standing in your bare feet in the middle of your darkened kitchen, is not a precious gift.
You are cognizant too, that you are, for example, able to see. You can scarcely process what this means, but you try. You say something like (and don’t worry, I understand, there are reasons why -seeing- the very act of seeing, is so difficult to articulate) “‘I,‘ the me inside me; the I that has a conception of being an individuated someone, is absorbing my physical surroundings by means of these moist, gelatinous balls that fit perfectly into sockets in the front of my skull.”
You look up at the fan above your kitchen table and watch it spin, you are thinking, ‘These “eyes” as they’re called, are somehow taking-in what’s external to me and making me feel connected to every aspect of this “outer world.” You find this a stunning revelation.
To no one in particular you say, “Why haven’t I noticed this before now?” Of course, it’s not as if you haven’t seen before, it’s just that your seeing things; your ability to see in general, was a great power, a miraculous faculty that went completely unnoticed because it happened too often. You got bored, inured, to the power of your own sight.
Now, though, seeing the fan above the kitchen table is the most lovely, the most astonishing experience you’ve ever had, and you haven’t gone anywhere in particular have you? You haven’t traveled to a distant mountain range or seen a spectacular sunrise. You’ve merely gotten out of bed for a drink of water and walked downstairs to your kitchen.
You move to the sink, lift the handle on the tap and water pours out, which in itself is beautiful as it flows from the faucet, beautiful enough to make you weep. Yes, you weep don’t you? You break down and cry just now, and then you muffle the sounds you make with your hands so no one hears and wakes up startled in the middle of the night, thinking that you’d had some terrible thing happen, some terrible thing that made you cry here all alone in the dark.
But you’re not sad are you? Your joy is beyond the ability of words to express and so you cry; it’s what happens when we stand at the very edge of our language. You are there now, standing on that edge. You are standing on the edge, crying, as water flows from your kitchen faucet. And now you cup your hands under the stream and bring the water to your lips, and you drink and the drinking makes you happy. You ascend in joy as you drink more.
When you now splash water on your face, you’re overwhelmed, as if you’d flown straight up though the ceiling into outer space. The water touching your skin seems at this moment, like the most profound experience you’ve ever had. And you wonder, ‘who is having this experience? Who is it that is experiencing all this?’ You don’t think, ‘it is ‘I,’ because now you know that that isn’t exactly right, somehow – is it?
There is a window, the one over the sink and you look outside. You see mostly darkness and the darkness calls you to move into it, to enter it somehow, and so you walk outside. The walking too, the ability to will yourself from here to there, is impossible too, you think. And as you pass quietly through the back door you are careful not to let the screen door slam, you don’t want to wake anyone asleep upstairs.
As you stand outside where the air is cooler then the air in the kitchen you say, ‘How can this be?’ And “saying” is impossible too, you think. When you look up into the sky you see the same stars you’ve seen since you were a child. But now, unlike every other time you’ve looked up at the sky and seen those same stars, (except those times when, as a child, you first saw them,) they make you shiver. ‘They are a thing,’ you think, ‘so wondrous that any attempt to describe them is destined to fail.’ Words are not strong enough for the telling of this you think. So you walk out onto the grass and say, as if in prayer:
‘I’ve been looking all my life for something to break the monotony, to heal me of my uncertainty, of my depression, of my nagging sense there is no purpose, no God, no design, no miracle, and no thing mystical or truly beautiful.”
And now you know, and knowing is without words; it is more like a dance or a song that alludes to, that hints at, that suggests, that points humbly towards, and therefore, strongly believes.
You believe in these: The cool grass on your toes and the soles of your feet, the sound of night birds: the swallow – the hawk, and the heavy, great horned owl. The trilling of the crickets as they vie for mates in the windless late-summer air. The smell of jasmine wafting from all sides now; dreamy and full, like the smoke of opium.The roar of jets, tiny in the reaches of the sky, as they move in from the ocean with their travelers, overhead and dreaming as they race home.
Perhaps they are dreaming of this thing we call: knowing. Perhaps as they dream they are knowing what you already know; that we are ourselves are in a dream, all of us, dreaming that we are in a dream.
Here, we are what we are, and what we’ve always been. Naked bodies imbued with immutable spirits, propelling ourselves here and there, communicating our most inner thoughts, making love and war and sex and money and spilling blood and bringing soup to the poor. And also praying. Praying to see the unseen face of God as it peers down in wonder at its own creation.
You see now, what you’ve never allowed yourself to know with any certainty – and may never have even suspected was there – that being alive on a perfectly round, blue planet suspended by no string, and spinning in the black void of space is enough.