The Dome of Time and Space

One of the most primary experiences of Earthly incarnation is that we are bound in time and space. But are we?

I recently reread the novel Siddhartha  by Herman Hesse, a novel that has intrigued me since I first discovered it long ago as a young student at the university.

Set in the time of the Buddha, it is the story of Siddhartha, a young Brahmin, and his search for enlightenment. After following many divergent paths, Siddhartha finally finds peace in his old age as a ferryman living by a river, listening to its voice.

In this reading, it was Siddhartha’s image of the river that stood out for me.Unknown He came to understand that the river was always now, its source, its passage through many landscapes, its return to the ocean, all one, all present at the same time. Then he realized that his life was like the river, always now from birth to death.

I have been thinking about this in relation to my own life. The concept bends my mind. As I age, memories long forgotten thrust forward unexpectedly from time to time, so real and clear they shake my sense of presence. Can it be that my long life is all now? The joys and griefs of my childhood, all the ways I’ve danced, all the spiritual paths I’ve followed, all the dance and yoga and Rolfing students I have taught, my marriages, my lovers, my children and grandchildren at all their ages and stages?

The not-yet-remembered unknown years that lie ahead? My death? All now? All present in this moment?

I can barely hold this realization for the length of a breath. But in that breath, I am free of time.

Then there is space.

Last week my husband and I spent the day in the high country.DSCN0309 We lingered long among the peaks, and, even as we descended, kept looking back to the snow-dappled mountains, the huge sky. We drove down through the canyon, ears popping with the change in altitude, and came into town. It always feels sudden, jarring, after a day in the mountains to emerge from the canyon onto the city streets of Boulder.

But this last time, I had the strange experience that all the streets and buildings were very small, tiny, like doll houses, like the streets and buildings of the elaborate model train layout my brother created when we were children. That it was only by some weird Alice-in-Wonderland trick that I could fit into them at all. That strange perception stayed with me all the way home, driving through the impossibly narrow streets between the teeny tiny buildings. It was as if the vastness of the high country had filled me and was the only true dimension.

stars on the dark

There is also the immensity of the starry sky.

If there is no time, if all the bliss and the anguish are now, how can there be suffering?

If the world we think is so important is actually rather insignificant in comparison with the dimensions of the cosmos, of even our own mountains, then perhaps we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously.

It is only a glimpse, a crack in the dome of three-dimensional reality, a whiff of possibility, hope. Yet in that glimpse is freedom.

Ecstasy

Years ago, one of my therapists asked me, “Are you addicted to ecstasy?” (Not the drug, the state of being.)

I was startled by the question, had never considered such a possibility. Later, taking a walk alone to integrate the session, I answered him. “Damn right, I’m addicted to ecstasy. Without it, life wouldn’t be worth living.”  The tell-tale conviction of the addict.

Since then I have thought a great deal about ecstasy. It is wise to understand one’s addictions.

I think most people seek ecstasy at some point in their lives, in some way. Or if they do not seek it, long for it.

The word literally means “to stand outside.” So the experience of ecstasy is one of moving beyond ourselves, breaking free of the walls of our ego, our duties, our fears, all the trivia of incarnate existence, and opening into another dimension.

Some seek ecstasy through speed—flying downhill on skis, racing on a bicycle, a skateboard, or in a car. Some seek danger—hanging on a cliff face, riding towering waves on a surfboard, any activity so life-threatening that there is no room for thought.

Others seek ecstasy in quieter ways—immersing themselves in nature, in the creation of an art form, in the arms of a beloved, in meditation.

I believe the essence of it is connection. We not only go beyond ourselves, but merge with something greater. The rock face, the wave, the art, the beauty of nature, the beloved, the Beloved. IMG_20120824_104227

Some say we should not seek ecstasy, but contentment. Let go the drama, live gently. They say the higher we fly, the harder we fall, the brighter the light, the deeper the shadow.

It is true. Clara (Never Again), muses on her life. “It had not been an easy life. It was like the wild mountains around her, ecstasy in the high places, despair in dark ravines at the bottom of sheer cliffs. Not often the wide, level path.”

Yet I would not want a life without ecstasy. I would let go the addiction. Addictions are never good; they warp life. I have been working for years to find more contentment, less drama.

But I also know that moments of ecstasy can be an invaluable resource, a renewal, a shift in perspective that can turn one’s life around.

At the beginning of her story (Leaves in Her Hair), Lyra was tormented by inner voices, struggling with an unhappy marriage, cut off from her art. Then she found her magic glade and Derwydd, the dryad of the oak tree. Her ecstatic times of dancing with Derwydd into the light strengthened her to return home and transform her life.

Back in 1972, I took a three month spiritual training called Arica. Toward the end of the training, we were asked to go to a place alone for three days and nights with a regime of practices to follow. One practice was to begin with an awareness of light at the center of the chest and then, breath by breath,  to expand it—to fill the body, the room, the building, the city, the planet, and on out into the universe.

That practice was a major turning point for me. When I reached the boundaries of the universe—never mind that such a thing is inconceivable—there was light, and light and beyond that Light. When I came back at last to the quiet room, my hands folded in my lap, the candle flickering, I knew I would never be the same again. Whatever ill might befall me in the years to come, I would always know the Light was there, within and around me.

So. I seek contentment, but also ecstasy. For me the paths are dancing, meditation, hiking in the high country, and . . .

You never know in what unexpected moment you will be surprised.