This week I had the most authentically spiritual community experience I’ve ever had… and on Zoom no less.
I’m going to try to explain it here, but I feel compelled to mention that words are clumsy, silly things that can’t even begin to express experiences such as these.
— — —
On Wednesday nights I attend a small zen group that rotates through certain themes each week. This week’s them was Gaia meditation — that is, meditation that centers us on the natural world and our place in it.
One of the things that we talk about in zen (and in lots of other traditions) is the ‘interconnectedness of all things’. It’s a truly spiritual concept that requires us to decenter ourselves and our story and see ourselves as we truly are — a small, unique part of the fabric of the ever-expanding universe. In this view of the universe, power is not ‘top down’ and distributed by a version of The Divine that mirrors the ego.
Instead, power doesn’t ‘belong’ to anyone. It moves, it flows. If we attempt to hold on to it for too long we either burn up quickly, or worse, become corrupted before we burn up.
And by ‘power’, I mean Love. The animating, universal creative force with no beginning or end.
This is pretty easy to understand on an intellectual level, but the ideal (at least in zen) is to actually experience it.
So on Wednesday night, our teacher asked us to reflect on a couple quotes about our connection to all other things and beings, and then we sat. It was nice. Afterward there was a short discussion and we talked about the importance of remembering our connected to the planet and understanding our consumption of goods that deplete our natural resources. A kind and ethical teaching.
Then we sat again in silence, and by this time it was almost 8pm. I was relaxed and comfortable, still and present. I felt safe and secure with the tiny group of people on my screen — we are regulars on Wednesday nights and I’ve grown to look forward to seeing their faces each week, and hearing their reflections.
Zen meditation encourages us to sit in reality, without actively attaching ourselves to thoughts or ideas. It is the simplest thing in the world, and also, the most challenging. I can usually achieve this state for only a couple moments at a time without judging thoughts barging back in.
During this second sitting period, however, I achieved a stillness of mind for several minutes.
And then something amazing happened.
I suddenly understood.
And by this, I don’t mean I thought about it. I just suddenly KNEW it. It wasn’t an idea. It just was true and I recognized it immediately on a physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual level.
— — —
Three weeks ago today I lost my job. My new job. The one I. started last June. The one I was deeply in love with.
If you know me with any degree of intimacy you know what this has done to me. You know how long I’ve been searching for an occupation that I could throw my full self into. That I’ve wanted nothing more in the whole world than to find a place that I could belong and build. That the deepest desire of my heart is to MATTER somewhere. To make a contribution. To do something important and useful.
The past few weeks I have been in a state of deep despair that I shall not describe here for fear of alarming the people that love me. But yes. Absolutely devastated.
My desire for belonging is complicated by familial and religious trauma, making it all the more difficult to understand where I fit in the world. I feel like that baby bird in the book “Are You My Mother?” running around the planet looking for “my people”.
But you know how, in those teenage RomComs, at the end when the boy or girl looks at their loyal friend and realizes they were actually the love of their life and it’s a big ‘AH HA!’ moment?
Well. It was kind of like that.
— — —
During the second meditation period on Wednesday night, I had a knowing. I hesitate to use the word ‘vision’ because I’m not trying to be all mystical here — but let’s be honest. This was legitimately a mystical experience.
Spontaneously, and without thinking, I saw billions of tall cone-like pillars topped with round lights covering the globe. And sprinkled throughout were a few extra tall pillars, that were glowing very bright and pulsing — and when they pulsed, everything around them glowed a little brighter.
And I knew I was one of them — one of the extra tall pillars. For whatever reason, I have been gifted with an extraordinarily large capacity for love. And this is my value in the world. And I am most valuable to the pillars of light around me. Off in the distance I see other extra tall beacons also pulsing and doing the same thing I do. None of us could light up everything — just a limited sphere around us. But all of us together were keeping the world bright.
And I realized that that I don’t generate power, but I do have capacity to receive it and pass it along in great quantities. And that is my goddamn JOB in this world. That is what I am supposed to do.
Because the shorter beacons of light are doing the hard work. They’re in the trenches fighting for justice, truth and goodness — and they need all the power they can get. If the only thing I accomplish in this world is to help the people around me keep fighting with the power of love? Then I will have fulfilled my entire purpose.
I’ve been told many times that I’m a naive fool for believing in the power of love. That my ability to see the best in people, regardless of what they’ve done — and to give generously of myself without asking for anything back is a liability. That my ability to sit with differences and not feel threatened by them, and my belief in the incomprehensible value of every person on this planet is hippie-dippy-bullshit.
I let this feedback define me and I felt silly for splashing around in. such idealistic stuff. But you know what? This isn’t idealistic. It’s the most real and true thing in the world, and it what I MUST be.
— — — -
But that’s not the end of my experience.
Following the second sitting, whilst in a state of awe at this revelation, I listened to the elder in our group — an 80-something woman — describe the joy of this feeling of interconnection that she’s cultivated over her lifetime of practice. She and our teacher exchanged their truths about this with such humility and brilliance it took my breath away. I soaked in the wisdom and joy of these two people who had been down the path before me, relishing the sheer generosity of spirit that was on display. It was simple. It was pure. It was beautiful.
It was true.
— — —
The next morning I had a call scheduled with a friend I’ve known online for years. She and I had never had an extended 1:1 conversation, and she’s 15 years older than I am — and a very wise woman to boot.
She spoke to me with kindness and love, and she told me without any solicitation (and before I had a chance to even get a word in) that I matter and that I help people online and offline with my honesty and ability to love. She said I make a difference in the world and that I’ve made a difference in her life.
It was the clearest confirmation of my experience there could be.
And then, I felt at peace.
I felt unafraid of death and dying.
I felt like I understood on a cellular level what I must do.
And I understood Maya Angelou’s words:
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great…”
I have paid the price with my self. I thought for a while it was too much. That I couldn’t afford it.
I didn’t realize how much I have, and that my self is actually the least valuable part of me.
— — — —
You may wonder why I feel compelled to share (or, as some call it, over-share) my experiences. You may wonder if I’ve lost my mind. You might think I’m dabbling in silliness and woo. I can assure you, this is exactly what I should be doing and that my experiences are real.
Finally, I want to say that I have been BLESSED by the community of people I’ve been able to cultivate over the years. And that includes YOU. I belong nowhere, and everywhere. I belong to you, and you belong to me.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.