I’ve read my share of mysticism, philosophy and religious history. These three bodies of knowledge, to the extent to which they agree, seem to converge on the same point, to describe the same Self. The Upanishads speak of Brahma, the Ineffable Self. The Christians describe the indwelling Christ, the Christological consciousness that resides within all of us. Each religious or metaphysical system has its own counterpart to describe the indescribable Being which, though One, lives Its life through many beings, and sings Its song of glory to Itself through numberless voices.
I’ve taken to praying to this Self – for lack of a more imaginative word – in a way described by some mystics. After reading, self-examination and meditation, I’ve come to conceive of this Self as living Its Life through me. It’s the only way I’ve been able to make sense of all the suffering and the observation that life seems so cheap. If Life is an indivisible Being living Itself through the multitudes, then it really doesn’t matter how many are slaughtered or how many suffer. To ‘slaughter’ and to ‘suffer’ just become more delusions of a tiny ego, limited in space and time, a little self that experiences life as a dark proposition in which it lives vulnerable and alone.
So when I pray, I try to abandon the limitations of my individual nature and to ask that this Self act and live Its Life through me – that It travel through my feet and roam where It wants; that It speaks through my parted lips to whom It shall; that it hears through the cups of my ears the words It longs to hear; that It sees the sights It wants to see through these eyes placed like facets in the mask of my face; smells the scents It desires through these nostrils; tastes the sweet or sour It hungers for though my tongue; and that It feels the soft of satin or the hardness of stone through my fingertips, through my body. All that I have is but a borrowing and I will surrender it, willingly or not, at the time of my passing. Any control I had is illusory. I really have nothing to lose by uttering this prayer since this isn’t my Kool-Aid stand after all. It belongs to God.
I hopped in my car on Memorial Day weekend and waited for inspiration. I asked the indwelling Christ how It wished to dispose of the time it gave Itself to Itself through me on this one afternoon. I asked It where It wanted to go through these feet, these wheels. But I didn’t get an answer. Inspiration usually comes to me more by accident than by intent, so I decided to just drive aimlessly. I headed up to Wisconsin after awhile, to some places I’d loved as a boy. I began my prayer, reciting it, meditating on its meaning.
“Dispose of me as You wish. Build me back up. Tear me back down. Dissolve me, reconstitute me as You will, as You Yourself are mountains eroded to dust, and are dust built back into mountains.” Whoa, hey! Heavy. I needed some water.
I stopped for solitude at a resort lake, but the weed whackers whining on lakeside lawns, the speed boats whining on the lake, and the barking dogs drove me on. I wound down some rustic roads, as the highway department marked them, that were becoming far flung subdivisions of the Nation of Chicago. Finally, I ended up driving the Ineffable Self sitting shotgun down to the Fox River, along my favorite stretch of road, County Highway JB. The riverbanks jacketed themselves in black soil that still planted firm under farms and not denuded housing tracts. This place remained as I remembered it as a boy.
As a boy, I’d always wanted to wander this stretch of the Fox and just be with the river, smooth as winter ice, but it was farmland and I felt certain I’d be chased at the point of a pepper gun and slathering hounds. I didn’t worry about things like that as much anymore.
Today, I followed a gallery of healthy maples between the east bank and the newly planted furrows of a cornfield that eventually gave way to a small pond east of the river. Red Admiral butterflies, with dark brown forewings and even darker tips and broad, sunny crossbands stretching across their wings like teacups, sunned themselves on a maple sapling. I found myself a spot where something had browsed down the sedges, where I stretched out an old sweatshirt I’d carried from the car. I leaned back against an old maple, shading my eyes with my baseball cap.
The sky wiped clean of clouds, like nothing had ever come before this moment. The sun warmed my arms, but a constant breeze kept mopping away the gnats as if the wind cleansed the present of a constantly accruing future. And the sway of the limbs of oaks across the river batted away the build-up of the past. Every moment kept to its now, and that seemed an advantageous thing, since I’d forgotten my watch in my car to keep track in case time did start running again. A cracked branch overheard moaned a sweet song. A shock of new leaves dangled from a low limb in front of my sleepy eyes. The wind whistled through the thick rushes down by the river. I heard a faint flutter – a Red Admiral kept landing on the brim of my Cubs hat to sun itself.
How many afternoons when I worked in the city had I craved this? Just like this. But now, that terminal restlessness tried to pry itself between me and this instant, to pull me along into the next moment, or drag me back into one that had already had its chance in the sun. The little self told me I wanted to be in a coffee shop clacking away on my computer, writing this! The ego wanted to pull me into the next moment, to prod me onto the next thing. It never wanted to here, now. No, the ego is the constructor of time.
Then it became clear that Brahma wanted to view this sky, feel this sun’s warmth, listen with these ears to those robins, feel that butterfly land on my hat, even hear that airplane overhead, those motorcycles roar by on Route 83, and listen to the heavy music of that freight train groaning on tracks to the east. That’s what It wanted, not to “dissolve me or reconstitute me,” but to listen to what is. Not to “build me back up or tear me back down.” It had the cliffs and dunes and piles of talus to do that to Itself with. All It wanted to do through me was to relax and have some fun.
And as far as what to do with my time? My watch had rested in my pocket the whole time, but I’d forgotten it in the car. Maybe this Self just wanted to experience timelessness along the part of Itself that flowed in front of me as a slow river. Perhaps the Self comes to us as much by accident as It does by intuition.
Brahma doesn’t whisper to me in crystal clear streams. It comes muddy like the Fox, disguising Its great will in the raiment of my own thoughts. When I spend time with the stretch of river that flows before me, I make myself available to my destiny.
© 2015 by Michael C. Just