Friday, April 28, 2017

blowing the mind

Whenever I hear of people who have died too young (the great Jonathan Demme, 73) it brings me back to my own mortality, to our mortality and the thing that we always, somehow, forget: that we are here on this planet for a finite time, and then we turn to dust. I'm sure we're programmed to believe that this isn't the case for if we believed, every day, that it could be our last, our behaviour would be wildly different. At a friend's birthday lunch on Sunday, in the wilds of the Cotswolds, I was speaking to a very jolly and fit man who had been in hospital for two months in a coma, with sepsis. He was sent from the local hospital to a London teaching hospital, and when he recovered -- and the recovery, he told me, was indeed miraculous -- many doctors from all over the country gathered at his bedside to marvel. Not the best at cocktail party small talk, I ventured "you must feel very different about your life now." "Don't waste a moment" he replied, and winked at me, because we both knew we were spouting cliches. But underneath, that is exactly what he meant, and exactly what I took from it.

What I should like to do before I die is to find way to move seamlessly from my earthly preoccupation with the minutiae: the anxiety, the domestic chores, money woes, petty squabbles, and rise up to a place where you see everything in perspective; that place where it suddenly becomes clear why you are here, what is important, and what you need to do. I reach this place of elevated conscience infrequently, but I'm here to say that sweating on the yoga mat, doing the cat/cow while listening to soothing mantras is one method. My lovely teacher and guru (though she would not want to be called that, for her it's about the practice) Tej, who runs Nine Treasures (Kundalini) Yoga in LA has one mission in life and that is to lift people up to be the leaders, to be the enlightened ones. "If you can't see God in everything, you can't see God at all" is a favorite saying of Yogi Bhajan.

Here is my currently favorite mantra. It is the mantra for clearing the subconscious, Gobinday Mukunday. Put it on in your house or car and just let it play:

Similarly, I find myself in tears whenever I step inside a church. Probably, in my case, this comes from nostalgia, from having spent a lot of time inside churches as a child. There is something very nice about a quiet, sacred space, where all one is required to do is to sit and think or pray. The Church of St Martin in the Fields yesterday was filled with middle-aged, middle class white women, the kind you only find in England, who were sipping coffees and doing brass rubbings. I wanted to take pictures of them but thought better of it. As I walked up the glass staircase from the crypt to the street, there they were, heads bowed, rubbing away with their crayons. Awfully, awfully sweet (and I say that without judgement).

Before Easter, on Good Friday, Charlie and I went to St. Albans Cathedral to look around. Neither of us are particularly formal about our faith, both of us brought up CofE, both of us nostalgic for it, both of us particularly fond of a nice bit of Evensong (who isn't? That beautiful choral music!) but neither of us that interested. But, oh my goodness! What an amazing experience to spend a few minutes inside one of the most beautiful cathedrals (and with the longest nave) in the country when the most beautiful liturgy, the saddest one in the Christian faith, is being sung. I found myself staring up at those beautiful ceilings with the tears running down my face.

And then there is the other cathedral. This one:

This is where you must go. This is where you discover the great release of the knowledge that you are merely the tiniest part of the whole, that you are just a fragment and there is an enormous, infinite, intricate, beautiful fabric that makes up the universe, of which you are an intrinsic, albeit miniscule part. I think that realization is the truly mind-blowing one.


LPC said...

You are one of the few people I know who feels this way - as I do. Not to make this about me, only to say that the surprise again at again at the moments of worship in life, it is the greatest thing. And I belong to no religion per se, but oh that moment of awe, joy and gratitude

at yoga, in the garden, and yes, in a church.

Katherine C. James said...

In my family we were raised as intellectual Catholics, and even when I was small I found the two things too in opposition to each other to make sense. I think I'm a spiritual rather than a religious person. Still, I miss the beauty of a sacred space, the singing—I was an alto soloist in the choir, and I loved the release of that—the smells, the Latin mass, the sense of a shared community, but I couldn't sustain it. I'm an agnostic, in the Carl Sagan style, and I'm comfortable there. I do stop into inviting open churches when I find one so I can sit and think in my own form of prayer, and I do find moments of transcendent grace in nature, and in yoga I began doing recently with a friend who is a yoga instructor. Recently I find tears running down my face in the middle of a series of yoga moves, and I'm surprised, but at the same time I'm relieved to feel years of tensions and grief leaving my body. You recommended the Gobinday Mukunday mantra on Facebook some time ago. I play it as you suggested, in the background when I'm working on something else and I love it. You said at the start of your post that when someone dies too young it makes you think of your own mortality and what you want to do to live well in your own life. Being at his bedside when my dad died at 89, and then when my mom died at 94 has put me in a place where I feel our closeness to death maybe a little too much. I may need more healthy denial. It hasn't been that long since my mom died, so what I'm feeling is probably normal. I would like to be less aware of our fragility. I remember moments of the awe, joy, and gratitude LPC mentions above, but I haven't had one of my own for a while and I do miss that in my life. I'm searching for it now.