The banana yellow 1960 Impala convertible drifted to a stop about ten feet from my front porch. The top was down and Hafiz was perched behind the steering wheel, motionless as a statue, wearing an over-sized floral shirt, an Oakland Raiders ballcap turned backwards, and a pair of mirrored sunglasses. Near as I could tell he was staring straight down the boulevard, waiting, as if I knew what the hell was going on and would take the cue. In the backseat, Sophie- a yellow lab I’d seen a few times- was eagerly shouting out the low down, giving me the sidelong glance a dog will give after shouting instructions, and doing a rather constrained version of pacing back and forth, which amounted to whole body waggling basically. She was clearly debating making an awkward disembarking of the Impala.
For a moment I just sat and watched, drinking in the scene. Hafiz was making a show of working a toothpick around in his mouth, his hands dangled over the top of the oversized steering wheel like hibernating bats, as if the whole world could go by for all he cared, and Sophie, having decided that the leap from the back of the car to the frost-heaved sidewalk down below was a push, lost her patience and erupted into a volley of communication. I hopped over the fender, and had almost landed in on the back bench by the time Hafiz had put the throttle on the floor, nearly yanking the engine out of its moorings.
“Nice white walls,” I said.
“The Beloved is a Jewel without shape or facets, that sparkles.”
Sophie seemed to be well-adjusted to days such as these. She had her nose in the wind, taking deep draughts of the cool morning air, and she scarcely rocked on her haunches as Hafiz pulled a sudden left full rudder and we swung off my street and into a shimmering desert hardpan. We were burrowing through the air with intent, and a cloud of dust was roiling in our wake, and Hafiz applied the throttle without relent, and Sophie was barking with joy, and the desert was opening up all around us, and I was a mute, rapt, delighted and grateful being.
* * * * *
Nearly twenty minutes later we came to a full and abrupt stop, decelerating with nearly the same urgency as we had accelerated just minutes before. The cloud of up-kicked sand that had been trailing us like a caravan of ephemeral mammoths still had momentum, and we were bathed for a moment in a soft mist of scintillating stardust.
When it cleared, Hafiz was seated in a director’s chair next to Jesus, who was also seated in a director’s chair, wearing some faded blue and white high school letterman jacket held together by patches, and who had his ballcap on forwards, shading his also-mirrored glasses. The two were leaning in towards one another, talking softly, joking with the camaraderie that comes naturally to beings who have journeyed through the deepest darkness of the world and returned, navigating the abyss by holiness alone. They were making flattering statements about each other’s ridiculous ensembles, probably for my benefit. They have a way of keeping you at ease before setting you down in a no holds barred confrontation with your self.
While they swapped stories, Sophie trotted over with an envelope in her mouth, fulfilling both an ancient genetic need and the demands of the moment. When a moment is the culmination of all history, it is filled with a simple delight. She dropped it at my feet and then twisted her head, looking up at me with that eager, demanding Labrador question written all over her face: “Well, can’t you see what I have done!?”
The letter was from Jesus. He said, “Last night you called to me again for help- a help I will give you always, yet it is a help you one day will no longer require, because it is a help that presumes I have something that you do not. Your vision of me has brought you far, but the Purpose of this journey will not be realized if you do not discover that what you imagine I have to give you, has been given you as well. We are the same. Today, you will discover what lies beyond your little thoughts of yourself.
“In A Course of Love, I gave you these words, ‘Your thoughts are the last bastion of your separated self, the fertile ground, still, of your individuality, your testimony that you believe you are still on your own, and that you still desire to be… It is that you think that differentiates you from me, not our content, which is one and the same. You might imagine that the way you think is so different from the way I think that they are incomparable. But thinking is not an accurate description of what I do, or of what occurs in unity. I am, and I extend what I am.’ (Dialogues, Chapter 11, pg 68-69)
“Today, it is time to make a discovery. Today, you will receive. You will receive the thoughts of our Father that, in unity, give rise to all things. These thoughts are not the product of your thinking, but gifts of the Father, freely given. They are discoveries that alight upon your mind. These are the thoughts you can only know in unity, and in so doing, make of this desert a verdant prairie. We are with you always.”
Sophie was still looking at me, expectantly. I patted her on the head and looked up to say something to Jesus, but they were gone. I looked down, and Sophie was gone. I will tell you this: when you suddenly find yourself alone, you will be incredibly tempted to start thinking.
* * * * *
I began to walk across the desert, wondering how to have thoughts without thinking, and in moments I was consciously trying not to think, which is profoundly painful. I tried to relinquish thought all together, and just walk, but soon my body began to grow tired and hot, and I was becoming desperate for shade, for someplace cool, for water.
It wasn’t long before I realized my thoughts were like the atmosphere in which all my self and world concepts breathed. I realized that I valued the role of my thoughts and my choices in nearly every success I’d ever had in my life, and that I had been plagued by my thoughts when things did not turn out so well. How long had I been trying to figure out the world? I laughed as I looked upon the insanity of this goal: to hold a comprehensive model of the world and of myself in my mind, to overlay a predictive mental map upon something as boundless as Reality. I reflected upon the fact that nearly all my thoughts related to goals that I had for my life- to strategies, to navigation, to discernment, to determining the mechanism of the world, to maintaining a conceptual validation of myself, to determining the correct behaviors to display, to identifying the most meaningful paths to take, to finding solutions to problems, to maximizing outcomes, and to the minimization of my personal suffering.
At some level, I was ashamed of the locus of my thoughts- the hub from which these many spokes have grown was plain to see. Even my benevolent thoughts- the ones that were focused on changing the world and improving the lives of all people- were predicated upon a concept I carried of myself, and of others, and were informed by a conceptual model of the world that lived in my thoughts.
My thoughts had been a box around everything.
* * * * *
Then I laughed. Here I was: just me and my thoughts about my thoughts. Wasn’t the whole point of this that it was my thoughts that had kept me alone for so long? I stopped walking and looked up to the sky. I flipped up my heart antenna and made the decision to wait for the arrival of something I would know, something wonderful and irrefutably from beyond my little concept of a self, yet not from beyond my Self- not beyond the unity that I am. I whispered to the sky: tag, you’re it!
I let myself dissolve into the expansiveness of that place, and I began to daydream. I thought about being a little child, and going to school for the first time, and how carefully I had tied the laces of my purple canvas shoes- not because it mattered in the context of my schemes of self-improvement, but simply because it was what I was doing. A five year old heart cannot help but fathom the connection between shoe-tying and eternity. I had an image of children seated here in the desert, laughing, playing duck-duck-goose. I didn’t ask how that circle of beautiful children could have ‘really’ appeared smack dab in the middle of a desert. It didn’t matter. Creation is the only context in which the joy of play is its own reason for being. I was flooded with a sensation of the lightness of being. This was the first thought that day that fell upon me like a dewdrop, or maybe the first one I recognized.
Almost at once I heard a strange squeaking sound- strange for the middle of the desert- and I turned around. I saw Mary about twenty yards away, pedaling away from me across the hardpan on an old Schwinn bicycle probably twice as heavy as she was. She reached into the basket over the front wheel, and flung a pouch of cold water in my general direction, backwards over her shoulder, never turning. Then she cranked a few times on a little bell that was strapped to the handle-bars. I waved. Without turning or speaking, she waved back.
The pouch of water bounced and skidded across the sand and I gratefully walked over to pick it up. Already, she was shrinking into the distance, her hair flying in the breeze. Water condensing out of the air onto the cold pouch was starting to dribble down into a tiny crack in the sand. It was a crack I would have never seen if I had not leaned down to pick up the water. I forgot the water entirely then, and became wholly consumed by a question that came to me about birds, seeds, and cracks in the desert. It was not a question I would normally have. It was a question given to me.
I then became intensely aware that the desert was equally consumed, through me, with this crack in the sand. It was as if the desert was looking with me, peering over my shoulder, seeking out my advice, saying, yeah, what about that spot!? Can we do something with that? What do you need? Heat? Light? You name it, friend.
Bypassing thought altogether, which would obviously have precluded bantering with the desert about undesirable scratches in the Earth’s crust, I wondered what it would take to-
Suddenly my eyes were no longer blinded by the sun, and the garish reflection coming off of the petrified dirt that I had been fighting in order to steal glimpses into this tiny crack in the ground was eclipsed by a curved shadow with a very fine point. I looked up and into the beautiful eye of a great blue heron, who, with a moderate flashing of her bill and a twitch of her head, tossed a seed onto the sand, which bounced and rolled around in a lazy arc before dropping into the crack. You cannot help but rejoice when the inner workings of Love are revealed to you.
* * * * *
After watching the heron bootstrap its way up into the skies with the undulating grace of a lullaby, I sat staring into that blue expanse with longing for nearly half an hour, willing the rains to come and water that tiny seed. And nothing came. You would not believe the meteorological thoughts I had. I tell you something- this not thinking business is an unscripted dance you do with the world. Your part is All of It, and precisely none of it. In some moments you are called to a rapt surrender, to witness the way that Love can suddenly bend light around corners, and in others you simply need to apply some common sense and the gifts you’ve already given.
I was nearly sick with longing, filling the cloudless sky with desperate hymns, before I looked down again and re-discovered the pouch of water Mary had tossed me, still sweating, sitting on the ground forgotten. When Timelessness insists on interrupting the music of physics with Its pregnant silences, you cannot depend on the sequence of events to unfold in a straight order, or to prompt you for what must come next. I split the water 50/50 with that seed in the ground, and that is when I heard the distinct rumble of the Impala barreling across the earthen tarmac at its terminal velocity.
They blew by on my port side- a yellow streak with two sets of mirrored sunglasses in the front seat and a boisterous Sophie in the back.