This past week I was shaken by an acute pain in my heart-soul-being. Like a fever in the body, it began as a dull ache, but ramped up into a full blown grippe. It was an inner aching that shook me to the core. If you have felt this, you will know the attending symptoms- the way a ghostly pallor slides over the world like a sticky film, the way we withdraw ourselves into a throbbing locus of pain that seems to be who we are, the way we despair of ever crossing that boundary and venturing into the world that is whole and has no need for us, and the way that loved ones and friends become distant, like apparitions drifting past in another plane that we can see but not hear. I thought of the unreality of it all, tried feebly to bat it away, but the experience was intense and visceral and overwhelming.
Sometimes unlearning burns hotly. Ancient miasms put us on and wear us around like packs, like talismen. They dance to strange music with us strapped on their backs. It is an uncomfortable party. We are seemingly unable to break free, and are carried along for the ride, bouncing on the bony backs of ogres. Then, they are gone. We feel weary and used. The aftermath is a question about whether or not they may come back, pick us up again, and toss us around like a rag doll once more. The answer is obvious. What is different now? It seems inevitable that they will return…
This is how it feels to imagine that the power to hurt another person is real.
This is how it feels to imagine that there is actually a gap between ourselves and Love, and that the gap is there for a reason living inside of us we can’t wash clean.
This is how it feels to imagine we are guilty.
To truly be guilty (if we could ever be such)… is to be incurable. We cannot fix that particular nightmare alone. Because if we truly were alone, we truly would be guilty. Isolation is, somehow, a choice we have made. Sitting in the emotional debris field, perceiving the world in fragments, we try to scrub that ever-elusive incurability from the very material of our being, but if we don’t undo the choice to be separate, its of no use. Its like a stain that won’t come free. We polish to the bone in the effort to scrub ourselves clean, so we will be presentable, so we can go to Love and show how worthy we are of gaining entrance, and then, finally, fix the problem.
We polish all day, and never quite get there, and then the sun falls, and the ogres come down from the hills, and put us on their backs, and toss us around in the dusty night, and we are given a fresh coat of unreality.
To give up on all that polishing feels like a concession, a retreat from the work that must be done. To stop seeking for cover seems a willful demise. But to collapse without giving up, to wonder if there might be something we’re missing, is to see the caterpillar crawling across the sand. (That caterpillar is out of place.) (How could it survive here?) (It cannot exist in this feverish place.)
It is a living Message, and, for a moment, we are not alone.
This is the way grace descends, like a peaceful presence that is placed over us, offering shelter.
We put our finger down, and the caterpillar crawls up from the sand, along the ridge of our knuckle, its segments undulating gently. We had forgotten about the existence of color. We had forgotten about the feeling of simply living, of being a movement whose purpose and existence are the same, of moving the way that caterpillar does, finding treasure in the desert without strain or effort. For just a moment, we remember Something even older than our guilt. We put the caterpillar in our vest pocket and begin to scrub again, fueled by some hope… Scrubbing is all we know how to do yet…
Hours, or days, or years later we are scrubbing urgently, again convinced of our inequity, the sun’s rays fading behind the horizon, when a butterfly leaps from our chest and skitters through the air. Wordlessly, we follow it. Its wings glow softly as night falls, until we are following a pair of flitting sparks through impenetrable darkness. The way is well-lit, but no ogres find us… The butterfly leads us steadily over the sand, up and over a hill, and down the other side into a lush valley. Our shadow passes across a field of stars as we drop into the cool grass.
You might think we weep at that point, to realize the valley has always been just over the rise this whole time, for longer than we can remember. You might think we search for a stream in which we can wash off the grime, but we do not, for we look down and find the grime has already gone, as if it never ever was. Because we need only walk behind a butterfly through the night to be washed clean.
Here is one more thought I have to share: Love will find every one of us, and guide us Home.