I was in Washington, D.C. this past weekend with my wife and her eight year old grandson, and we went to an IMAX film to see the story of Fred and Norah Urquhart, who spent much of their lives in a quest to understand the migratory path of monarch butterflies. After several weeks of an extremely busy schedule at work and an annoying skin infection that has been insistent on delivering its message– a time in which even meditation has felt like squinting at my heart through wax paper, or running up an incline against the jet stream– the beauty and audacity of these little creatures (and the people who tracked their movements over decades) brought me to tears.
Sometimes you hang on for the ride, and take deep draughts of meaning when you can. You hunt and hunt, and then somehow synchronize with it in a quiet moment. Then you’re back in the crowds, clinging to that scrap of grace, drowned in snippets of conversation and cell phone photography. Battery-draining flashes peppering a stuffed bison.
Down the hall from the IMAX is an exhibit about early humans and our five million years of evolutionary history. My tears came from recognizing that butterflies have no reason to question their validity, no conscious bandwidth in which doubt about the necessity of flying south might reside, and when I look at the artist’s renditions of our ancestors I cannot help but think there were stages in our collective unfolding in which we were not really “thinkers” like we are today. There was once no room in awareness for the types of questions that can fester today. I pictured beings that felt and loved and responded to circumstance, but perhaps without the depth of reflective awareness that we Homo sapiens possess. And there I was… thinking… moderately uneasy about who knows what, a two-legged seed pod of the modern conundrum.
We stand on the threshold of perhaps the greatest leap in evolution I am capable of fathoming: the movement into form of the type of awareness that can both embody meaning, and be aware of it at the same time. I conclude we are caretakers of meaning. We carry it inside of us, knowing it not at times. At the moment of its arrival, this is a stunning consideration. I think this even as I carry my wax paper heart around with me wherever I go, attempting various resuscitative practices, returning frequently to the patient knowing from experience that these phases pass, usually concluding in revelation.
Back home, I sit to meditate and talk to this little skin dilemma, thinking about Amanda’s recent post on the wisdom of the body, thinking about five million years of eyes looking out into this realm, of one vision cascading into the next. In the Dialogues of A Course of Love Jesus speaks about the movement from maintenance of Christ consciousness to its sustenance, a movement described as traversing the tiny remaining gap from image to presence. We get a taste of the depths available to us, and then we skate through these periods of service interruption as we cross the boundary into full awareness, navigating times when we still occupy old habits and images. It’s nothing we “did”, nothing we are “doing” or “not doing”, just an encounter with boundaries we once erected that no longer need be.
I take a breath and a whisper arrives from beyond the thread of thought I’m observing, something about shedding skins. At once, the wax paper is gone, and I’m whole. The spell is broken, and it happens in a flash. A skin annoyance… a shedding skin… a realization there is an image to relinquish, a trying I have wandered into, a wax paper coating on my vision I have approached and witnessed. I have slid into the thinking-trying mindset, and been nudged into awareness of it. These moments can turn weeks of uncertainty into the recognition that a gentle force was guiding us all along through image to presence. Five million years and counting, one subtle shift in awareness cascading into the next, the shedding of skins and concepts until meaning is all we have left– this is the migratory path of the human being.