A Tap on the Glass

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Reflections

For meditation this morning (for how else would you describe it) I read the last fifty pages of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Then I walked the mile to the town library and collected some new pages to consider.

On the way back I passed a yellow farmhouse—the tractor and the corn wagon were parked across the street in a field of pending silage—where I heard a knocking hand against glass. I looked up to see a child, little more than a baby, pressed against the window. Bleached blonde hair and fair skin, a square head, and curious eyes were set in the lower corner of the white trim frame on the second story of this butter-colored house.

I smiled. I had two hardbacks in my hand, wrapped in their glossy covers. Two authors I’ve not read before. A brimming excitement.

I kept walking, and the child tapped again. And again I looked up and smiled, turning back over my shoulder this time before I disappeared into the eaves of a tree.

The child tapped again.

Has there been a more exquisite moment? Ever?

I was thinking, after just completing To the Lighthouse, that atheism and a certain breed of mysticism—an ecstatic consciousness as one writer described it—do not appear to be mutually exclusive, at least in the hands of Virginia Woolf. One does not need to invoke any particular religious trappings to savor the ecstatic whorl of an oar dipped in the current, to extend a feeling of warmth across the waters to a drifting man, to contact the rush of loneliness that sneaks in and leaves us winded, that lingers in the corners of a room, of a mind, of a place—in the stitching of cloth, the hues and contours of flowers, the positions of empty chairs.

I loved the way thought dips and soars in this book. It settles on a branch, quivers along its body then plunges into the sky, in every direction at once—a shimmering, croaking cloud of wings—swoops, then alights again, coalescing upon a wire. Now a line. Now a thicket of longing and wonder. Now the two persons along the path, their futures uncertain, the sky tenuous and sparkling. The rush of water against the rocks down below.

What I love is that this imminence is the thing itself, in Woolf’s writing. At least for me it is. It is not reducible to explanation. The characters are all adrift in this brilliant tumble. As we are. And I think if we could just have this, if we could just let it be and not pick at it, and not insist that it is equivalent to this or that underlying progression of digital commutations of which the world is composed, we would be alright.

If the play of the sun on leaves and the warble of a bird’s knowing could just be what they are, we could discover the extravagant, all-encompassing solitude that occupies the middle—the space between a world reducible to atoms, or reducible to God, and illumination could find us. We could transcend the franchises that occupy and cordon our thought. Our knowing. For there is a sort of knowing that is all at once, isn’t there?

I think there must be something real in the tenor and tremble of our experience. An irreducible might—a silent, shining vision. Something that can reach through a child leaning against a knee-high pane of glass, and tap on the window as we stroll along, to say hello.

32 Comments

  1. A superb article, Michael, both in content and execution. Coincidentally, To the Lighthouse arrived in my letterbox yesterday morning and I aim to read it in the coming days. Mrs Dalloway has been my best read of 2017 by a country mile (English expression), and I’m really quite excited at the prospects of TTL. I’m right with you on this redundancy of looking to explanations, descriptions, theories, et al, as if they could ever offer even a remote equivalence to that which they point to. I see them more as having the capacity to settle the mind into a receptive state, and perhaps the trick then is to discard their content once in that state? How to do that, how to let things “just be what they are”, as you say? Even the act of discarding ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and so on, is itself a movement of mind still within a controlling (and hence fabricated) state. As a Buddhist abbot once said to me, “It’s a bastard, isn’t it?”

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    • These little gems from you, Hariod, “by a country mile” and “It’s a bastard, isn’t it?”, right there, make me spin and knock on windows and smile for a day or ten. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Hariod. I think you’ll enjoy TTL and I’m with you on the superb writing in Mrs Dalloway. That said, I’ve definitely had a good year in the reading department. I think I mentioned TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, which I’ll do so again just because I’d love to hear your impression one of these days. And one of the books I picked up yesterday, of which I’ve only just read the first chapter this morning, was Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje. But I’ll tell you, the first chapter was a stunner. It did that thing for me that great writing does: a sentence makes you look up from the page, sink into the world with some new realization, and then you dive back in, and the story itself makes you look up. And then the way a word is used–just that one word, there–and you’re off again. It has that quality to it.

      Yes, I agree with you it is all about leaving behind the fabricated state. Lucky for us the end and the means are the same here aren’t they? For as we let a thing be, as we become thingless, we discover naturally what remains. And if we find ourselves on the treadmill again, trying to name a thing just so we can know precisely what we’re throwing out, then we just accept that too, in a way. And sink again into the liminal state of passing scenes.

      It is a bastard, yes. But it’s knowable. It’s essentially human in a way. And maybe that’s why Mrs. Woolf’s writing is so evocative.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  2. footloosedon says

    Another beautifully written post, Michael. Your line ‘For there is a sort of knowing that is all at once, isn’t there?’ reminded me of the one time in my life when, during a group meditation, I found myself in that place where all was known and all was completely and unutterably alright. Then it was gone, but never forgotten: a beacon to what the truth of being is. Thanks for the reminder.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for sharing that, Don. It’s glorious when the essence of being ambushes us, isn’t it? As you say, we have that beacon–dare I say that lighthouse in the distance that costantly shows the way. What remains then is our acceptance of what has already happened. And we make a life out of this accepting I think. Until we are lost completely in the glory of it all.

      With Love
      Michael

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  3. so much wisdom in this post Michael, and welcome back too. What a delightful find, that child, as if he were meant to be there just for you and your awareness of simple things that need nothing other than to just be. Will meditate on this more but what a truly lovely read here for me, enjoying the ride that needs no name….endless highways of the mind of what is. OM. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes the child was a delightful surprise. The entire walk felt like a cosmic set-up, one of those moments when you’re being dared to wonder if you really believe things are only what they seem. Having the closing of To the Lighthouse in my mind didn’t hurt either. I think it put me in one of those beautifully receptive states, when the world inches just a little closer… and it’s perfectly comfortable.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

    • That little child tapping on the window of the yellow farmhouse is still with me.💛 Interesting what sticks in our minds … and keeps us awake to life happening around us.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Brad. The book has a lot of layers I think, and probably merits another read in a year or two. I think great art does that sometimes–it works on many levels, so that nothing is just one thing only, and I think we sense in that an echo of “real” life. That tap, tap, tap is reminding us that nothing is but one thing only.

      Blessings, my friend!
      Michael

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  4. You keep getting better and better, not to mention clearer and clearer ( from my perspective). Michael, i have not read Woolf, but come away appreciating the nuances and rhythms of her style, through your eyes and more importantly, your heart.

    Thank you for shining your light so we all may breathe easier and become a bit more in alignment with the flow of our daily existence.

    peace, Linda

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much, Linda. I’m glad I was able to communicate some sense of that flow, which is exactly what I felt in reading Virginia’s book, and which was amplified in my encounter with the world. It was interesting to read some reviews of Virginia Woolf’s writing and to see how different writers described her style and mystical offerings. I liked the way this one article described her writing as possessing an “ecstatic consciousness.” I thought that was perfect.

      Peace to you, too–
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is so wonderful, Michael. I like how this piece floats and swirls and tumbles, and peeks through windows in mystical manner and how it becomes almost inseparable what came from you, and what came from Virginia Woolf and what was born from the two merged together. And a keeper for me was this: “The characters are all adrift in this brilliant tumble. As we are. And I think if we could just have this, if we could just let it be and not pick at it, and not insist that it is equivalent to this or that underlying progression of digital commutations of which the world is composed, we would be alright.” Reading this made my day quite a bit more vivid.
    Thank you, and Blessings,
    Kristina

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Kristina. I love your response, too, and the idea of Woolf’s writing and my own writing blending, and now your own experience of it. I think that’s the beauty of art, really, to inspire us and to feed us somehow. We are nourished and we give new life to previous moments of inspiration, transforming them inside us.

      We are truly all related… 🙂
      With Gratitude
      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

  6. “…this imminence is the thing itself, in Woolf’s writing.”
    Yes.
    So exquisite.
    Woolf is a wonder whose depths continue to amaze and draw me, even after decades of reading, exploring, everything she wrote.
    Thank you Michael.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I’ve just begun to explore her writing. There’s a lot to savor there and I look forward to reading more. The words lead to such expansive places at times. Glad you enjoyed this post Miriam.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I looked up to see a child, little more than a baby, pressed against the window.

    ever beautiful Michael and i know that feeling these days 🙂 and they are wonderful…appreciate your writing and thoughts…smiles hedy 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    Such beautiful writing, Michael! I do love that feeling of being inspired, as Virginia, and the small child tapping the glass gave to you. I really like what Kristina said in the comments about you and V.W. being merged in this piece. It is always so interesting to see in each moment how certain things conspire to create the perfect miracle. You are an inspiration to me, Michael.
    Love,
    Mary

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much, Mary! It was really a perfect moment, after reading those pages and setting off through a misty sort of morning. I felt profoundly awake, and then the child tapping the glass as I passed by was just like this revelation. Really sweet. Grateful to have your presence here, Mary. That is also a miracle…

      With Love
      Michael

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