Although I have had many glimpses of the divine throughout my years, I have only ever been completely overtaken once. I was 26 years old and my boyfriend had bought me a five day silent retreat at the Omega Institute with a spiritual teacher called Adyashanti.
There were a couple hundred of us there, some of them seemed to be in a painful state of seeking. Others seemed to be just enjoying the experience. At that time, I was feeling all right. I was not in a state of angst or torment.
There were five meditation sessions each day and Adyashanti would give two robust dharma talks each day. In these talks he would delve into topics around non-duality and awakening. He would describe his past in Zen Buddhism, and tell stories of the un-shrouding of spirit.… ultimately leading him to the realization that it was in the letting go of playing dress-up in various systems of spirituality and that God finally was revealed to have been there all along.
In these talks, of course, it was less about the actual content and more about the resonance of presence in the room. Because God isn’t an idea, it’s a presence… more like a vibration frequency.
Upon arriving at the retreat I decided to do everything exactly by the book. I showed up for every meditation session. I didn’t speak (although my roommate told me later on that I was talking a “blue streak” in my sleep). I also didn’t entertain myself in any way. I didn’t entertain my mind by perusing the crystals or leafing through books in the shop. I resisted the temptation to go down to the basketball courts and hula hoop with one of the two hula hoops that were laying on the ground there.
I just dealt with the silence without entertaining my senses. This was pretty uncomfortable for about three days. My mind was in ongoing revolt. It was leaping and clawing and scratching for attention – starving for food for thought. After about three days though, my mind collapsed in a heap and gave up. Then things got more peaceful.
During the entire time though, the main question that kept arising in my mind was, “is life magic?” Not magic in the Harry Potter kind of way. Just, is this life made up of gray file cabinets and right angles, of meaningless cause-and-effect, of just a surface and nothing much more?
Or is there something else unseen, beneath the surface, outside typical consciousness, that’s vaster and more extraordinary than any of us can fathom with the simple equipment of our human minds?
Whenever I had this thought – is life magic? – immediately a line from a Leonard Cohen song would follow it and answer. “Go back, go back to the world…”
I took this to mean that the answer would be given to me once I left the retreat and returned to my regular life. I also took this to mean something about how spirit doesn’t live more in our practice, such as on this retreat experience, but it is in the fabric of every day life.
My premonition about when the answer would come was correct.
The last day of the retreat was quite emotional for me for reasons I might explain in another post one day. But I’ll just say that by the time I had left the last lunch in the dining hall, and gotten into my mom’s Volvo to drive back to New York, my tears had finally dried and I felt exhausted, empty, and satisfied.
As I drove down one of the winding roads away from Omega I looked at my hand on the steering wheel… then I was suddenly aware of the steering wheel connected to the car… and aware of the car tires rolling over the surface of the earth, and then my awareness ballooned to include the entire world. It wasn’t so much that I could see everything on earth, but I could feel it all. And it felt like a symphony.
I was mind-blowingly aware that this whole life is one symphony. That one Symphony has been playing for eternity, and yet it is only playing Now. Because eternity is only the perpetually renewing present moment. I was aware that absolutely nothing existed outside the symphony.
I was also aware that there was no distinction in beauty between the different elements that make up the symphony. There were sweet flutes and lovely harps and also crashing, violent drums. The symphony did not exclude The violent, the painful, the intense and it did not favor the lovely, the sweet, the etherial.
In my naivety, before this moment I had thought that God (although I wasn’t comfortable with the word God at the time) would only make nice things. But once I perceive the symphony I realized that the awesome beauty of this life excludes nothing.
After this initial flash of insight, an overwhelming presence filled the car and my body. It felt like being on an acid trip, but one that was beyond sober – like the most sober acid trip ever. The car seemed to be driving itself, the trees that washed by were Technicolor green. My hand appeared to be the most extraordinarily crafted creature.
My personality, little Ariel, was at the far end of the tunnel squeaking “oh my God! This is it! Ask it questions, ask it all the big life questions!”
There were several other miraculous aspects of this day which I do not have time to get into right now. But I would like to note that couple years later when I read the Bhagavad-Gita for the first time I deeply recognized the chapter when Krishna reveals himself in his true form to Arjuna.
Krishna is not a sweet peaceful looking Godlike figure in his true form. He is Everything: The sun, the moon, life, death, peace and violence….. the vision of Krishna brings Arjuna to his knees. He is profoundly humbled by the realization of Krishna’s true form… By the realization that he is just a tiny instrument in this great One Life that contains All.
So anyway. I got my answer: YES. Life is mind-blowingly, radically, beautifully, incomprehensibly MAGIC. It is so much vaster, deeper, fuller, more multi-dimensional than this mind could ever wrap itself around. What wonder.