Life is too short to take on the unnecessary.
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
Three things happened recently, events that are woven together in my being as a braided matrix. I can share two of these trials, and the third must remain a secret, as is only lawful.
First: The Flat Tire
"What was that noise?" a passenger asked from the back seat. No one could identify the loud bang, until a few minutes later when an unmistakable flubbering sound began to emit from the right rear of the car. We had a flat tire.
The realization struck like an electric shock. A flat tire has a commensurate effect on one's state—going along with taken-for-granted buoyancy, then pop, instantaneous deflation, followed by a full stop.
At the time of the flat tire, I was on schedule for an appointment later in the evening, and had very little time to spare. I cursed, in German—"Scheisse!"—and then I realized the perfection of the event for staying collected. There was an inner pause, and an image arose, a picture of a Formula One pit crew springing into action.
I knew where everything was—spare tire, wrench, jack—and went to it, sensing my body as I efficiently moved to the task. A passenger held the flashlight to illuminate the work in the cool darkness of the evening. I placed the jack and began to lift the car. In ten minutes, the flat tire was replaced with the spare and and we were driving again; a perfect answer to an unexpected question.
I noticed an enlivening effect in myself, a focused concentration in these moments of apparently debilitating challenge. A flaat tire is not a thing that anyone would wish for, and yet I found myself enjoying the occasion presenting an immediate need and requiring an immediate response. It evoked a balanced inner state of poise in which every thought, feeling, and action were directed to a singular purpose.
Second: The Inner Life of Children
What is your inner life?
This is the question I posed to a group of 2nd graders. They were a bright, intelligent, and interested group of nine children, sitting before me in a circle on the floor of their classroom. Their drawings of saints from several traditions—the theme of their studies for the year—surrounded us on the walls, along with verses and poems, and crocheted and knitted handwork completed and in progress around the room.
I had been invited to teach the children meditation. Meditation—because they had been studying saints, and the practice was one that those who attained the category of sainthood had most in common.
"What is your inner life?" I asked them. And they began to raise their hands, as schoolchildren are trained to do, with answers at the ready:
"It's love; It's my thoughts; It's when I really want a cookie; It's when I am looking at my mom, and she's looking at me, it's like we have a secret , but neither one of us needs to say what it is..." were some of the things they said.
I loved these answers, which said they saw their thoughts and emotions as inner events, and they were all true, and I also saw I way to invite them into another kind of perception.
"Take a look at your hand—the one you've been raising when you have an answer," I suggested. "Do you see you hand?"
"Yes," they answered.
"Now, can you sense your hand from the inside, at the same time as you're looking at it?"
There were a few moments of silence, and soon some exclaimed, "Yes!" as it dawned on them that they could both see their hands and sense them at the same time. For others, the experience was less available.
"Try this," I suggested, "look really hard at your hand, focus on it... now look at and sense just your thumb... now your pointer finger... now your middle finger" and so on, until they put their attention on each finger, and then the front and back of the palm.
"Now can you sense your hand?" I asked them, having completed this brief exercise with attention and awareness.
"Yes!" they all shouted, without raising their hands.
A final question remained. "If you can see your hand, and you can sense you hand, who is the one that is seeing and sensing?"
We left the conversation there to attempt to meditate.
Like a shoreline between the land and sea, the boundary between inner and outer experience came into focus. The inquiry invoked a larger question: Can we live in two worlds at once, or even three?
Third: The Train Doesn't Stop at This Station
All I can say about this is to quote the teacher J.G. Bennett—"The voice of the reconciling force is silence; the action of the reconciling force is silence."