I collect birds. Not live birds, but beautiful little birds of pottery and porcelain, glass and mirrors, bronze and silver, straw and paper mache. I keep most of them on a round, glass-topped table in my living room, graced by a window’s natural light by day and illuminated at night by the soft glow of a table lamp. I have a few more birds here and there throughout my home. My sweet and simple birds wouldn’t be found in the cabinets of serious collectors or gallery displays, but I treasure them. For me, their value is in their meaning.
Each one, both unique and universal, reminds me of an experience years ago that changed my life forever, a transformation that lifted me from the darkest night to sustaining light. I suffered terrible angst and despair during my teenage and young adult years—yes, I was one of those “at-risk” kids. I hid it, though, turning my pain inward and wrecking havoc on myself rather than acting-out and making trouble for others. In my parents’ and teachers’ eyes, I was a good girl, and a great student. Even so, I was unable to hold onto any confident thread of hope for a fulfilled life, desperately searching for answers to questions I couldn’t even clearly formulate.
One day, exhausted by my struggle, I just stopped trying. In the days that followed, I felt a profound sense of anticipation, akin to an intense feeling of foreboding but oddly without threat, until finally sensations and light overtook me and a vision of an exquisite, translucent white bird lifted me up from my dark night of the soul, took me on a journey up and out of my limited self, and led me to the mountaintop and an opening to all eternity.
You do not get enlightened by thinking positive thoughts. You do it by being willing to confront your own darkness and then, out of that comes the rebirth.
—Sam Keen, from an interview by Eileen Stryker following “Engaging the Other: The Power of Compassion” conference in Kalamazoo, MI, Oct 26-29, 2006 (transcript on samkeen.com)
I sensed the experience had been working its way through my veins, my muscles, my pores, my entire nervous system for weeks, for months, perhaps beyond my awareness for years, maybe even my lifetime, pushing to the surface and expanding my consciousness until finally, all at once, it exploded wide open–an explosion, yes, but one that was utterly silent and soft, as my entire sense of self and other, including everyone and everything, suddenly and simply dissolved into Oneness.
In the days that followed, I was filled with joy, which must have shown: little children ran up to me on the street, expectantly, giggling with delight; a young man from Thailand approached me, apologized for being forward, and said, “In my country, we say you have healing eyes”; and another who watched me move through his store, said, “You must be in love.” I was in love; I was in Love, eternal Love, and, oh, how I wanted to share it with everyone! Dark had become light. Black had become white. It wasn’t that all my problems had been solved, or that I no longer faced challenges, but that my difficulties had become framed differently, held more lightly. I suddenly understood that becoming free and living with less suffering wasn’t about rooting out the past or looking to the future, but rather it was all here, now, in how we live and experience the present moment. I realized that all my searching had been in vain because what I was looking for wasn’t out there, but everywhere. As such, I carried it within me. Everything, without end. I had been looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and hadn’t been able to see “the gold” because I had been standing in it all along. To see, to know, I had only to let go and allow what is. Being.
While the experience was only a glimpse—as is always so when such realization occurs for people, the altered state of heightened bliss doesn’t last—I knew I had experienced reality, the universe, the essence of not just who I am but who we all are. Because of the extraordinary, all-encompassing felt nature of the experience—words that barely begin to describe it—I have no doubts about its validity, none. At the same time, I know the experience isn’t really special and didn’t make me so, that it is actually fairly common; if not already known by everyone, it is available to all.
When you let go and allow yourself to fly, you’ll see that beyond even the darkest clouds, the wide, open, blue sky goes on forever . — Martta Karol
You may question my conclusions, and that is fine. I share the experience so that you and others may take from it what you will; I have no need to convince you of anything. Such things are always a personal matter, for you, me, each of us to decide. For me, the truth arose experientially, not from any intellectual constructs or beliefs (nor was it drug-induced; it was the early 70s, but I’d never even smoked a joint). As the years have gone on, if there have been moments when I have been challenged or have faltered, I have needed only to see my birds, perhaps touch one, caress another, to remember what is, the truth about Being, an understanding that wholly without words, has answered my questions and given me rest, peace.