A P R I L 2 0 1 6
I once caught a very large fish. As it appeared from the depths of the sea off the west coast of Canada I saw it was longer than my arm, and I knew I couldn’t pull it into the kayak I was in — there wasn’t room in there for both of us. The sky was gray and close; the wind had picked up, blowing spray in my face; the rise and fall of the sea made my little boat unstable. I tied the line onto the kayak so the fish would stay close to the boat, its green body swimming next to me while I paddled to the shore of a small, uninhabited island. When I landed I pulled the fish up onto the pebbled beach. It thrashed and quivered, lay still, then thrashed again and again. I took my hunting knife from its sheath on my belt and plunged the blade just behind the fish’s head, severing its spine. At that moment I felt a surge of energy like an electric shock explode up my arm and into my body. Later that night my friends and I ate the fish, but in that moment, as the surge of energy entered my body, I felt I had absorbed its life force. It turned into me.
Yesterday I was making a soup. As I sliced the carrots I remembered that fish and its gift, and realized the carrots were doing the same thing. The carrots, like the fish in its sea, had led private lives in the dark earth somewhere, had been pulled out and now submitted themselves to my knife. There was no surge of electricity that I could feel as I chopped the carrots, but the gift was the same.
This world is constantly feeding us like that. Even this breath we are drawing in right now — the life-gift of plants — offers up its power to us, keeping the continuity of life happening. All of us are brimming with this accumulated life force given from countless sources — carrots and fish and air — plus vast gifts more intangible but no less vital, like the perseverance and ingenuity of our ancestors: hunter-gatherers, nomads, farmers, singers, builders, scientists, or the gifts of our mothers and fathers, and their mothers and fathers, and theirs, all the way back, the parents whose caring for their little ones ensured our coming into being. The life force we breathe and move with pours into us from all this like the current of a great luminous river.
We can feel this directly, and we can also feel how this luminous current doesn’t stop inside us — it keeps flowing. What we have taken in, gives. This is happening right now, it doesn’t stop. Whether we are aware of it or not, the light of aliveness pours forth from us just as it pours into us. The aliveness of our seeing, hearing, and touching, the aliveness of our warm hearts, all of it continues to illuminate the world around us just as we are illuminated by it.
Of course there are obstructions in this great current of aliveness. Meanness, abuse, selfishness, fear — none of us escape being wounded by these things, or wounding others. Our job is to learn to get out of the way, to let the luminous current flow through us and not obstruct it. This is not so easy, but we can do it.
One thing that helps is remembering to bow — to bow in acknowledgement and awe of this current of aliveness that creates and sustains our own aliveness. What a vast gift it is! The simple humbleness of our bow — not necessarily outwardly but inwardly — in recognition of the unimaginable offering of a universe that makes our existence in this moment possible… this is what helps us get out of the way. To be here, alive with this aliveness, and not to be in its way, is the best luck we could have.
Even in sickness or the decline that precedes our death, the current of life still flows in its full vitality, if we get out of its way. Then it is not so much a physical vitality as a luminous one. For within this current of livingness that we are made of is an unquenchable light. It is the invisible light of becoming — so close we can’t see it — that ignites the whole drama of fish and farmers, fathers and mothers. But now the metaphor of a “current” or a “river” comes to its limit, because this gift of aliveness is not limited by river banks — it is more like a shoreless ocean of light, or what Inayat Khan describes as “the all-pervading life in space.”
Light, life — these two words spiral around and into each other until we cannot distinguish the difference. Ultimately, and intimately, our livingness is light — we are made of light. And yet even that word — light — meets its limit, for this invisible light is not the opposite of darkness, nor is it located in one place and not in another. In the same way, “the all-pervading life in space” is not the opposite of death. Ultimately, and intimately, there is no death. The fish, the sea, the soup, the air, the ancestors, us — we are all radiances of this invisible and timeless light. Or as Jack Kerouac tells it: “We’ve been here forever, in one form or another.” Bowing down, we know what he means.