‘Awakening,’ ‘conversion,’ ‘enlightenment’ — these are all words for seemingly esoteric phenomena that exist in the realm of saints and mystics, which few ordinary people, even modern contemplatives, even respected teachers, feel they have the right to claim to have truly experienced. For one thing, to do so would seem at best haughty and at worst completely nuts.
Yet, the fairly common experience of falling in love shares all the hallmarks of an enlightenment. It is an overwhelming, radical shift in perspective, which seems to come from the outside — unprovoked, undeserved, a grace, a gift. It happens rapidly, changing everything in its wake, challenging one’s deepest assumptions about the world and one’s place in it, most particularly the assumption that one is essentially alone, disconnected from others in a fundamental way, separated from God.
Every aspect of living is touched by it. The lover’s mental and physical processes are changed, and the shift is quite visible to everyone who interacts with the affected person.
When asked to describe what has happened — how, overnight, the lover seems to have departed her usual, mundane existence for one in which laughter and coincidences rain down upon her with such force that it is hard to see anything at all that does not appear to be drenched in beauty, and yet, at the same time, she has not truly left her old world at all, but is actually more fully immersed in it — all but the most sensitive among us are left at a loss, clinging at lyrics from love songs and sappy poetry and cliched adages that can only capture some tiny fraction of the sensation.
Just like the mystic, the lover will be asked such questions as: How did you know it was really God/love? How did you know this was the Real Thing, and not just a delusion? What makes this experience different from all the other, looney, short-lived obsessions you’ve had? Can you please tell me how you provoked this, what caused this thing to happen to you? What can I do to make it happen to me? How can I be happy? How will I spot it when it comes, will I hear it, the small voice whispering to me in the night, saying I’m the one you’ve been looking for?
And oh, oh, how the lover would like to say — is dying to say.
But she finds that she cannot.
This wisdom is not to be known intellectually. It is beyond rationality, beyond logic, beyond proof. It is to be seen, felt, experienced. It cannot be owned. It cannot be attained by grasping. It cannot be found by looking.
You do not need to worry, says the grandmother deep inside your chest: when it happens to you, and it will happen to you, you will know. You cannot fail to notice.
You will find yourself, my child, someday, looking into the eyes of someone who had only weeks ago, days ago, seconds ago, been a stranger, and seeing in those eyes your own future, as clear and recognizable as your reflection in a mirror.
You will ask this person, do you remember what it was like, weeks ago, days ago, seconds ago, before we had ever met? And this person, this other person, will reply, No, I don’t.
You will not remember either.
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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, reader, without whom I could not exist. My life depends critically on yours, and so I offer you this advice:
The next time you find yourself standing at the edge of an abyss — unable to see the bottom and yet sure you will lose everything you hold dearest in the fall, certain that you ought to be terrified and yet still, somehow, inexplicably, drawn forward — do not hesitate. Jump.