Like a lot of other people who have Facebook accounts I love Humans of New York. If you having living under a social media rock and have no idea what this page is then I will briefly explain. A guy named Brandon Stanton was in between jobs and so decided to act upon an idea that he had which was to take pictures of all of the interesting people he saw in his adopted hometown of New York. His idea has since morphed into a hugely popular Facebook page, books, philanthropy, and even an appearance on Ellen. It is basically his full-time job now and he is really good at it because instead of just take a picture of a subject he also engages with them which allows him to publish a personal statement with their pictures. He has a knack for publishing very evocative words and images which is why I think people love it. A recent picture was of a man who was once an alcoholic. He shares that before he entered recovery he was going to kill himself. Just as he was about to do the deed he had a deeply spiritual experience that saved and changed his life. I liked the post and also shared it on my own page because I too once had a similar experience.
If you are a card carrying, never-to-be-convinced materialistic atheist then look away now. I am not relaying this story because I am trying to change anyone’s minds; far from it. I actually got inspired to share this story at 0700 this morning when my Taxi driver husband, woke me up with a knock on our front door; he had forgotten his house keys. I let him in and immediately crawled back into bed with him and the baby. As I lay there perched on the edge of the bed with my back to him (because he had raced me to baby-cuddling pole position) letting the unusual, cooling morning breeze skim over me, I spontaneously started writing this post in my mind. I think I got half way done before I fell asleep. When I finally woke up, I remembered my inspiration and resolved to write it down, because there is one thing that stays with you after an experience like this: it is that when inspiration knocks you answer. You answer because you have seen what opening that door to it every time can result in. You answer because you know that you are doing it for an unknown but important reason. You answer because you have finally learnt that you are part of a mysterious whole the betterment of which we all must work towards. But what experience am I talking about? What could have imparted all of this into my psyche?
About 16 years ago I got into a real spot of bother. What that spot is, does not matter. What does matter is that any devices that I would normally use to get myself out of a tight one were not accessible to me and any creative thinking beyond those devices came up with nothing. There was no conceivable way out. There was no Get Out of Jail Free card lying around. I was fucked. The moment that I realised that I was royally screwed was the moment all of those clever ego based machinations fell away. I couldn’t physically remove myself out of the situation, nor could I talk or think my way out of it. I had no power, no recourse, no movement, finally I had only one thing left: faith. Faith in what? I have no idea really, but I have always been a believer in something beyond me. I am not going to describe it because for those who do believe in something, their something is the same something as mine although it wears a different name, mask, culture, history. So call it God, or Great Spirit or Shiva or Oooogoli Gooogoli, it doesn’t matter; it is something in which you believe, in which you have faith and there is only One.
So there I was, sitting in the dark, realising that the “I” that was Natalie could not get herself out of this situation – I had hit a wall. In retrospect, it seems that I had spent my life courting disaster. Trying to get myself into the deepest holes, so that I could claw my way out and crown myself the victor. The victor of what, I have no idea, but this time it was not I who would be the victor but something else. Stripped of all personal power, I started to cry. I also started to speak out loud. I remember, asking for help. I remember saying something like: Look Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Abraham, Moses, any and everyone who ever walked this earth trying to teach us about something greater than ourselves, I need help. I need your help now. As I spoke these words, I seemed to go on a spontaneous daydream, but a daydream that I wasn’t dreaming, it was like I was being directed to dream someone else’s dream. In the dream I saw a beach. On the beach was all of the holy men whose names I had spoken and then some. Hundreds of souls stretched out along the sand, standing and watching me. In the sky I saw the sun and the moon and in the middle of them a great big ball of, what I can only describe as energy. The energy ranged from a deep maroon to a light yellow with flashes of ocean blue sparking off its rolling, dancing, living waves. All of a sudden from the middle of the ball, a beam appeared. The beam was directed right at me and started to pour into my solar plexus filling me with something I can never understand but only know. I physically felt a heat rush from my chest out to my extremities and up into my head. The heat carried with it thought, emotion, consciousness, being. Of course many people who have a similar experience will say that they are enveloped in pure love, but I cannot even use such a lowly word to describe it. I guess I would just say that it was the most positive feeling I have ever had in my life, but even that doesn’t do it justice. I have tried in the past to fathom it but it is beyond extant words. I could say that it was love, but it wasn’t only love. I could say that it was peace, but it wasn’t only peace. I would say that it was ecstasy but it wasn’t only ecstasy. I finally have settled on this description: it was like I was part of something that was missing me and whatever that is had found me again. Ironic that I had always felt like I was missing something, but I had never once considered that perhaps something was missing me, even though I was also what was missing me. We were indivisible, I just never had experienced what I was a part of. I had always been apart.
The Southern Baptists are fond of saying that once they accept Jesus Christ into their hearts and devote their lives to him that “they have been saved” and I totally identify with them because after I had the experience that is what I kept on saying to myself: I had been saved. The only problem was that I wasn’t sure who saved who (or what saved what)? Did something save me, or did I save it? I feel like the total surrender of myself to something greater, which I had no proof or knowledge of but just blind faith in, allowed the real me (whoever or whatever that is) to finally see what was all around me and in seeing what was all around me, what was all around me saw me again and we were returned back to one another. I am going to stop right there, because I am going down the rabbit hole and many of you, including me, are now just scratching your heads. So let’s bring it back to Dolly Parton. Yes, Dolly Parton.
A few years ago I saw an interview with Dolly Parton, whom I love, and she described being ‘saved’ as a little girl. She was in an old abandoned church that she liked to go and play in when she saw a great light before her. Her childlike mind thought that it was an angel and the angel filled up the old church and Dolly herself. From that day she knew that everything would be alright and that she was loved by God. If you read about her life from that moment on, there are some great moments of serendipity, if you will. Moments where it seems like an invisible hand is at work in her life, pushing her to get her where she needed to be, not just for herself, but for the entire world. Because that is what it is about; about being part of something miraculous and mysterious.
After I had my own ‘saving’ experience, the situation in which I found myself simply unraveled like a loose ball of string. What I thought was bound into an inextricable knot was really nothing that couldn’t be undone. The trick is this: I couldn’t have undone it singularly. I needed to align myself with that indescribable power to sort it out much like Dolly Parton’s life story and like the recovering alcoholic featured in Humans of New York. Being ‘saved’ is only possible when you are down on your knees and realise that you alone are incomplete and not fully functioning. It is only then that the ultimate power comes to you. You haven’t been missing that power, all along that power has been missing you and together you can create miracles.
When you realise you and everything thing in this universe from your mother, to your boss, to your enemy, to your friend. From the computer I am typing this on to the sofa I am sitting on. From the fishes swimming in the sea to the stray dogs on dry land. All are one thing and that thing is a powerful energy, then you can rest in that energy, command that energy, love that energy, deny that energy, try that energy, but once you have experienced it, you want to start serving it, just as it has been serving you all along. If there is one thing that I took away from my experience it is that I am here for a reason and whatever that reason it will serve my fellow man because I am my fellow man. I am the murderer, the molester, the thief, the liar. I am the teacher, the surgeon, the minister, the Samaritan. And so are you.
There are so many clever ways I could end this post and trust me I have written and deleted dozens of sentences to that aim, but this topic just does not lend itself to words very well. The more I try to come up with some conclusion to what I have written here, the more I think that I have already said enough and then I think that I have only scratched the surface. Lao Tzu said that the Tao was the Mystery of Mysteries and I guess that is the problem here, I have no idea what I am really writing about but I know that it is the most relevant subject I have ever discussed. So I guess I will just let what I have already written mean whatever it means to you, the reader. If it nudges you a bit out of your primordial amnesia and causes you to ponder reality then that will be more than enough pay off for the inspiration that nudged me to write about my experience and the inspiration that allowed me to save it so many years ago…