July 23, 2009

There was a time when I was in a dance of at-onement with life I suppose, but compromise came early and deeply. Grace dogged me, however, and early on I had a powerful moment with a petal on the great green front lawn of the people who lived behind us. I was 4 or 5 and I can’t really make sense out of this whole experience (it is beyond me), but I was walking across the lawn when I sighted and stopped to pick up a fresh, light yellowish-green, orange, and white petal. I had never seen such a petal and looked all around to find the flower from which it came. But there were no flowers in sight. I did not look up to the branches of the giant tulip trees arching far above me for I was a little one, enveloped by the grass. Instead, I felt a shock of blessing. I seemed to feel that this petal was a rare gift from some invisible presence. I was deeply impressed and awed and felt so mysteriously loved! It was many years before I figured out that it was a gift from the grand trees overhead. Or was it?
Then at 12 1/2 years when I was in 7th grade, I was given another far more articulated experience. I was a dyslexic, subjectively muddled, socially odd, not very attractive little bird, given to despondency. It was Sep. 1953. I was studying science for the first time and we were sent home to memorize the scientific method. Our science teacher had earnestly taken pains to instill the importance of the scientific method to all mankind. He explained that before man had this rational tool, humans had resorted to superstition and myth-making to explain phenomena around them, but, with the scientific method, man could rid himself of the blindness of superstition and get at the truth of the universe. We now could study and understand reality. I was impressed and dutifully went home with my book, took it to my room and sat at my desk, working on memorizing all the steps. I became thirsty and walked downstairs to get a glass of water. As I descended, I somehow asked the question inside myself, “Is the scientific method the way to understand the truth of reality?” And as I turned the corner to walk through the dining room on my way to the kitchen I was stopped dead in my tracks. A deep sweet voice lovingly spoke to me. It said something like the following which was accompanied by visuals demonstrating and clarifying what was being communicated.

“Man has a particular makeup, is equipped with a particular set of senses to use: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, etc. And the nature of these senses and the mental processes which synthesize them, create the world man “sees’ as “a reality out there”and considers real and solid. So, actually, the observable reality of science is but a portrait of these sense and mental mechanisms, nothing more!”

It is hard to describe, but all this was shown me as well as told. I was rapt! amazed! for I could see that it was so. And then, still deep in contemplation, I asked within, “What is reality then?” And suddenly the dining room was swept away and I was shown an empty vastness beyond anything, anything that I could have possibly imagined. I was stunned, breathless, absolutely blown away. Then it all disappeared and I was back in the dining room. After a few minutes, I walked on to the kitchen where my mother was beginning to prepare supper and tried to explain my experience to her. She was a good mother, reliably kind, and she responded, “That’s nice, dear.” Though I struggled with what this all meant, my relationship to 7th grade science, and all of life, had gained a very different but very privately held perspective. As I grew up and in graduate school took a course in Hinduism I began to comprehend this experience more fully. But I believe that its teaching will be unfolding throughout the rest of my life.
Elizabeth Greenleaf