… we are enmeshed in a world of others. And yet, within our world, whilst always relating, in another way, we are still utterly alone. We see, we touch, we feel, but we cannot know the heart of another. We can only surmise. Our senses convey experiences, but they do not perfectly mirror what is there. Like narrow bridges, they connect us to the object world, but only allow limited perception of it across. They are, as we say, conditioned. Clouded by expectations and limited understanding.
Caroline Brazier, The Other Buddhism
These words of Caroline Brazier’s focus so much of what seems to be at the centre of what we know as ourselves. Knowing ourselves so alone, and fearing death terribly (“we simply slip away alone” – Brazier) we seek to burrow deeper into relating, into touching, feeling. Sex, Facebook, coffee mornings – it makes little difference.
When I was young some of us realised very clearly that “[o]ur senses convey experiences, but they do not perfectly mirror what is there.” Reading Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, Laing’s The Politics of Experience, Alan Watts’ The Joyous Cosmology, we tried to turn the bridges to the object world into a flood. But sometimes we too realised, in the midst, how alone we were. The name for this is “a bad trip”.
The odd thing is that when we stop, when we close the doors of our ravenous perceptions, when we sit still and stop trying to connect, something happens that has nothing to do with senses at all, and we realise that ultimately we are never alone. Then there comes to meet us in the silence that which we had never dreamed of. The name for this is sometimes cannot really be named.
About two years ago on an April morning I felt ill at ease and unhappy. Life was difficult and the burden of the war weighed upon me. I climbed the steep path at the entrance of one of our public parks and stood beneath some cherry trees that fringe the crest of the bank. A fresh wind blew dark clouds across the green-blue sky. The white blossom shone and glistened in the sunlight. As I stood relaxed and still, I had the illusion that I was enveloped in light. I had the feeling that the light and I were one. Time and space slipped from me. All awareness of details vanished. A sense of unity with the world entered into me. I was tranquillised and steadied by the beauty, the stability of Nature. I do not suppose that I learnt anything that was new to me during this experience. But I believe I was taught something and that something happened in me. I returned to my work tranquil, and strengthened in faith and hope by my experience.
Howard Collier, 1943, in Quaker Faith & Practice 26.08
Grace is the end of illusion, the realisation of a far more expansive and complete sense of being, the peace that quite literally passeth understanding. The word “grace” itself finds its derivation in the Old French for “kindness”… The word… has the connotation of a blessing, a quality of the sacred, and implies beauty, ease, and fluidity. Grace seems endlessly responsive to our longing for it… grace and gratitude have their origin in the same source. That source is Spirit, the Ground of Being. Grace is the experience of finally, gratefully, relaxing the contraction of fearful separation and opening to Spirit as our own radiant splendour: knowing it, feeling it, entering it, as it enters us.
Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Dying
We are not alone. We are part only of all that is, and our end is literally infinitely more than our beginning. If only we knew. It’s OK. Really it is. We only have to wait.