Monday, August 29, 2011

Eruptions of the Divine: A Guest Post by Suzanne Akbari

I'm delighted to share this space with my friend and fellow traveller Suzanne Akbari--as I hope to share it in the future with other readers and seekers. Suzanne speaks eloquently of times when we think we're attuned to the presence of the Divine in our experience--and then suddenly find out that we've almost missed it, until it presses in on us whether we're ready or not: sometimes smacking us square in the face; sometimes coming at us obliquely, right at the periphery of where we're so intently focused on finding it.

We expect to find the divine in quiet places – serene places, houses of worship, peaceful gardens. But sometimes the divine erupts, with a kind of bright, abrupt violence, and it comes as a beautiful surprise. One afternoon last month, in Provincetown, I came to meet my daughter before her early evening sailing race. She asked me to meet her in the enclosed garden behind a shop on Commercial Street called WA. I knew that she and her friends used this garden all the time as a kind of teen rendezvous location, usually during the lunch break from their sailing club.

I followed the narrow passageway that runs along the left side of the building into the garden. I had never been in the garden before, but I had seen the store, which is full of tastefully arranged household accessories for the enlightened home decorator. Right behind the store is a tiled garden space surrounded by greenery on all sides, with a leafy wooded hillside at the back (the Bradford Street side is high there) and an assortment of tasteful waterfalls, wooden benches, and Buddha statues (all of these items with price tags). I got there a couple of minutes early and so I waited quietly in the empty garden. It’s a lovely space with the dripping water and the greenery, though the piped in New Age music was a little off-putting. I walked around, looking at the smooth smiling faces of the Buddha statues, and sat on a wooden bench at the side of the garden to wait.

So then comes trickling in a whole bunch of kids, about a dozen of them aged eight to fourteen, just gotten out from the sailing club, dressed in damp rags of various sorts, wet from swimming and sailing all day. They were all chatting and flirting and quarreling, eating and drinking, sitting on each others’ laps and chewing gum, as children that age do, and I started thinking, My god, this is so inappropriate, they're so disruptive, someone is going to come out of the store – and then I suddenly thought, ‘No, this is totally appropriate.’ Someone had brought a pizza and they were all eating and talking, all colorful and half dressed and entirely full of young life. I looked at them and thought, Wow, this is as Buddhist as the WA garden could ever possibly get.

I had seen the divine erupt before: I had seen it for the first time as a teenager practicing meditation by looking at a candle flame, and suddenly I saw waves and waves of red light. Even though I kept practicing meditation, I never saw it again. I had felt the sudden pressure of the divine once when floating in the water on an intensely sunny day, feeling the water outside and the water inside me, and no longer having any sense – just for a moment – of the boundaries of my body. But I had never seen so vividly and with such pulsing animation the energy of the divine. It’s good to make spaces for the divine, sacred enclosures or altars where we invite the divine to dwell. But sometimes the divine erupts upon you, in the most unexpected way; it takes your breath away.

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