My maternal grandfather spent his last days in a nursing home. It was a very nice place, comparatively. (Years ago I went to one run by the Social Services of the City of New York where you had to be buzzed in through a metal gate and on my way out a desperate old crone grabbed me around the leg and started pleading, “Get me out of here!”) Still, unless you have totally lost it, you know that when you do finally get to leave one of those types of establishments, it will be feet-first. And when I said good-bye to my grandfather, on what would turn out to be our final visit, I said, “Just take it one day at a time, Pop-Pop,” and his eyes suddenly lit up and with a wry smile he replied, “Yes, two days at a time in a place like this could kill you.” Then we had a good laugh; a nice way to end.
If there is such a thing as a last bastion of hope, it can often be found in institutions like these where I have also sometimes seen some old geezer, with a fierce look of determination on his face but no particular place to go, furiously lurching his walker down the hall. It’s inspiring but at the same time heartbreaking. (I’m sure that if you tried something like that in that New York City nursing home they’d make you watch as they smashed it to bits. Or better yet, would make you destroy it yourself, while they stood around and laughed.)
The Persistence of Hope
Even survivors of the death camps during the Nazi’s Holocaust, the closest thing to Dante’s “Abandon all hope all ye who enter here” Inferno that mankind has ever deliberately devised, report on the persistence of hope. I once read the recollections of a prisoner who said that the guards used to wrap their overstuffed sandwiches in pages of the Torah and as they ate their lunch in front of the starving inmates, tear them up and throw the fragments of parchment to the ground. But the Jews would sneak out of their confinements at night and collect and reassemble the pieces as best they could and by reading out what they could, kept their hope alive.
The great American poet Emily Dickinson had some truly insightful things to say—as she often does on a variety of subjects—about hope, especially its tenacious nature:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune—without the words,
And never stops at all, . . .
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest Sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
While we can only pretend to know another’s impetuses, can for the most part only project our own, I’ve always imagined the “nun of Amherst”—who had more or less abandoned the idea of ever being published (she pursued it only once or twice during her entire life and without success) along with its attendant enterprise, self-promotion (“how public like a frog”)—wondering why it was that she could not overcome the hope that she, or her work anyway, might be more widely known; that though she did not feed it “a crumb,” this hunger for some morsel of recognition lived on in her with such vigor. (Along with, I imagine, other longings as well: for love, for God’s Grace, even for the return of the bees.)
Out of this World
Emily seems to have had a very active inner life. In its advanced stage this is a mystical condition where one is in a constant state of contemplation to the degree that they are often very content to be by themselves, not only because they do not need anyone else, but even if they occasionally do, they know that others will misjudge and misunderstand them and they really can’t (or don’t want to have to) explain themselves (they could write immortal poetry, I suppose). There is an expression, “out of this world,” which describes this condition or “in the world but not of it,” which describes it more accurately. And it is the “in the world” part that seems to vex even those who are quite happy, even overjoyed, to be left alone. For it seems that as long as you live here on Earth you will hope for something more, yearn for some greater influence or even affluence. It’s in the atmosphere; you breathe it in.
Along these lines, we could even ask ourselves why God, assuming He is infinite, immortal, and eternal, would need a universe? Why would He, too, not be content with what He has but still need more? And by extension, why would a human being who was living in a state of perfect bliss, even one who was God-conscious, not be satisfied? And I believe it comes down to this: There is always another possibility not only for us but especially for the Infinite.
We could think of this in terms of our own lives—of the way we’re not satisfied with a modest, comfortable home or a functional car but still want a mansion and/or a Maserati, except that these are material needs and we are now wondering what would happen if we were free from all worldly wants. Would we still yearn for something more?
The Creator has now authored a nearly infinite number of galaxies, each of which has hundreds of millions of stars and planets and other celestial bodies (and presumably, trillions upon trillions of life-forms) scattered about. This is quite an accomplishment. Yet, He seems interested that His creation might also become conscious; not only self-aware but God-aware. Indeed, He seems to have this as a further, perhaps even ultimate aim.
God is Peace, Love, and Joy
Therefore, we might imagine that even if we had managed to transcend our present, limited consciousness, to have drilled down to our blissful essence and wanted for nothing, the universe might ask us to share our discoveries with the rest of humanity. That spreading the news that God is peace, love, and joy might be in keeping with the Creator’s own goals, making so-called self-promotion for someone who has attained this state, cosmically condoned; divinely hoped for.
In other words, Emily, if you have something good, uplifting and inspiring to tell the world, there is no reason to beat yourself up about it; no reason to consider it egotistical if you want to share something wonderful with the rest of us for it may not be your personal ambition that is urging you on, but divine unrest: God’s own hope within you.
Look for the next topic, INTUITION, next time! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs of Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.
Jeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).