When I was a young and impossibly naive girl of about five, I first became aware that I was me.
This universal and spiritual realization first occurred when I was sitting underneath a fertile and billowing willow tree in my mother’s sprawling and minted garden.
Now, if one is to have such a revelation, a garden is the best place to experience it, as its sheer tranquility helped me appreciate the epiphany that was my true and authentic spiritual self; a self that is still learning and growing today, just like my mother’s garden.
Ever since I can remember, she taught me about the power of still serenity, as I watched her tend to her passion for both the visual and fragrant delights of the earth, while she graced me with “her love of now” and the present.
As a Buddhist, she grew up tending to the farmlands in Hawaii with her siblings. From the time she was three, she learned “just what the best rhythm was” for picking the most coffee beans before dawn each day. These quiet moments of childhood grounded her in peace and helped her to survive tougher times to come.
One day she said to me, “Sweet Pea, why don’t you get some scissors from the house and cut some of those pink and red snapdragons for the dinner table.”
These were the loveliest words I had ever heard, because it meant that she loved me enough to share her garden- “her sacred place,” and I suddenly felt more worthy of love and even regal in my stance.
Perhaps this new found love I felt from my own personal Mother Earth helped me to discover my own spiritual self, and yet “my personal realization” happened when I was all alone, far from my mother’s breast and from the quiet sound of her soothing voice.
The great physicist and profound thinker Albert Einstein once said,
“When you examine the lives of the most influential people who have ever walked among us, you discover one thread that winds through them all. They have been aligned with their spiritual nature and only then with their physical selves.”
Ever since I can remember, I have felt most connected to my spiritual and physical self when I have taken the time to be alone, especially when venturing into any space that graced overgrown trees and shade. This respite inspired me to drift away into my endless and calming imagination, which continually fed my soul with inspirational dreams and ideas.
My “spiritual awakening” occurred one day when the sun started to fall low near my eyes; when the tallest of flowers began to drift softer into themselves with a serene slumber; and as the hue of the grass darkened in concert along with the rays of light that drew night closer.
“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth,” said Buddha.
It seemed as if everything around me stopped suddenly, and in slow motion, as I was somehow floating in wonderment.
I could somehow see myself “outside of myself,” sitting in this summery garden with a lilac crisp linen dress on, happy to be present and alive, with all of my senses magnified and in a muted technicolor glow.
I thought to myself, “This is a girl in a garden,” and then the thought went away, as suddenly as it came.
The realization that I was a separate individual who was capable of my own thoughts and autonomy changed my childhood and my life forever.
Sometime after this, I asked my best friend to see herself too.
“Just close your eyes,” I said to her as I held her hand. “Now just look at yourself as if you are not you, but someone else looking at you.”
“I can’t do it,” she answered shyly. “Maybe it is not possible.”
I am reminded about a passage from Echkhart Tolle in his book, “The Power of Now,” where he wrote:
“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the possessing entity – the thinker. Knowing this enables you to observe the entity. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.”
Inevitably, as I was still a child, I began to doubt my own self discovery as to “my awakening” as my description to others was met with scorn and bewilderment.
But when I was about ten-years-old, I attended my grandfather’s funeral and again, I felt the presence of my own true light and being, and understood that my personal awakening was my truth, and that was all that mattered.
I remember my fashionable mother attending to my three siblings and I, making sure that we were dressed respectfully as we donned brand new patent leather shoes from Sears, a symbol that always marked a special occasion. My sisters and I wore black velvet dresses and my brother, a little man’s suit with a tie and cotton handkerchief.
I loved my grandfather dearly, and I can still remember just the way that he smelled with his hint of fancy department-store cologne, as well as the way that his voice sounded when he paid weekly visits to our house each Sunday. Dressed dapper in tailor-made suits of pin-stripes and gabardine, he resembled a movie star from the 1930’s, and he always handed me a roll of quarters when he walked through the door.
“These quarters are for the Merry-go-round,” he would whisper to me as if I were the only person in the world that he ever wanted to know.
When we drove to the cemetery, I could feel his breath on my neck, as I imagined him saying to me,
“Honey, I am going to make sure that you get the prettiest and most colorful horse today at the Merry-go-round today. And if it isn’t too cold, maybe we’ll even take a stroll along the beach and collect some shells and sand glass.”
I was outside of myself again, I thought.
It was then that I realized that perhaps, I could do this somehow “at will” if I wanted to.
Maybe I could watch myself when things got too heavy, I thought . . . Or when I was so caught up in joy that I wanted it to last eternally, and take a movie of myself in my mind’s eye.
This is the brilliance of childhood and of living a mindful life—that so much can be stirring within me and yet I had the time and awareness to guide it into fruition.
“The spirit is ageless,” I once heard someone say. In its very essence, it is without borders, without walls, dimensions or threats of any kind.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Each one of us has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstance.”
One can be practically swallowed whole by the ugliness and scourge that life may bring, but through it all, as spirits and spiritual people, we can somehow manage to stand all alone and with one another, all worthwhile and brave, in spite of it all.
One long winter, I had a fever that lasted nearly a month. My parents laid me down at the foot of their bed on soft Japanese quilts made from down and silk as I grew weaker and more pale by the day.
I remember my father telling my mother that he did not understand how I could be sick for so long. I watched his feet walk back and forth past my head as I stirred in and out of heat and weakness.
My mother replied with an assurance that inspired me, “She will be fine. She has a strong spirit and she will be better than ever.” She was right, I thought, as I slept deeply for a few days while hearing her words chant through my head. Nothing is able to get me down or propel me towards darkness for very long. This is my truth.
A few years later, I said to a friend who claimed to be feeling outside of the realm of any spiritual capacity:
“We all have this capability to reach our own strong and spiritual self. All you have to do is sit quietly and bask in your own stillness, and speak kindly to the child that is still within you.”
“But there is nothing left,” he cried, as he wept into his hands. “My spirit was killed a long time ago—so long ago I cannot remember if it ever existing in the first place.”
“Perhaps that is a gift and a sign to claim it now,” I replied.
When I saw my friend again, he seemed happier as he announced he had begun to meditate in silence. It wasn’t about finding God, he sang.
“It is simply about sitting still so that I can feel my own heart beat again,” he said thoughtfully. “It’s about listening to the wind, and feeling present in everything I experience.”
This is how we we all begin to find our own spirit again, even if we believe we never will.
By simply allowing yourself the gift and the time of quiet, you can begin to hear your own thoughts, some which may be frightening at first, but all with good intentions and with the outcome of a deeper understanding.
When my youngest daughter was born, I looked into her hauntingly blue eyes and saw a spirit I had never seen before. It seemed as if I could look through her eyes and even past them, into a deep place of knowing and light.
She appeared like the youngest and yet oldest of souls in a spontaneous fashion, and when I first saw her, it seemed it was impossible that I had not known her face for a thousand years or more.
But the day after she was born, I was told she may not live through the night.
While I was breast feeding her, she looked up at me with “those eyes” that already knew of every story I had never heard but wanted to hear forever, as her doctor told me that her heart was “not well.”
She was born on Valentine’s Day, but alas, with a broken heart. She would need to be rushed by ambulance to receive an emergency surgery.
Again, I watched myself as if I were outside of myself while she was whisked away from me; my breasts still pulsing with the milk of life, and the feel of her tiny hand still on my arm, leaving an imprint as she grasped it only a moment before.
It all happened so fast and yet the moment seemed eternal as I calmly asked questions about how long her surgery would be and if I would be discharged from the hospital that evening myself, so that I may tend to my other two daughters who were awaiting me at home.
Just then, my nurse turned to me with my daughter in her arms and said, “Say goodbye to mommy.”
I looked at my daughter as her eyes seemed, “Don’t worry, I’ll be just fine.”
I will never understand how I got through that week. After nine months of pregnancy, I came home without a baby in my arms while each night I stared at an empty crib and at baby blankets that were left cold and unused. But I did get through it and came out stronger still, as I knew I needed to summon up every ounce of my spirit so that I could be “at least as strong as she was.”
It turned out to be a couple of painful years, as she had to undergo open heart surgery in order to survive childhood. I literally nursed her back to health as I felt her strength accompany mine, and my faith inspiring hers.
The days were long but each moment was captured on an endless loop of wellness and discovery of spirit as I sang to her every lullaby I ever knew, and read to her every nursery rhyme I could remember and now “never” wanted to forget.
These are the moments that make our lives wonderful, meaningful and worthwhile. Painful experiences often move us to new heights of soul that we cannot meet otherwise, and by being lifted, we lift others.
Our spirits guide us, they help us to discover who we are, who we want to be, and help us to remember where we came from. This is a gift, and each moment of presence in which we are able to feel its miracle is another chance at being closer to a higher spiritual plane.
We never reach the end, there is no goal of finality, and there is no limit of deep spirit and the spirituality that we can reach. Rather, it is an ongoing process that is warm and soothing and ever-flowing.
For the past few years, challenges in my life have continued to awaken me to reach more moments of spiritual growth as it is now is the only way I know how to process my own pain, understanding and the faith that life can only get better.
This faith has guided me through a deeper commitment to my spirituality because I have endured so much suffering. And the strange and beautiful universal truth, as many people experience, is that I have learned to not only love myself more during difficult periods, but have grown to welcome challenges when they arise, as I know I will be led to a higher realm of both conscious and unconscious awakening through darkness and consequential light.
Today, I am blessed with having three daughters who teach me daily about forgiveness, how to be joyful in the present moment and simply, how to live in a continual spirit of happiness.
This past summer, my youngest daughter and I were sitting in my mother’s garden, at the time of day when the sun beams straight through tree trunks and reflects upon each leaf as if everything is equally inspiring with all that has ever whispered peace and light.
If anything, her garden has grown more beautiful with age, as my mother has allowed it to be more wild and carefree, just as she has allowed herself to be. Today, branches of bougainviliea sprouting flowers of magenta and fuchsia now covers the outside of the house, making my childhood home feel more like a Fairy-Tale retreat of magic, abandonment and wonder.
My daughter with a heart and soul now stronger than ever, and with eyes as blue as the deepest and undiscovered pools of oceans, looked up at me and said:
“I just had a feeling that we have been here before, just you and me, having this very conversation, at this very same moment a very long time ago.”
“That’s because we have, my darling. And my mother and I were here too, a long time ago right where we sit.”
She just smiled and placed a flower in my hair as we looked at one another with a knowing glance, in silence and in trust.
This is spirituality at its core, at its deepest level, and brings with it a feeling of awareness that can only take us to the highest level of peace.
Each moment of our lives is yet another chance to fully experience joy, happiness and a sense of being. There is no waiting for this spiritual connection to happen “one day” because we live only in the now, and in the beauty of our present existence.
Our greatest gifts we can both give and receive is to appreciate what is before us at each fleeting and yet endless awakening. We are alive, full of physical and spiritual energy, and we are a part of this glorious and complicated universe for a reason.
This includes being able to appreciate what we have and to be grateful that we are “even able” to think about being grateful.
We are also spiritually connected to one another as we universally understand that we are able to both move and be still in all beauty and suffering, while our mind, heart and soul is interconnected.
In closing, consider the following passages from Eckhart Tolle:
“As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out of present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love.”
And . . .
“When you are present, when your attention is fully and intensely in the Now. Being can be felt, but it can never be understood mentally. To regain awareness of Being and to abide in that state of “feeling-realization” is enlightenment.”
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman