Somewhere, there is a large rock, on a hillside, above a stream, in the woods. It is large enough to sit on if you are a young child, and probably even if you are an adult, though I haven’t been back to check in many years. I used to sit there quietly and ponder the world around me, within me, encompassing me. This place was at a summer camp, a place I spent a lot of time, later living and working there for a bit. It was a place very much like home, with all the ideals that word represents. It was, and still is, a religious camp, though I always experienced it as apart from the traditions of my religious upbringing. I experienced the spiritual there, and not the dogma. Nature was free to speak, and I was free to listen.
Conversations lately have turned to the religious, the spiritual, the nature of life and death, fate and destiny, probability and chance. Intensely personal matters, these. Years ago, I had a conversation with a spiritual man. I asked him why he thought it was so important that there be a larger presence. He replied that it mattered not what it was, only that it was not him, because on his own, he would delude himself that he was running the show. This made sense.
This idea of control and spirituality is comforting to me. I am tense at the things I want to control that I can’t. Some of them will work themselves out. All of them will change. Some things are mine to change, and some are not. What I know is that the world is larger than me. I subscribe to the Buddhist teachings of oneness–that I am not apart from the world but one with it. Not apart from other humans, but one with them. All of it is larger than me, and nothing is in control. I live in New York City. I don’t control how my groceries get onto this island, whether the trains run, or whether I have running water on any given day. Whatever powers that be are working, they are larger than me. I know that I am not in control, without ever invoking the metaphysical.
But sometimes I do want to believe in more. My mind rebels at the idea of a protecting force. Too much is arbitrary, and, as they say, none of us is getting out of this alive. But we manage to care for one another at times. A heart opens and magic flows out and through. The mind open perceives a random string of coincidence as beneficial, rather than benign. You know what I mean. The little things that lump together to make a good day, or a bad day. I mean the filter that lets one through and not the other.
I found another rock, above another stream. This one is in Central Park, and I go there sometimes. It is a good place to sit. This city reminds me that it is larger than me, but I am a part of the whole. I move through its streets, and in a strange way, I have always felt protected here. The city returns to me things I have lost (gloves, phone, wallet, passport), and brings people into my life who I need to know. I am surrounded with community.
I have answers enough for me, for today. On most days, the key to my existential discomfort is to get out of my own way. The entire world is larger than me. My part is very small indeed, but a part of the whole. But when I watch for those strings of coincidence, it’s just possible to believe that the universe is conspiring…conspiring to make me happy.