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Alix Ayme, 1894-1989

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and the pain of it no less than the excitement and the gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace. —Frederick Buechner

I never heard of Frederick Buechner before reading The Man Who Found His Inner Depths by David Brooks in the New York Times. He was a novelist with a “religious slant” who died last week at the age of 96. This quote struck me as “true” in an existential way—this need for each of us to listen to our life, our own particular life, as well as to Life in the more expansive sense. To touch “the holy at the heart of it”. And to realize that “all moments are key moments.”

I’ve been doing a lot of that “listening” lately, and looking back at key moments of my life, as well as those that fall in between. Perhaps because I’m of a certain age when there are more years on Earth behind me than before, or because at this stage I have the time and leisure to contemplate such things. And with the contemplation of life, alas, comes also that of its twin, death.

Buechner had some interesting things to say on this subject as well: “What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”

Interestingly, that aligns with something a scientist said, when explaining how abundance is a fundamental truth of Reality.

[A] full human lifetime contains far more moments of consciousness than universal history contains human lifespans. We are gifted with an abundance of inner time.—from Fundamentals, Ten Keys to Reality by Frank Wilczek, Nobel Prize winner in physics

This “abundance of inner time,” of time without end, seems fundamental to my own experience of “time” these days. Even as my own timespan here on Earth would appear to be narrowing, it feels like a widening, an opening up into something larger. Timeless, you might say.

Which brings me to something else Buechner said. When imagining a conversation with his late aunt, he asks: “You’ve already set sail. What can you tell me about it?” To which she replies that it’s misleading to think of people as having passed away. “It is the world that passes away.”

Is it we or the world that passes away? Perhaps its only this limited way of perceiving the world that passes away. Perhaps we simply slip from one perceptual experience—one sliver of reality—-to another that is just as real, just as holy. Another hidden heart to explore. This idea too may have a hidden scientific corollary in what the newer sciences are telling us about the nature of reality and its fundamental truths.

“We like to think that we humans, with our five marvelous senses, are in full receipt of what this world has to offer in all its glory. But in reality, like all creatures, we tap into but a tiny slice of its vast fullness.”

So I wrote in Slivers of Reality in a More-Than-Human World, after reading Ed Yong’s An Immense World about how animal senses reveal hidden realms around us. Breakthroughs in science and technology are showing us more about the vast reality that lies outside our physical ability to perceive it. And who’s to say there aren’t hidden realms outside our physical bodies to experience beyond this world? As we do in our dreams when we see and touch and feel things that have no physical form. Or as people who have had near-death experiences claim. Experiences that scientists are beginning to study seriously. And those who have are questioning whether the brain is truly the source of consciousness or merely a temporary conduit through which it passes, operating in reaches far beyond that.

Who were you before your parents were born?

This is an old Zen koan, whose study is meant to break students out of their limited way of thinking about themselves or experiencing reality. It’s another way of saying the fundamental key to reality lies within.

Listen to your life. Experience for yourself the “fathomless mystery” of Life’s “hidden heart.”