Ruminations from the Arizona Room is a series by Dr. Elizabeth Oakes, a former Shakespeare professor, a spiritual writer, and an award winning poet. A Sedonian of four years, she will share the thoughts that arise as she sits in the literal Arizona room in her home as well as the metaphorical “Arizona room” that is Sedona.
By Elizabeth Oakes
(May 8, 2017)
I like things that happen all at once – epiphanies, flashes of inspiration, sudden insights. We even have a word for it: “popped into my head.”
Quite a few years ago, this “popped” into mine – we think we’re one person, but we’re not. Actually, I didn’t think it; it thought me in a kind of synesthesia of thinking and feeling.
I am still exploring it. We change as we go through what is commonly called stages, or we should (“stuck in his/her ways” is the way it used to be termed when we don’t). It’s called growing older for a reason: we’re supposed to grow, but what or who strings these selves together like beads?
Then there are the lifetimes – plural. An analogy is an actor, say, Tom Hanks. He’s always Tom Hanks, but sometimes he becomes Forrest Gump, or an astronaut, or a castaway. In much the same way, do we, as an analogy to Tom Hanks, take on roles and then return to our foundational self, that is, the entity we are through lifetimes? Are we, on this plane that seems so dense, really like light through film?
Recently, over lunch, a friend and I began to speak of Plato, who posited a realm where there is a perfect everything – salads, roses, freedom, hamburgers, popsicles in summer, love? Do we jerry-rig our world here from memories of that place? What causes these two worlds to collide sometimes out of the blue and “all at once”? One question led to another as we were, well, on a quest.
Perhaps we remember “all at once” rather than come up with a new idea “all at once.” It often happens when we are doing something rote, like driving. Maybe we are sleeping, and an insight comes in through some metaphysical open window at 3 a.m. (Note to self: keep a notepad on the bedside table.)
Maybe we are absorbed in some project – could be writing, painting, talking to a patient, arguing a case in court, building a house, selling someone a hat, gardening. I wonder: where, what, and who am “I” when a flash comes out of nowhere, or, more accurately, a somewhere I cannot imagine?
The Trappist monk Thomas Merton was just walking down a street on March 18, 1958, when this happened:
In Louisville at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.
It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud.
As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Are we one consciousness living on multiple planes, or are we multiple consciousnesses inhabiting this earthly plane? Is there, as Paul Éluard, the French poet, claimed, “another world, but it is in this one”? Are we basically a locus of consciousness? If so, what is the locus, and what is the consciousness, or, as the Irish poet William Butler Yeats asked, “How can we know the dancer from the dance”?
For now, I can get a touch of it only now and then, this “all at once,” as if it were a monsoon coming in from what seems, here in the desert, like a different realm.
Note about “Here and There” – Visionary artist Joyce Huntington Stanek is a former Sedonian who now lives in Ojai, CA. She says of “Here and There” that it was “inspired by that gap between sleep and wakefulness. It attempts to embody that sense of being in two realms at once – two vibrations, two layers, one window.” More can be seen at www.joycehuntingtonart.com
Note about the plaque – Merton’s accounting of his experience became so famous after Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander was published in 1966 that Louisville erected a plaque in 2008 to commemorate its 50th anniversary. The area was re-named Thomas Merton Square.