Lesson 41: The Riddle of the Ambiguous Face
In 1967, I was 16 years old by a week when I left home for boarding school at St. Andrew’s School in Sewanee, Tennessee. It was the first time I had been out of my home state of North Carolina. After a couple of months, I had become so homesick. I decided to run away.
Late one night, I left my room and walked down to the entrance gates to make my escape. I stood there, cold and confused, and realized that I had no idea whether to turn right or left. How can I run away if I don’t even know my way home? I was so unhappy and felt so alone with no support or understanding from anyone. I didn’t really care what happened to me. I sat on the ground and started crying. I gave up and gave in.
After a short while, I cobbled up what I had carried with me and walked back up the main road where I entered the dormitory unnoticed and climbed back into my bed. My fate dictated remaining there for the time being. I can remember feeling so lost and all the while, this experience at St. Andrew’s School was going to be one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.
“All still was darkness dread and desolate.
There was no change nor any hope of change.
In this black dream which was a house of Void,
A walk to Nowhere in a land of Nought,
Ever they drifted without aim or goal;
Gloom led to worse gloom, depth to an emptier depth,
In some positive Non-being’s purposeless Vast
Through formless wastes dumb and unknowable
An ineffectual beam of suffering light
Through the despairing darkness dogged their steps
Like the remembrance of a glory lost;
Ever while it grew, it seemed unreal there.”
What I saw as twilight was actually a rising tide that would soon lift me away and beyond my past, my violent childhood and in that unfolding, I was being prepared for the rest of my life. I just couldn’t see it. As time has passed, I see that unfolding everywhere I go in everyone I see. You can’t see it but make no mistake, the tide is rising and lifting you upward. Each event, each setback, each coiled strike of self-doubt are but tools of your becoming, your awakening being chiseled in you as you stumble down the slopes of Time. It can be so daunting but knowing who you are and what your transcendent task is can sure make it easier! Knowing who you are gives everything meaning and you will use everything as a vehicle to get the experience of knowing who you are. In other words, everything will confirm to you that which you are. But don’t be naïve about the process or enthralled with the detours. There will be difficult moments.
“Her spirit, guilty of being, wandered doomed,
Moving for ever through eternal Night.
But Maya is a veil of the Absolute;
A Truth occult has made this mighty world:
The Eternal’s wisdom and self-knowledge act
In ignorant Mind and in the body’s steps.
The Inconscient is the Superconconscient’s sleep.
An unintelligible intelligence
Invents creation’s paradox profound;
Spiritual thought is crammed in Matter’s forms,
Unseen it throws out a dumb energy
And works a miracle by a machine.
All here is a mystery of contraries:
Darkness a magic of self-hidden Light
Suffering some secret rapture’s tragic mask
And death an instrument of perpetual life.
Although Death walks beside us on Life’s road,
A dim bystander at the body’s start
And a last judgment on man’s futile works,
Other is the riddle of its ambiguous face:
Death is a stair, a door, a stumbling stride
The soul must take to cross from birth to birth,
A grey defeat pregnant with victory,
A whip to lash us towards our deathless state.”
But I wasn’t out of the woods once I got back to the dormitory. It was going to take some time but time I had because I wasn’t going anywhere. All around me were men who loved me and cared about me. What I sought was there. But I could not see it. How blessed I was in the middle of my misery.
Do not be naïve or deceived by the sensory world. There will be other losses and other failures that seem to possess your future, that appear to dictate your destination but they don’t. In spite of the trance in which you may be caught, your life is about a transcendent task that cannot be altered, lost or forgotten. Like a fixed, bright star, this Truth is immutable. Your life is meant for things that are far beyond what you have been taught or told.
As Death makes a final stand to defeat Savitri, it is time for each of us to remember who we are and the transcendent task that lies before us. And if you can't remember it, then pretend. Use your imagination. Make it up. But make up something beautiful, bold, divine. If you are not "this," then what could you be? Could you be "that?" Go ahead. Imagine. What seemed ambiguous before will reveal its divine purpose and nature in Time.