How do we find our way back to feeling connected to all that is? How do we awaken from the illusion of separation and the loneliness and suffering which it entails? What is the deeper meaning of our foundational ‘myth’ of being forced to leave the Garden of Eden?
Two experiences this week had me reflecting on these questions.
A few days ago, I visited a man on his deathbed at the UCLH. His two children were also in the room with us. I was touched by the kindness and compassion of the doctors and nurses as they played their roles and attended to his palliative care. He seemed to be unconscious, but his children and I assumed that he could still hear us and was aware of our presences.
During my visit, I talked to the dying man about how his neshama (soul/spirit/consciousness) would soon be reunited with the Source from which it had come. Before leaving his side, I said the traditional deathbed Vidui (confession) on his behalf. Death is the ultimate Yom Kippur.
His children and I spent time talking about what happens when we die, and I shared one of our tradition’s teachings that when consciousness leaves the body for the last time, it is as painless as removing a hair from milk. He died a couple of hours after my visit.
Unless you are a strict believer in Philosophical Materialism, at the end of our physical lives in this world I want to assume that we return to the oceanic bliss of the sense of connectedness to the great ‘Mother’ that we all experienced as foetuses in our mothers’ wombs.
Developmental psychology teaches us that that this ‘Oceanic’ feeling of being enmeshed in a unitive consciousness remains with us as infants until at some point in our development we begin to experience a sense of differentiation from our primary caregivers and other ‘Objects’.
Which leads me on to my second experience this last week.
As I was putting my 2-year-old son to bed earlier this week something profound happened that I had not seen before. All of a sudden, as we were playing on the floor, he became very still and quiet. The expression on his face seemed to me to fluctuate between sadness, confusion, and curiosity. I was moved to just sit down next to him and to be with him. I let him know I was here if he wanted to tell me anything and then we just sat quietly together for a while. Just being together in the sadness, the not-knowing, the confusion.
His processing and experiencing were clearly pre-verbal, so I don’t know for sure what was happening. But instinctively, I felt that he was feeling, perhaps for the first time, a sense of his own separation, of his existential aloneness and the fear/terror/trauma of that realisation.
After a while I held his hand and talked to him lovingly about how sometimes we feel sad and sometimes we feel happy, how sometimes we feel connected and sometimes we feel alone – and that all of this ok and is part of life. And that he is deeply loved and safe.
Isn’t that what we all want? To feel loved and safe?
We begin our lives with a deep sense of connectedness to the Oneness of all Being and on death we return to the Source of Life. My understanding is that part of the work of cultivating our spiritual lives is to awaken, as adults, to that sense of connectedness to the Ground of Being – in the Kabbalah (the Jewish mystical tradition) this is known as ‘Devekut’.
When we can tap into this (both alone and in community), when we feel safe and loved, then, we are able to grow up, to wake up and to show up in this world – bringing our unique gifts to whatever life situation we find ourselves in.