We all have some experience of a feeling, that comes over us occasionally, of what we are saying and doing having been said and done before, in a remote time - of our having been surrounded, dim ages ago, by the same faces, objects, and circumstances.
As I child, I was perplexed by this thing of being alive and terrified of losing it through death, a part of life I discovered at 5, when my little puppy died. To explain this phenomenon, in school, on catechism class, they would talk about Adam and Eve and a God who made them out of clay, and who was angry when they disobeyed. Catechism did not soothe my concerns, about what and why is this being here alive, waiting for death to come. Instead, it provided guidelines to avoid making the grouchy Maker angry.
“Why are there essents rather than nothing.” was the opening line in Martin Heidegger’s book Introduction to Metaphysics, which captured my attention in my first year of college. Yes, why? I would ask then in angst, having fully abandoned the ready-made answers provided to me by Catholic school and considering myself then, a full-blown atheist. I embraced the scientific materialistic worldview in which energy, particles, atoms, and molecules -the stuff of the universe, combined and recombined by chance and serendipity, and yielded evolution, life, human beings, behaviors, and mind. Life was just a chance result of the big bang. The big bang was always happening. But then, where did the original stuff come from, and why. Was it always there? But why? Questions persisted in my stubborn mind.
I read the Phenomenon of Man by Teilhard de Chardin, upon being told that it was criticized by both Catholic and scientific scholars and that its publication had been suppressed for many years.
From the cell to the thinking animal, as from the atom to the cell, a single process (a psychical kindling or concentration) goes on without interruption and always in the same direction.
Reading this, my consciousness drifted towards all bits and pieces of time. All those moments of interaction with the outside, flashes of reflections within, of this point of vantage that is me, trying to interpret somehow this thing called life. This interminable procession of conversations, sights, desires, embraces, laughter, argumentations, fears, pains, tenderness, and awe. Arranged in a concert of words, erotic attractions, subtle wafts, sadness and nostalgia, and joys indescribable. Of those moments being alone, that is non-conversed with anyone, not even verbalized with oneself, and sometimes become revelations. Of those fears and habits, so deep, that one cannot just erase them, and one has to supplicate for mercy.
This awareness of life and existence, and why it is happening. Those evanescent moments of being, in the midst of becoming aware of the ephemeral nature of our passing by. But why?
The people and beings you meet, those that you touch and miss, and those that you want to go away. And then the many others that you only see at a distance like falling stars, passing by anonymously. Yes, all those other actors on stage help define your play.
There is a particular instrument each one plays in this forever concert, there are unique stories that we tell each other, tales, beliefs, and theories. This mind, this ego, these constructs of consciousness are so diverse, that we share. The variety of the universe, the stuff of this matter-energy perceived by the senses, rationalized by thought. The feelings set in motion by beauty, the passions of interaction with each other, the claiming and possessing, mixed with the freedom and blessing of unknowingly giving, and the grace that befalls unsuspectingly on your life, and changes your path.
There are so many subtleties that can’t ever be explained, because there is no model to accommodate all the infinite variants, no thought processes, no method, no math, no dogma, no belief system, to integrate the whole experience of living, with the truth of being. Those infinitely diverse vibrations of everything, perceived through consciousness, seem to be manifesting everywhere and imprisoned in you and me at the same time.
Yet, somehow, in a submerged area deep within, beyond this me, there is an awareness contained in seeds, old records archived through a long walk, from nowhere to nowhere, that is everywhere, which are tapped, sometimes beyond time. Then, it dawns like a morning, that lasts any time from a nanosecond to eternity, in a space that does not exist, and it reveals Being, being, Being.
Time is the space between imaginations, the inevitable storytelling, that makes us. A story is woven in a tapestry of infinity, that celebrates oneness, as it flows through each one, with the uniqueness of many. A story of love, a romance so divine, that every day it makes, the eternal One, explode into ever-changing diversity. To become adventure, obstacle, desire. An inextinguishable fire that consumes, a flow of love that pursues itself, in a game where it seeks, loses and finds.
I remember, one extraordinary evening, walking under this influence. I sensed and saw without seeing, the unfoldment of myself, from a crumpled-up aggregated mass to a walking form, taking different turns towards a gradual walking upright. I realized how much walking had been done, by this entity that I call myself, beyond my present name and personality. It was just a focus, a soul, an essence, a serial number, that assumed different shapes and forms while acquiring consciousness of itself.
Everything was perceived as a continuum, but the perceiver and the continuum were one and the same oozing. There was a sense of encompassing and being all while collapsing imaginatively in transient shapes, that bloomed like fantasy flowers in a magic garden, like movie scenes on a screen. And nothing was really real, except the non-dimensional continuum, which felt simultaneously a point and ocean. All happenings, no matter how tragic or blissful, were just transient scenes, of a serene and ever-serene, unperturbed, and self-fulfilled whole.
This unified feeling enveloped and spilled out everywhere, and converged in from everywhere to the point one was. It was like a deep embrace with one’s own arms, as every other shape and sentient point was part of the continuum of oneself.
Then I remembered, that on another quite normal day, the unified feeling peeked from everything and everyone, but in an ordinary fashion, people smiled in-depth, breezes blew in caresses, light illuminated spaces, birds bubbled in song, plants erupted in growth, pets looked into your eyes, with eyes that sparked the silent magic of life. Joy, usually hidden by the mind, was made available within the quotidian context, like always. But now I could see the continuum disguised in one’s own dream.
All these thoughts were going to my mind. I was waiting for a weather-related delayed connection to Mumbai (then still Bombay) at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Those were the times before texting and handheld devices, and it was a long wait. I did all the duty-free window shopping and sat down at the gate to wait. My mind drifted somehow to the first time I read about reincarnation in an article in the Miami Herald.
It was about a British soldier's experience after returning from World War II, suffering from what is now known as PTSD, he kept to himself whatever memories he had of the war, as he reintegrated himself back into normal life in Britain. A young man, he married in the late 1950s and had a son whom he loved very much. In the early 60s when his child was about seven, he and the family decided to go visit the South of France, where he had been deployed during the war. It was a deep moment for him, to be back. Particularly since he had never told his family or wife anything about the war.
The article stated that when crossing a certain area in the region, the son who was sitting in the back seat, all of a sudden said, dad, dad, is this where you killed the German soldier?
The man, according to the article was stunned by his son’s question and overwhelmed by emotion. After returning to England, at the insistence of his wife, who was a psychologist, they took the son to a past-life regression hypnotist. The boy, under hypnosis, started at some moment speaking in fluent German, describing his combat in France, and at one point he said - I surrender, I am unarmed, don’t shoot please, and screamed…
This article impressed me. At that time, I had never really thought about reincarnation or anything spiritual for that matter, having a hard-core materialistic worldview, rooted in my scientific studies, and disregarded all these notions as superstition. But I did think about the poetic justice implied, in that story appearing in a general newspaper. He killed a human being, now he had to raise him back with love. There was more logic and justice here than in the hell-heaven model of my early Catechism.
By now, I had accepted, after much reading and conversations, what I call the theory of reincarnation, just like I had accepted the theory of relativity. Actually, I was en route to India to visit some disciples of Meher Baba, who expanded on this and other spiritual subjects in the modern-day language.
All these thoughts were in my mind when I started, again there being no texting or handheld devices, to engage in a conversation with a mature Indian lady dressed in her sari, who was sitting across me waiting for her flight to another part of India. There was some familiarity about her as if I recognized her, but this was the first time I had met her.
We talked for a while. Somehow, I ended up telling her the story of that article I read while in College and we started talking about reincarnation. She, unlike me, was raised in a culture where it was part of common knowledge.
It was a delightful conversation. The lady, a mother of three and a medical doctor coming back from a conference in Germany was very knowledgeable and sweet. There was something familiar about her, she felt like family, like an old friend, not a stranger, not someone I had just met at the gate, waiting for a connection. I told her this.
She replied, “But who knows, how many times you and I, in so many different roles and disguises have been together before, and now we meet briefly again. These personalities are like costumes we wear to play the current roles we must, and this present id of you and I, this personality is part of the costume.”
I pondered on her reply. And then we were being called to our respective flights, so I thought that most probably, I would never see her again. This person that for almost an hour had become so close. And as we parted and wished each other bon voyage I told her. By the way? What is your serial number, meaning your real id, so that when we meet in another life, we can remember this moment of today.’ She smiled and jokingly replied it is XYZ00000259v123, nice meeting you again.
Friends are all souls that we've known in other lives. We're drawn to each other. That's how I feel about friends. Even if I have only known them a day, it doesn't matter. I'm not going to wait till I have known them for two years, because anyway, we must have met somewhere before, you know. (George Harrison)