The other morning I had a meltdown. By meltdown, I mean I was crying so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. This kind of intense crying isn’t something new; I have experienced it during the most painful times of my life. The difference, though, on this morning was that I was weeping in celebration. I had opened myself so completely to acknowledging the reality of wholeness that the tears overflowed as I was wrapped in the compassionate arms of another.
This inner opening, what I call surrendering, is the inlet to my wholeness. For me it’s similar to what Thomas Merton called a “hidden wholeness,” which really isn’t hidden. It’s just so vast and eternal that it is almost impossible to see and hold for very long—just like those times when I have stretched myself out onto the cool grass to enjoy the night air, only to disappear into the stars. I stare into the heavenly hosts long enough for the 6-year-old inside to emerge.
Eugene O’Neill puts it this way as he talks about stargazing on a sailboat. “I became drunk with the beauty and rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself—actually lost my life. I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray… became moonlight and the ship and the high, dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, to Life itself!”
I love how he describes this experience. These moments of getting lost, of dissolving into all that is around me, of timelessness—this is gratefulness. The great fullness of life, where I belong with no “past or future… within wild joy” is a whole body experience. I lose myself into oneness with all things, with no separation. This is gratefulness, and it tells me I am nothing and I am everything.
In those few precious seconds the other morning, I felt the wild joy that O’Neill talks about. Then came the realization of another moment, after the gratefulness, when I could hear a voice inside me giving thanks. I was now aware of being separate from that perfect belonging, that oneness called gratefulness.
I wonder if I get caught up in trying to transcend my separateness. Do I always need to be trying to escape the experience of “I am I and you are you”? Being separate, at least in this experience, means there was a giver and a receiver. In one moment there was no time or space between the person comforting and myself. And in the next moment—when my mind noticed there were two of us—my gratefulness had poured over into becoming thankfulness.
My gratefulness was a celebration of ultimate belonging, the recognition that all life is together. My thankfulness was a celebration of kindness, acknowledging the ripple of life between myself and the other person, affirming our kinship. Even though that awareness of oneness, of losing myself, didn’t last long, which is usually the case, I am left with a small awareness that hints at a greater understanding.
In the end I don’t think I can teach you “gratefulness” or “thankfulness,” but I can share with you my precious moments of belonging with no “past or future… within wild joy.” And an invitation to gaze into the starry sky to lose yourself and overflow into finding your cosmic kinship.