“All the world’s a stage,” says Jaques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Few people realize how little their personalities represent them as they really are. Emerson, in his essay on “The Over-Soul,” wrote:
“We know better than we do. We do not yet possess ourselves, and we know at the same time that we are much more. I feel the same truth how often in my trivial conversation with my neighbors, that somewhat higher in each of us overlooks this by-play, and Jove nods to Jove from behind each of us. Men descend to meet [italics mine].”
Every man is, in his soul, divine. He merely persuades himself, by concentrating on his outer life, that he is a baker, banker, teacher, or preacher; that he is rude or sensitive, athletic or lazy, genial or solemn. He sees not that all these are only roles, reflections of the likes and dislikes, the desires and aversions he has accumulated over incarnations. What has once been acquired can as surely be shed again. The outer self changes endlessly. Only in his inner Self is the soul changeless and eternal.
Much of my life seems almost, in retrospect, to have been planned for me. Certainly my experiences up to this time had given me, basically, the lessons I had a need to learn. It was perhaps due to this same “suspicious Someone’s” plan for me that I spent the better part of the next year working at the Dock Street Theater. The various roles I acted on the stage taught me to stand back mentally from myself, to observe this peculiar specimen, Don Walters, acting out his normal daily role as a young American male of somewhat cheerful disposition, an aspiring playwright, and a more or less perennial innocent abroad.
My associations at the Dock Street Theater helped me, in time, to see the shallowness of all role-playing, whether in or out of the theater. For most of the people I met there were always “on stage”; they even based their self-esteem on how well they could pretend. A year spent with them added immeasurably to my yearning for values and attitudes that were true.
I arrived in Charleston toward the end of June. The Dock Street Theater, I learned, was closed for the summer months and scheduled to reopen only in September. I took a room in a small boarding house, where I received lodging and three generous meals a day for only ten dollars a week.
The atmosphere there was pleasantly familial. Most of my fellow boarders were students at The Citadel, a nearby college for men. The friendship of congenial companions my own age threatened for a time my intentions of devoting myself to writing. Rationalizing the threat, I told myself that, as a budding writer, I needed to absorb all that I could of local color. Aside from a few scattered poems,1 my “accomplishments” now were limited to a succession of parties, outings to the beach, and merry “bull sessions” where everything was discussed from politics to girls to recent gossip.
Gradually I expanded my frontiers to a study of the way people at various levels of Charleston society lived their lives. I went everywhere; met people in widely diverse walks of life; explored some of the dingiest “dives”; was a guest in several prominent homes.
Charleston was a small city then, of some 70,000 people (it is much larger now). I found within its narrow boundaries a representative cross section of America. With the middle and upper social strata, and to a lesser degree with the lower, I was already somewhat familiar. But the lower strata I now encountered were an eye-opener. I’m not referring to the poor, whose simple dignity often gives the lie to that condescending designation, “lower class.” Some of the people I met were actually wealthy, but their meanness of heart, their narrow outlook, and their indifference to others’ well-being condemned them to lives of criminal greed. Included among them were the owners and operators of sordid speakeasies, which posed as fronts for still-more-illicit gambling rooms upstairs, and (one suspected) for other hush-hush activities as well. These people projected an almost visible aura of dishonesty, cold brutality, and evil. Some of them were, as I say, wealthy, but their riches had been acquired at the pigs’ trough of human desperation.
Equally sordid were the lives of most of the people who frequented these places. For the customers, too, were out purely for what they could get for themselves. Their conversation reflected a hardness; their brittle laughter crackled like ice. Such people were the perennially homeless, in consciousness if not in fact. They were men and women who wandered aimlessly from city to city, seeking transient jobs and still more transient pleasures; individuals whose character was fast losing distinction in the blur of alcoholic fumes; couples whose family lives were disintegrating under jackhammer blows of incessant bickering; lonely people who hoped blindly to find in this wilderness of human indifference just a glimpse of friendship.
Everywhere, I saw desolation. This was, I reflected, the stuff of countless modern plays and novels. Why, that literary preoccupation with meanness and desolation? Is great literature something merely to be endured? Who can possibly gain anything worthwhile by exposure to grey hopelessness?
Yet these too were, undeniably, a part of life. Their effect on me spiritually, moreover, proved to some extent wholesome. For the awareness they gave me of man’s potential for self-degradation lent urgency to my own aspiration for a higher potential in myself, and in others.
Consequently, I took another stab at attending church. I even joined a church choir. But I soon discovered that this meant only exchanging one kind of sterility for another. The church atmosphere was more wholesome, no doubt, but partly for that very reason it was also more smug, more resistant to any suggestion that some higher perfection might be attainable.
Civilized man prides himself on how far advanced his present state is from that of the primitive savage. We look condescendingly on his tribal way of endowing trees, wind, rain, and heavenly bodies with human personalities. Now that science has explained everything in prosaic terms, modern man considers himself wiser for having lost his sense of awe. But I’m not so sure that he deserves congratulation. It strikes me rather that, dazzled by his own technology, he has only developed a new kind of superstition, one infinitely less interesting. Too pragmatic, now, to worship, he has forgotten how to commune. Instead of relating sensitively to Nature around him, he shuts it out of his life with concrete “jungles,” air conditioning, and “muzak”; with self-promotion and noisy entertainments. He is obsessed with problems that are real to him only because he gives them reality. He is like a violin string without the wood for a sounding board. Life, when cut off from its broader realities, becomes weak, thin, and meaningless.
Modern technology alienates us from the universe and from one another. Worst of all, it alienates us from ourselves. It directs all our energies toward the mere manipulation of things, until we ourselves assume qualities that are almost thing-like. In how many modern plays and novels are men idealized for their ability to act with the precision and unfeeling efficiency of a machine! We are taught to behave in this world like uncivilized guests, rudely consuming our host’s plenty without offering him a single word of thanks in return. Such is our approach to nature, to God, to life itself. We make ourselves petty, then imagine that the universe is petty also. We rob our own lives of meaning, then call life itself meaningless. Self-satisfied in our unknowing, we make a dogma of ignorance. And when, in “civilized” smugness, we approach the question of religion, we address God Himself as though He had better watch His manners if He wants a place in our hearts.
After a month or so of paddling in the waters of Charleston’s social life, both high and low, I finally decided that I’d exposed myself quite enough to cross-sections of a society whose members seemed at least as blind as I was. None of my new acquaintances had contributed anything positive to my search for meaning. And of “local color,” I felt that I had seen altogether too many browns and greys.
My own “purism,” of course, held a certain narrowness of its own. Had I been less rigidly critical in my attitudes, I might have attracted more uplifting human associates. Or I might have discovered in the very people I met qualities truer than I dreamed. On the other hand, to do myself justice, it was to a great extent with the very aim of overcoming such rigidity in my own nature that I had made it a practice to mix with so many different types of people.
Toward the end of summer, I moved out of my boarding house to a small apartment at 60 Tradd Street. Here I began to write a one-act comedy titled, Religion in the Park. Bitter as well as funny, the play concerned a woman who wanted to live a religious life and eagerly sought instruction from a priest, only to have him discourage her every devotional sentiment by careful emphasis on religious propriety. Meanwhile a passing tramp rekindled her fervor with tales of a saint who, he claimed, had cured him of his lameness. Here at last was what she’d been seeking: religion lived, religion experienced, not couched in mere social customs and theoretical dogmas!
Alas, in the end the tramp proved to be a fraud also. An alcoholic, he had merely invented his tale in the hope of coaxing a few easy dollars out of her.
This woman’s hope and subsequent disillusionment reflected my own spiritual longings, and the skepticism that continued to prevent my actual commitment to a religious life.
An interesting sidelight on that one-act play is that the “saint,” according to the tramp’s story, lived in California — the very state where I was later to meet my Guru. Could I have been aware, on some deep level of consciousness, that this was where my own destiny lay?
Once, as a child, while crossing the Atlantic, I had met a boy from California. I remember thinking at the time, “That is where I must go someday.” Years later, when first contemplating my trip to Mexico, I had considered briefly whether I might go to California instead. Then I’d put off the idea with the verdict, “It isn’t yet time.” Emerson’s words come back to me now, more in question than in certainty: “We know better than we do.” Had I known?
When the Dock Street Theater opened in September, I went to seek affiliation with it. I was told, however, that the only way I could do so officially was to enroll in its drama school as a student. Counting myself well out of the academic scene, I asked if I might not be given some other status. Finally the director permitted me, partly on the strength of my new play, to affiliate with them as an “unofficial” student. Under this arrangement I was able to study stagecraft in the evenings, and at the same time devote my days to writing.
During the following months I acted in a variety of plays, mingled freely with teachers and students, and served in a number of useful, if more or less nondescript, capacities. These activities gave me some understanding of the business of stagecraft, particularly that of putting on plays in a small community theater. As an actor, however, I’m afraid I was by no means a star. “This isn’t me!” I kept thinking. “How will I ever learn who I really am, if I keep on playing people I’m not?” The experience was worthwhile, however, from a standpoint of my intended profession as a playwright.
The daylight hours I spent by myself, at first writing, and then, increasingly, thinking, thinking over my old problems: What is the purpose of life? Who am I, really? Hasn’t man a higher destiny than (I looked about me desperately)—than this? Most important of all: What is true happiness? Can it be found? If so, How?
During the time I spent writing, I threw myself into the task of developing the techniques of my craft. Curiously perhaps for a budding playwright, I wrote no plays at this time; I wanted to keep my mind flexible to pursue new directions in stagecraft — and, more importantly, in myself — as they presented themselves. Instead, I wrote poetry, and tried (still) to develop a sense for poetic speech in drama.
I also pondered the theater’s potential for inspiring a far-reaching spiritual renaissance. To this end I studied the plays of the Spanish playwright, Federico García Lorca, to see whether his surrealistic style might be adapted to induce in people a more mystical awareness.
My probing thoughts led me one by one, however, to a dead end. How much, after all, can the theater really accomplish for people, spiritually speaking? Did even Shakespeare, great as he was, effect any deep-seated changes in the lives of individuals? None, surely, at any rate compared to the changes religion has inspired. I shuddered at this comparison, for I loved Shakespeare, and found little to attract me in the churches. But the conclusion, whether I liked it or not, was inescapable: Religion, for all its fashionable mediocrity, its sham, its devotion to the things of this world, remains the most powerfully beneficial influence in the history of mankind. Not art, not music, not literature, not science, politics, conquest, or technology: The one truly uplifting power in history, always, has been religion.
How was this possible? Puzzled, I decided to probe beneath the surface and discover what deep-seated element religion contained that was vital and true.
Avoiding what I considered to be the trap of institutionalized religion, of “churchianity,” I took to walking or sitting for hours together by the ocean, pondering its immensity. I watched little fingers of water as they rushed in among the rocks and pebbles on the shore. Did the vastness of God find personal expression, similarly, in our own lives?
The juxtaposition of these thoughts with my daily contacts in and out of the theater filled me with distaste. How petty seemed man’s desires compared to the impersonal vastness of the ocean, and of infinity! The loftiest aspirations of the people around me seemed mean, their values to an incredible degree selfish and ignoble. Egos pitted themselves against other egos in petty rivalry. My fellow students at the theater insisted that such behavior laid bare the realities of human nature: So, in fact, had declared the modern dramas they admired. Alas, far from bemoaning these “realities,” my friends gloried in them. Aspiring actors that they were, they prided themselves on pretending selfishness, “rugged egoism,” indifference to the needs of others, and rudeness — until the pretense itself became their reality.
My associates of those days helped me, spiritually, more than I realized at the time, for the more they mocked me with their insistent claim, “This is life!” the more my heart cried out silently, “It isn’t! It just can’t be!” And as my cry increased in urgency, it deepened my own search. More and more I understood that what they termed life was only living death.
This isn’t to say that sordidness has no objective reality of its own. God was trying to get me to see, rather, the depths to which man, without Him, can sink.
One evening outside my apartment I encountered a fellow student walking in a daze, almost staggering, hardly able to hew a straight line. My first thought was that he must be drunk. Then I noticed dried blood on his forehead. Evidently something more serious was amiss. I led him indoors. Between long pauses of mental confusion he related the following story:
“I was sitting quietly on a park bench, enjoying the evening air. I remember hearing footsteps approach behind me. The next thing I knew I was lying on the grass, returning slowly to consciousness. My coat and trousers were gone. So was my wallet.
“Minutes passed. Confused as I was, I had no idea what to do. Then I saw a police car on the other side of the little park. In relief I staggered over and explained my predicament. My natural assumption was that these policemen would help me.
“Well, can you guess what they did? They arrested me for not being decently clothed! At the police station I was put into a jail cell without so much as a chance to protest against this outrage to justice.
“For some time I tried to get them at least to let me make a phone call. Finally they made that much of a concession. ‘Just one call,’ the sergeant said. I phoned a couple of friends of ours, who came over with fresh clothing.
“Now — would you believe it?—our friends are in jail, and I’m out!” Shaking his head unbelievingly, he concluded, “I still don’t understand how it all happened.”
What had occurred, I learned later, was that these friends, infuriated at this example of police indifference, had cried, “You don’t even seem to care that a crime has been committed!”
“You’re under arrest!” bellowed the police sergeant.
When our friends resisted this further outrage, they were set upon by every policeman in the room, beaten up, and thrown into jail. My injured friend, meanwhile, was released, presumably because he was now decently dressed, and told to go home and forget the whole thing. It was hardly fifteen minutes later that I met him, wandering about in confusion.
I immediately returned with him to the police station. As we entered, wild screams issued from a back room. Moments later, a couple of policemen emerged, dragging a screaming black woman across the floor by her heels. They dumped her unceremoniously before the sergeant’s desk, where she passed out. One of the men, to whom this silence must have seemed disrespectful, brought out a rubber hose and beat her with it on the soles of her bare feet. Some moments later she regained consciousness, and began screaming again. Satisfied, they dragged her into the jail and flung her, still screaming, into a cell. The remainder of the time I was there I heard her moaning quietly.
Throughout this grim episode the rest of the policemen in the room, about fifteen of them, stood around, laughing. “I haven’t had this much fun in years!” gloated one of them, as he rubbed his hands gleefully together.
Obviously, to reason with such brutes was impossible; I therefore tried to get information out of them. The sergeant finally gave me the name of a judge whose word he required, he said, “before I can release these hoodlums.” It was already late, but before the night ended I succeeded in getting the judge out of bed, and our friends out of jail.
From this utter mockery of justice I at least learned a salutary lesson. First, of course, I reacted to such brutality with normal human indignation. Subsequent reflection, however, convinced me that injustice of one kind or another is inevitable in this world. For aren’t we all to some extent lost in ignorance? Blind as I myself was, what right had I to blame others simply because their blindness differed from my own? My first thought had been, “We need to change society!” But then I realized that what was needed was a new kind of change: religious or spiritual, not social.
Religion. Again that word! This time I was being pushed toward it by human injustice instead of pulled by my own longing for some higher good. I began now to wonder if evil weren’t a conscious will inherent in the universe. How else to account for its prevalence on earth? for man’s cruelty to man? for the brutality of the Nazis? for the terrors millions have suffered under communism? How else to explain the appalling twist of fate that causes the good intentions of many who embrace communism to result in human debasement, slavery, and death? What, outside of a renewed, widespread return to God — a revolution in spirit — could correct the unnumbered, almost unimaginable wrongs in this world?
I gave much thought at this time to communism as a force for evil. My parents had returned from Rumania with tales of Russian atrocities. Our Rumanian friends there were suffering under the new regime; some of them had been deported to slave labor camps in Siberia. Surely, I thought, the common argument against communism, that it is inefficient, misses the point altogether. What is truly wrong with it is not that its top-heavy bureaucracy results in the production of fewer material conveniences; nor is it even that communism denies people their political rights. What is monstrous about it is that it treats materialism2 itself as a virtual religion. Denying the reality of God, communism sets up matter in His place and demands self-abnegation of its adherents much as religions do everywhere.
For committed communists, the shortage of material goods reveals, not the inefficiency of their system, but the measure of their willingness to sacrifice for “the cause.” Believing in nothing higher than matter, they see spiritual values — truthfulness, compassion, love — as utterly meaningless. They feel morally justified, rather, in committing any atrocity that will advance their own ideology. Their motto is, “In every circumstance, ask yourself only, What is best for the cause?”
Theirs might be called a religion of unconsciousness, of non-values. It does offer, however, a pseudo-moralistic rationale for the materialistic values of our age. For this reason its teachings will continue to spread, I’m afraid, until mankind everywhere embraces another, a true kind of religion, one that perceives God, not matter, at the heart of reality.
Pursuing these thoughts, I found myself concluding, for reasons both objective and subjective, and for the sake of mankind generally as well as for my own sake, that what I wanted, what all mankind really needs, is God.
The question returned to me with increasing urgency: What IS God?
One evening, taking a long walk into the gathering night, I deeply pondered this question. I dismissed as absurd, to start with, the popular notion of a venerable figure with flowing white beard, piercing eyes, and a terrible brow striking fear into all those who disobey Him. Science has shown us an expansive vastness comprising countless galaxies, each one blazing with innumerable stars. How could any anthropomorphic figure have been responsible for creating all that?
What, then, about fuzzy alternatives that had been proposed to suit the abstract tastes of intellectuals? A “Cosmic Ground of Being,” for example: What a sterile evasion — what a non-concept! Such formulas I considered a “cop-out,” for they gave one nothing to work with.
No, I thought, God has to be, if nothing else, a conscious Being. I had read alternate claims that He is a dynamic force. Well, He had to be that, too, of course. But could it be a blind force, like electricity? If so, whence came human intelligence? Materialists claim that man’s consciousness is produced by “a movement of energy through a pattern of nerve circuits.” Well! But intelligence, I realized, is not central to the issue anyway. Intelligence implies reasoning, and reasoning is only one aspect of consciousness; it might almost be called a mechanical aspect, inasmuch as it is conceivable for something electronic to be devised that will do much of his reasoning for him.
René Descartes’ famous formula: “I think, therefore I am,” is superficial, and false. One can be fully conscious without thinking at all. Consciousness obviously exists apart from ratiocination, and is a precondition for any kind of thoughtful awareness.
What about our sense of I-ness: our egos? We don’t have to ponder the question objectively. We simply know that we exist. This knowledge, I have come to understand, is intuitive. Even a newborn baby making its first cry doesn’t become self-aware because of that cry. It requires self-awareness for it to suffer! Even a worm demonstrates self-awareness: prick it with a pin, and it will try to wriggle away.
Obviously, then, consciousness is at least latent everywhere, and in everything. God Himself must be conscious, and, having created everything, must also have produced it out of consciousness: not out of His consciousness, for consciousness cannot be something He possesses: He is consciousness: Essential Consciousness.
What about self-awareness? This, too, must be inherent not only in all life, but in everything. We are not merely His creations: We manifest Him! We exist, because He exists.
To “cut to the chase”: all of us, as His manifestations, have the capacity to manifest Him more or less perfectly. Surely, then, what we need is to deepen our awareness of Him at the center of our being.
What a staggering concept!
I recalled the days I had spent watching the ocean surf break into long, restless fingers among the rocks and pebbles on the shore. The width of each opening, I reflected, determined the size of the flow. Similarly, if our deepest reality is God, might it not be possible for us to chip away at our granite resistance to Him, and thereby widen our channels of receptivity? And would not every aspect of His infinite consciousness flow into us, then, like the ocean, abundantly?
If this was true, then obviously our highest duty is to seek attunement with Him. And the way to do so is to develop that aspect of our nature which we can open to Him. The way to do that, obviously, is to lift our hearts up to Him, and to seek His guidance in every thought and deed. In so doing He must — since we are a part of His consciousness — assist us in our efforts to broaden our mental channels.
I realized, now, that true religion is no mere system of beliefs, and is a great deal more than any formalized attempt to wheedle a little pity out of the Lord by offering up pleading, propitiatory rites and prayers. If our link with Him consists in the fact that we are already a part of Him, then it is up to us to receive Him more completely, and express Him more fully.3 This, then, is what true religion is all about!
What I had seen thus far of religious practices, and eschewed in disappointment, was not true religion, but the merest first, toddling steps up a stairway to infinity! One might, I reflected, devote his entire life to this true religion, and never stagnate. What a thrilling prospect!
This, then, would be my calling in life: I would seek God!
Dazed with the grandeur of these reflections, I hardly knew how or at what hour I found my way home again. “Home” at this time was a large, five-room apartment on South Battery which I shared with four of my fellow drama students. On my return there I found them seated, chatting, in the kitchen. I joined them, more or less automatically, for a cup of coffee. My thoughts, however, were far away from that convivial gathering. So overwhelmed was I by my new insights that I could hardly speak.
“Look at Don! What’s he got to be so solemn about?” When they found that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, participate in their jocularity, the laughter turned to teasing.
“Don keeps trying to solve the riddle of the universe! Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!”
“Ah, sweet mystery of life!” crooned another.
“Why, can’t you see?” reasoned the fourth, addressing me solemnly. “It’s all so simple! There’s no riddle to be solved! Just get drunk when you like, have fun, shack up with a girl whenever you can, and forget all this craziness!”
“Yeah,” reiterated the first, heavily. “Forget it.”
To my present state of mind, my roommates sounded like yapping puppies. Of what use to me, such friends? I rose and went quietly to my room.
A few days later I was discussing religion with another acquaintance.
“If you want spiritual teachings,” he remarked suddenly, “you’ll find all your answers in the Bhagavad Gita.”
“What’s that?” Somehow I found this exotic name deeply appealing, and also, in some unaccountable way, familiar.
“It’s a Hindu scripture.”
Hindu? And what was that? I knew nothing of the Indian teachings. This name, however, the Bhagavad Gita, lingered with me.
If religion was a matter of becoming more receptive to God, it was high time, I decided, that I got busy and worked on making myself receptive. But how? It wasn’t that I had no idea how to improve myself. Rather, I saw so much room for improvement that I hardly knew where to begin.
There was the question of my psychological faults: intellectual pride, an overly critical nature. No one, myself included, was happy with these traits in me. But how was I to work on them? And for that matter, were they entirely unmixed evils? Was it wrong, for instance, to think? Was it wrong to stand honestly by the fruits of one’s thinking, regardless of what others thought? And was it so wrong to be critical of attitudes which one’s discrimination declared to be false? People who were more concerned for their own comfort than for my spiritual development condemned these traits in me outright. But to me it seemed that there were aspects to my very faults that must be considered virtues. How was I to sift one from the other?
Contemplating my more socially acceptable virtues, I saw that, here, the very opposite was true: In some ways these “virtues” assumed the nature of faults. My compassion for the sufferings of others, for example, prompted me to try to help them beyond any power I had to give. How else to account for my desire to help them by my writings, when I didn’t even know what to write? when I didn’t, by personal experience, know truth? Here again: How was I to sift truth from error?
Was there any way out of the psychological labyrinth in which I now found myself?
Even on a physical level, the possibilities for self-improvement seemed bewilderingly complex. I read in a magazine advertisement the names of several famous people who had been vegetarians. Vegetarians? Was it really desirable, or even possible, to live without eating meat? Again, I read somewhere else that white flour is harmful to the health. White flour? Heretofore, my idea of a balanced meal had been hamburger on a white bun, decorated with a thin sliver of tomato and a limp wisp of lettuce. It seemed now that there were all sorts of points to consider on even so basic a subject as diet.
Finally, bewildered by the sheer number of choices before me, I decided that there could be but one way out of my imperfections: God. I must let Him guide my life. I must leave off seeking human solutions, and give up defining my search in terms of human effort.
And what of my plans to be a playwright? Well, what had I been writing, anyway? Could I, who knew nothing, say anything meaningful to others? I had deluded myself for a time with the thought that perhaps, by vague allusions to the truth, I might write works with cryptic messages that others would understand even if I myself had no idea what those messages were. But now I realized that in this way out, common as it is among writers, I had not been honest. No, I must give up writing altogether. I must give up even thinking about flooding the world with my ignorance. Surely, out of very compassion for others, I must leave off trying to help them. I must renounce their world, their interests, their attachments, their pursuits. I must seek God in the wilderness, on a mountaintop, in complete solitude.
I would become a hermit.
And what was it I hoped to find, once I made such a complete renunciation? Peace of mind? Inner strength, perhaps? A little happiness?
Wistfully I thought: happiness! I recalled the pure happiness I had known as a child, lost now in the pseudosophistication of my intellectual youth. Would I ever find happiness again? Only, I thought, if I became once again simple, like a child. Only if I forsook my over-intellectuality and opened myself completely to God’s love.
I pursued this line of thinking for a time. Then a new doubt seized me: Was I losing my mind? Whoever had heard of anyone actually seeking God? Whoever had heard of anyone communing with Him? Was I a complete lunatic to be dreaming of blazing trails where no man — so far as I knew — had ever ventured before?
For I knew nothing, as yet, about the lives of true saints. Vaguely I’d heard them described as people who lived close to God, but the mental image I had formed of them was of no more than ordinarily good people, going about smiling at children, doing kind deeds, and perhaps murmuring benignly, “Pax vobiscum,” or some such pious formula, to anybody who got in their way. What demon of presumption possessed me that caused me to dream of actually finding God? Surely, I must be going mad!
Yet, if this were madness, was it not a more solacing condition than the world’s vaunted “sanity”? For it was a madness that promised hope, in a world bereft of hope. It was a madness that promised peace, in a world of conflict and warfare. It was a madness that promised happiness, in a world of suffering, cynicism, and broken dreams.
I knew not how to take even my first steps toward God, but my longing for Him had by now become an obsession.
Where could I turn? To whom could I look for guidance? The religious people I had met, the monks, priests, and ministers of the Gospel, had seemed quite as lost in ignorance as I was.
It occurred to me that I might find in the scriptures a wisdom that those monks, priests, and others had overlooked. At least I must give scripture a try.
And what of my plans to become a hermit? This path, surely, I must follow also. Ah! but where? how? with what money to buy the essentials of life? with what practical knowledge to build a shelter, plant food, and otherwise care for myself? Was I not, after all, a complete fool, lost in wild-eyed, impractical dreams? Surely, if practical steps had to be taken, there must be a more pragmatic solution to my dilemma than drifting off to an existence for which I was utterly untrained.
At this point, Reason stepped onto the scene briskly to offer me a resolution for my dilemma.
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” it asserted, “that vigorous, healthful country living can’t cure. You’ve been spending too much time with jaded city people. Get out among simple, genuine, good country folk if you want to find peace of mind. Don’t waste your life on impossible dreams. Get back to the land! It isn’t God you want; it’s a more natural way of life, in Nature’s harmony and simplicity.” Shades of my Mexican fiasco!
Ease, in fact, not simplicity, was at the heart of this message. For God poses so mighty a challenge to the ego that man will grasp at almost anything rather than heed the call to complete self-surrender.
And, weakling that I was, I relented. I would, I decided, heed Reason’s counsel. I would go off to the country, commune with Nature, and live there among more natural human beings.