SEEING THE EXTRAORDINARY IN THE ORDINARY

In SACRED WORLD by Nadja Prætorius2 Comments

Dream and reality
I am dreaming. I am in an intensive care unit. I am alone, and obviously dying. On monitors, I can follow how one organ after another slowly gives out. I am not afraid of dying but I am a little worried at the thought about the very moment of death, the moment at which after an exhalation, no inhalation will follow. I am sure that it is only moments away. Suddenly, it is as if the countdown is halted, the monitors show stability, and I note that I apparently still have some time left. In the next second, a silence beyond all silence occurs. In a flash, I see a brilliant light so clear and strong, as if from a thousand stars, and I feel the light’s boundless space of love and wisdom engulfing me. In my complete joy at leaving everything behind me, I walk into the ocean of light and become one with infinite truth.

In the next moment, I found myself lying in my bed. It was early in the morning. My first impulse was a sense of deep regret at having been torn out of a reality infinitely true and more brilliant, clearer, and more loving than the pale reflection of the reality I was slowly waking up to. However, the experience was so intense, filling every cell in my body – and it continued to do so in the following days and weeks.

My disappointment at being alive in my physical body was replaced by a deep sense of gratitude for having experienced once more a glimpse of the all-encompassing truth, wisdom, and boundless goodness of true being. The truth that I, in that moment, realized as being the origin of and inseparably present in everything – regardless of whether we call it life or death and regardless of whether we are conscious of it or not. And I felt an almost irresistible urge to put my dressing gown on and walk to the streets and tell everyone I met that they never again have to fear death and that life in reality holds everything we can wish for.

I came to terms with the thought. But I decided to call my mother and tell her about my dream later in the morning at a time when I knew she would be having her breakfast. It is actually extremely rare for me to talk to others about experiences like this – let alone anybody in my family. But I thought that my dream could be helpful to her. She was well into her seventies and, in my view, she had to have one foot in the grave at that age – and fear the worst.

My mother listened in silence to my account about the dream and its uplifting message. After a while, she broke her silence. She said that at the moment I had called, she was actually reading some advertising material sent from a supermarket and that if I was interested, I could get three packs of ground beef at half price.

My mother reached the ripe age of 96. I never succeeded in touching on this subject again with her, even though I tried several times over the years. Before she died, it had become less taboo to talk about death and to talk about what you thought about death. It was recommended that relatives should engage in this difficult conversation and unveil the solitude of the dying person and share whatever you believed was at the heart of the matter. My mother listened patiently to any attempts I made along these lines. It was, however, more suitable for her to want to talk about her preferred media darling on the late news on television and about what he had said or done so cleverly. And about that nice young doctor from Pakistan – and Member of Parliament – who had inspired her to cast her vote for the Socialist People’s Party.

For her part, my mother tried over the years to talk me into going to concerts and art shows and into reading current literature. These pursuits meant the world to her and she was engaged in doing these kinds of things with some of her friends. Actually, I thought that her preoccupation with art was mixed with a certain snobbishness and a wish to belong to the upper rungs of society.

After her death, I came to think of a conversation I had with her when she was 92 and I realized how wrong I had been. It happened when she told me that she had shortly before traveled, all by herself, by bus – bringing a lunchbox – to The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen to hear an opera cycle that lasted all day – and over the course of several days. Remembering the conversation made me understand that art, to her, was the entrance into a reality that was inexpressible and elevated above everything that human beings can fathom. That she, in the course of those days she spent at the opera, unconditionally surrendered to the enormous space of euphony, beauty and lofty human and existential drama. That, seated there in the darkness, she became one with the operatic work of art, the musicians, the singers and the unknown listeners sitting in the rows of seats around her. When she told me about what for her was like setting out on a pilgrimage and about her experience of being freed and cleansed to the core of her soul, her eyes glowed knowingly and with a brilliant light that I had only rarely had the opportunity to witness.

The imperceptible self-forgetfulness
Most of us have experienced extraordinary moments of presence in self-forgetting union with everything in existence – with another person, with nature or a piece of art – and we have realized, in that instant, the inexpressible goodness and infinite beauty of being. Such a moment can be so intensely real and enriching that we stop in pensiveness and rest in the reverberations, filled by sensations of joy and gratitude for the inexplicable moment. Moments of self-forgetting presence are actually not as rare as we are inclined to believe. Perhaps we do not notice them because they are so mundane and natural. And because they are so fleeting.

Moments of self-forgetting presence in the pure space of awareness occur in the milliseconds between one thought that ends and a new one that arises. A space of awareness in which we directly perceive and sense what is. When we, for instance, in open aware presence, meet another, in fleeting eye contact, or when we perceive the beauty of a flower, when we get an insight, or when we spontaneously know what is needed and without further ado act according to this hunch. It is in these moments that we, being present in our natural state, know what is beneficial to ourselves and others – without ulterior motives or agendas – and without having to think any more about it, we act accordingly. In this aware presence, the giver and the receiver imperceptibly become one in mutual exchange.

It is in the self-forgetting, attentive presence that the inner estrangement is dissolved and we are closest to ourselves. (The one) I am is experienced more real in its fullness and yet as being light and transparent – freed from the veils of concepts and preconceived opinions. According to Buddhist philosophy and understanding of existence, we experience, in these moments, the natural state of mind and existence.*

* I learned of the phrase “Seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary” in the course of H.E. Mindrolling Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche’s exposition of Longchen Rabjam‘s (1308-1363) comment to The Guhyagarbha Tantra during the Annual Retreat, Mindrolling Lotus Garden, 2011, USA. The phrase thus belongs to an advanced level of Buddhist philosophy, namely, the Vajrayana. In the present book, which is not a Buddhist text, it is used to express everyday events and spontaneous experiences in which conventional understanding is transcended by insight belonging to another level of knowing.

About the Author
Nadja Prætorius

Nadja Prætorius

Nadja was Associate professor in cross-cultural psychology at The University of Copenhagen and RUC and later worked as a psychologist in private practice. Ordained as a nun in Mindrolling Samten Tse, India by H.E. Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche. Author of several books and articles, primarily on dehumanization, alienation and stress in our contemporary societies - and how to reclaim our true human potentials in order to co-create sustainable communities.

Excerpted from Making all the Difference in the World, by Nadja U. Prætorius.
Art by 愚木混株  Shanghai/China.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this beautiful piece. Just reading it, I love your mother – as well as your reverence for the depths and mystery.

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