I had occasion to stand still in the forest the other day. I stepped off the familiar trail to be surrounded by trees and deadfall and for half an hour or so simply stood there.
It is hard to describe those moments precisely: I am not always sure I am meant to. There is a sort of sinking to it, as if what I am in truth is able to briefly settle itself into the body with which I tend to identify. Paradoxically, this lends itself to an awareness that is not of the body but of something else unhindered altogether by containers.
And so the trees reveal themselves in specific and variegated glory: broken limbs on which tufts of snow rest, bright green moss scaling the trunks, jagged scrapes where restless bucks worked their antlers. Sunlight passes through flecks of ice, each prismatic band of color sparkling brighter than the last, all of it rendered more brilliant and stunning than any work of art by human hands. The impossibly blue sky is not there but here and one is not separate from it but enfolded within it.
Light breezes that go unnoticed while walking and thinking and planning literally whisper in the pine trees, a language I only think I have forgotten. Carapace maple leaves frozen to branches rustle and quiver. Chickadees and Juncos flit through green laurel; a chipmunk races down ruined stone walls. The lace of deer tracks unwinds in stately lineament.
What I welcome welcomes me. And so the mind quietens; the body slows. It is possible this moment existed forever; it is possible no other will follow. The solitude is exquisite, joined to eternity and the endless and intertwined circles of creation.
Emily Dickinson understood.
Who has not found the Heaven – below –
Will fail of it above –
For Angels rent the House next our’s,
Wherever we remove –
These moments are gifts: they are not accomplishments. Only when I believe I am special because of them do they fade. They are not taken away because I think I’m special. Rather, I deny them by thinking I am special. They are always given without condition or qualification.
More, they are not limited to sunsets, winter forests, quiet lakes, Zen temples, monasteries or mountain tops. That we experience them that way is simply a reflection of the limitation that we place on God. In truth, the chapel is internal. It is within. We take it with us everywhere and what is God is never not at rest inside it.
A Course in Miracles puts it this way:
You do not want the world. The only thing of value in it is whatever part of it you look upon with love. This gives it the only reality it will ever have. Its value is not itself, but yours is in you (T-12.VI.3:1-4).
What I am saying is, we have to go to those places – those experiences – in which God is clear and true. They are that way because we look upon them with love. It might be the coast, might be a window facing the bird feeder, might be a cold New England forest at dawn, might be a Fender Strat played through a Marshall stack. The form is relevant only because it is – for now – the form in which we can accept Love.
Don’t judge this but rather give as much attention to it as possible. This is where Jesus meets you. This is where the Holy Spirit reminds you that “[H]eaven is your home, and being in God it must also be in you” (T-12.VI.7:7). This is where your loving and forgiving thoughts most readily and fluidly extend outward, encompassing the world in a vast and timeless healing embrace.
We are called to this loveliness. We are called to know it intimately and consistently and to share it with one another as the means by which we know it.
As self-value comes from self-extension, so does the perception of self-value come from the extension of loving thoughts outward. Make the world real unto yourself, for the real world is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and so it belongs to you (T-12.VI.3:5-6).
Accept the gift in the form it is offered: allow its outward expression. Learn that we are within what is Christ as what is Christ is in us, and that this is true for every aspect of creation: brothers, sisters, horses, hills, rivers, stones and crows. Love all of it and know in turn the Love of Christ endlessly flowing, endlessly extending.
For a moment I did not stand shivering in the New England woods near the end of December but rested peacefully and joyfully in the perfect and timeless love of God. You were there, too: that was how I knew it was Heaven.