Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tat Tvam Asi

I prefer the back table, the one farthest away from everyone where I won’t attract attention or even look like I might want attention. Because I know if I saw someone else doing what I’m about to do right now I’d write them off as a flake. Maybe I am a flake. God knows why we do the things we do, we lie to ourselves about things so much you can spend your whole life learning to be honest with yourself, not to mention anybody else.

I set my three ring notebook down, open to a blank page, and my pencil on top. I reach into my book bag and take out a small wooden box I bought in a dime store in Puerto Rico for a couple bucks. Its exactly the size of a tall deck of cards.

I open the box, and tip out the cards in my palm and set the box next to my notebook. I’ve never been able to shuffle cards very well. I’m not a card player. Except these cards, which are special. Real special. I’ve carried these cards all over the world for the last thirty years. If there is such a thing as a vibration, mine is in these tall lanky, mildew smelling cards.

I split the deck, two stacks, lace them together, awkwardly shuffle them into a single stack. Tap the deck on the little table. Split the deck and do it again. I look at the cards and whisper “Where am I?” at them. They’ll understand.

I’m learning a language. The language of the unconscious. The language of the Found.

After a klutzy reshuffling again, I tamp the deck against the table, nice and neat and hold them in my left hand as I lift off a third of the cards, and put that pile face down on the table. Then again. Then the last. Three stacks, right to left.

“Shekinnah.” I whisper, to remind myself of what I’m trying to do.

Keeping my thoughts still, I lift off the top card on the right stack. “Judgement”, inverted. Then the middle stack. “The Magician” upright. Then the left stack. The “Knight of Wands”. I close my eyes and withdraw into myself.

Judgement. Malkuth to Hod. Inverted, turned inward. The path from the world into the astral, into the afterlife, the world of creation and thought, turned introspectively upon itself.

The Magician. Binah to Kether, the ultimate feminine of God to the field of pure unbounded Being.

The Knight of Wands. Tiphareth in Atziluth. The image of impetuous youth in the world of pure spirit.

I am standing at the table. The Knight with the budding staff in his hand turns to me. On the table is a sword, a magic wand, a chalice of water and a coin. In my hand I’m holding a candle that burns at both ends. The young man on the horse leans in and I know him. The small youthful face with the intense eyes of the fanatic, the downy chin beard and the wire glasses. The young man at the beginning of our journey. Myself, the not quite old man at the end. “Did you find Him?” he says.

“What makes you so sure it’s a Him?”

“So you know! You did find Him! Are you perfect? Will we be perfect?”

“I found something,” I say, “I’m pretty sure its true. But its not all good news. You won’t like some of it. That’s usually how you can tell when its true.”

“Tell me!”

I hold out my hand. “It’ll cost you.” Reluctantly, he hands over his staff. I put it on my table and pick up the sword. “Tipareth in Atziluth.” I whisper to myself. “Here.” He takes the sword and his armor darkens slightly. “Tiphareth in Yetzirah.” I whisper.

“Tell me! Did you find God?”

I put his staff on my table and speak a word – “Tat tvam asi.” The young man’s eyes widen behind his wire glasses. "I am That. Thou Art That. All This is That."


I look up from the cards, open my eyes. The barrista girl is leaning over the cash register with my coffee, looking around for the dumpy fart with the beard. I put the notebook over the cards to hide my weirdness and go to get my coffee.

When I get back to my little table the one next to me is occupied now by a conservatively dressed Mennonite woman and her little daughter. Shit. I’ll have to wait.

Forty years past, riding on a bus from College Park to downtown Atlanta with my best friend and the great teacher of my life, DeEtta. There was no purpose except it was a sunny day and we were bored and she packed up her little daughter Cathy and we just rode to enjoy the day, my scholarly, buxom, de facto elder sister, and her obtuse but potentially bright de facto little brother. On the way we talked about the novel she’d borrowed to me, “The Last Temptation of Christ” by Nikos Kazanzakis. I’d expressed my views that this book had moved me deeply because Jesus was such a mystery to me. I was sure that he had come with a great message but religion had distorted it. We walked around Peachtree and ducked into a bookstore for awhile.

“Come here,” she called. She was holding out a thin yellow paperback, not much thicker than a pamphlet. It was “The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta” by Swami Prabavananda. This was a time when the Beatles had turned America on to eastern religion, and hippie culture was rife as bed bugs with ambitious gurus. By those standards Prabhavananda was an honest man. A traditional Hindu monk with no agenda to sell. Only a very unique interpretation of the gospel of Christ.

Of all the books before or since, this little book, not much more than a hundred pages profoundly changed the course of my life more than any other single work.

It was my first encounter with the world view of mysticism and it was a revelation that shook me to my bones. It was the first time I had heard the view that the destiny of man was direct union with God. Not worship. Not Heaven. Union.

None of this was new to DeEtta, who had studied world religions on her own and had a working knowledge of Vedanta. But even she was startled by the change in me this little book made. It may be the best evidence I have for reincarnation, if there is such a thing. These exotic ideas were almost like the remembrance of things forgot. Picking up a way of looking at the world that had only been left aside for awhile, maybe by death.

I became voracious for enlightenment. I was determined to accomplish this spiritual feat in my lifetime, no matter what the cost. I attended a yoga class, which was a rare thing in 1972. I asked the teacher how I could learn about past lives and he steered me to a psychic named Paul Neary. Neary gave me two psychic readings. He consulted “The Book of the Akashic while in a trance and spoke to me of my various past lives and told me what my future would be in this life with what would later prove to be startlingly accurate. He said that I was in fact not a human being, but had originated in a different, alien biosphere, and had come to this world to evolve long ago. He said DeEtta had been my mother in a recent past life and we had been very close. When I told her these things later she laughed and shrieked “I gave birth to a space alien!” I still miss her.

Neary said that the next year, 1973, would be the year of the most profound changes in my life. My aura would come into the color of yellow and I would find my path.

A year later, almost to the day I met a young man in a coffee house near the university of Minnesota. He was inviting people to lectures about God. I gave him my phone number and forgot about it. A few weeks later a young woman named Susan was vacuuming the carpet and a piece of paper got stuck in the nozzle of the worn out vacuum cleaner and stuck. It was my phone number. Our destiny hangs on such small things as the weak suction of an old vacuum cleaner. She called me. I studied. I joined. It is the single decision I have had the most cause to regret and also to wonder over. It was my moment of insanity on which the rest of my life was built. And yet it hasn’t turned out that badly.

I look back, and ask myself, if I had it to do over again, would I have joined that religion. Absolutely not. And yet. And yet so much goodness, so much love, passionate spirituality, adventures, travels and experiences came from the nozzle of that old vacuum cleaner, I cannot imagine my life any other way. Yet I could not go that way, ever again. I wouldn’t even know how. And it would not be honoring myself to simply repeat the past. You always have to begin something new. The worst way to honor your spirit is to walk in your own footsteps.

The Mennonite lady finishes her coffee, says something to the girl and they leave to go shopping. I see a lot of Mennonites folks in Augusta. I wonder where they stay? When the girl grows up, will she rebel and find her own way? If not, will she regret the path she chose?

I lift up the notebook, and look at the cards. Judgment, turned within. The Magician and the brash young man in armor. I pack up my cards and put them back in the wooden box. I could lecture the young man of forty years ago, about the impossibility of discovering something when you’re in a closed system, even spiritually. But it wouldn’t do any good. And besides I’d have missed so much that was truly sacred.


  1. Hello, Garce,

    Your wonderful post makes it abundantly clear - it's the true moments of insanity that define our lives.

    Thank you.


  2. I was raised by atheist parents, and held my dad's hand as he took his last breath, adamant to the end that there was no God or afterlife, merely darkness and he was alright with that. I dabbled in many Christian churches, but always got turned off by the hypocrites who only selectively read the words that were convenient to their chosen lifestyle. My husband is a lapsed Catholic who has read much Native American philosophy. We raised our 4 kids to seek their own answers in a spirit of tolerance for whatever gets you through the night. Oldest 2 sons insist they are dad's words live on in them. 3rd son is taking a world religion class now and is enthralled. He loves them all. He's reading my King James New Testament along with writings of many eastern religions. I will not be too surprised if he decides to become a professor of religion. We all follow our own paths, seek our own answers.
    It would have been so much easier for me to inculcate them with a comforting story of "afterlife" when they were young and asked me what happens when we die. Instead, I told truthfully that I don't know. I hope...but I don't know. I'm alright with that.
    But it sounds like my son will be following in your footsteps, since he is at the "young man with glasses and downy beard" stage now.
    I only hope he achieves the level of wisdom you display in these posts.

  3. I'm fascinated by religion, even though I haven't really decided what I believe. I'm open minded to the possibilities, which ultimately means I follow no one religion, but embrace spirituality and self-discovery.

    Lovely post!

  4. Another of your thought-provoking posts, Garce, like a chapter in a spiritual diary. Your life has been a fascianting journey.

  5. Hi Lisabet!

    The ydefine our lives, not always for the better.

    Hey - I'm reading A Breed Apart. I can tell you had fun writing that.


  6. Hi Fiona

    Well, it may be easier for your son in the sense that there aren;t as many religious groups around anymore. So his choices are more limited and conventional than our generation. Kind of sad in a way.

    In my sons case, I'm trying to steer him away from atheism. He's very different from me on that point, but he grew up during a period when i was very angry at God, and in that way I may have been a kind of negative influence. Its odd the things that shape you as you grow up that you can;t control.


  7. Oh and I still love the king James Bible for its language. See if you can find a copy of that Phrabavananda book - its such a wonderful link between Christianity and mysticism.


  8. Hi Kristina

    How you like our blog so far?

    I was telling my son, that even if he doesn;t have a religion or even believe in God, his spirituality is always there, and its a reality he will have to come to terms with. It where real religion takes place, I believe.


  9. Hi Jean!

    It was more fascinating in the past. Now not so much. Back then I wanted to be a saint. Now I just want to break even. Time wears us down. What's good though is not to give up, even when we get tired.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.