The Awakening of Jeff Foster
As the story goes (and I can barely remember any of it now) I was walking through the rain on a cold Autumn evening in Oxford. The sky was getting dark; I was wrapped up warm in my new coat. And suddenly and without warning, the search for something more apparently fell away, and with it all separation and loneliness.
And with the death of separation, I was everything that arose: I was the darkening sky, I was the middle aged man walking his golden retriever, I was the little old lady hobbling along in her waterproofs. I was the ducks, the swans, the geese, the funny looking bird with the red streak on its forehead. I was the trees in all their autumnal glory, I was the sludge sticking to my feet, I was my body, all of it, arms and legs and torso and face and hands and feet and neck and hair and genitals, the whole damn lot. I was the raindrops falling on my head (although it was not my head, I did not own it, but it was undeniably there, and so to call it "my head" is as good as anything). I was the splish-splash of water on the ground, I was the water collecting into puddles, I was the water swelling the pond until it looked fit to burst its banks, I was the trees soaked by water, I was my coat soaked by water, I was the water soaking everything, I was everything being soaked, I was the water soaking itself.
And everything that for so long had seemed so ordinary had suddenly become so extraordinary, and I wondered if, in fact, it hadn't been this way all along: that perhaps for my whole life it had been this way, so utterly alive, so clear, so vibrant. Perhaps in my lifelong quest to reach the spectacular and the dramatic, I had missed the ordinary, and with it, and through it, and in it, the utterly extraordinary.
And the utterly extraordinary on this day was awash with rain, and I was not separate from any of it, that is to say, I was not there at all. As the old Zen master had said upon hearing the sound of the bell ringing, "there was no I, and no bell, just the ringing", so it was on this day: there was no "I" experiencing this clarity, there was only the clarity, only the utterly obvious presenting itself in each and every moment.
Of course, I had no way of knowing any of this at the time. At the time, thought was not there to claim any of this as an “experience”. There was just what was happening, but no way of knowing it. The words came later.
And there was an all-pervading feeling that everything was okay with the world, there was an equanimity and a sense of peace which seemed to underlie everything there was; it was as though everything was simply a manifestation of this peace, as if nothing existed apart from peace, in its infinite guises.
And I was the peace, and the duck over there was it too, and the wrinkly old lady still waddling along was the peace, and the peace was all around, everything just vibrated with it, this grace, this presence that was utterly unconditional and free, this overwhelming love that seemed to be the very essence of the world, the very reason for it, the Alpha and the Omega of it all. The word "God" seemed to point to it too, and the word "Tao", and "Buddha".
This was the self-authenticating experience that all religions seemed to point to in the end. This seemed to be the very essence of faith: death of the self, death of the "little me" with its petty desires and complaints and futile plans, death of everything that separates the individual from God, death of even the idea of God himself ("if you see the Buddha, kill him") and a plunge into Nothingness, the Nothingness that reveals itself as the God beyond God, the Nothingness that all things are in their essence, the Nothingness that gives rise to all form, the Nothingness that is the world itself in all its pain and wonder, the Nothingness that is total Fullness.
And yet this so-called "religious experience" is not really an experience at all, since the one who experiences, the "me", is the very thing which is no more. No, this is something beyond, something prior to, all experience. It is the foundation of all experience, the ground of existence itself, and nobody could ever experience that, even if the world lasted another billion years.
That day, there was nobody there, and yet everything was there in its place. Beyond experience or lack of it, there were the ducks flapping their little wings, there were the raindrops trickling down my neck, there were the puddles under my shoes which were now caked in mud, there was the grey sky, there were other bodies, just like mine, splashing through the puddles, some walking their dogs, some alone, some cuddling up to their loved ones, some running frantically to escape the downpour.
And there was a great compassion. Not a sentimental compassion, not a narcissistic compassion, but a compassion that seemed to be part of what it meant to be alive on that day, a compassion which seemed to be the very essence of life, a compassion which seemed to pulsate through all living things, a compassion which said that none of us were separate from each other, that nothing at all was really separate from anything else, that your pain was identical to my pain, that your joy was my joy, not because these were principles we'd read in the Bible or taken on authority from those we held in high esteem, not because these were ideals that we tried to live up to, but because this seemed to be the way of things, this seemed to be the nature of manifestation: that we were all expressions of something infinitely larger than ourselves.
But even the word "ourselves" seemed to imply that we were separate, and therefore this was a compassion which was beyond words, beyond language; indeed this compassion transcended any idea of “compassion”, this compassion arose from the fact that there actually is no separation at all, that separation is an illusion, that in fact we are each other, that I am you, that you are me, that we cannot be ourselves without others, that I cannot be I without you, and you cannot be you without me, not in some wishy-washy lovey-dovey sentimental way, but really, honestly: we need each other, we are bound to each other, we cannot live without each other, we cannot live without everything else.
I cannot live without that tree I'm walking under, without the raindrops that have made their way down my back, without the old woman who's managed to waddle a little further down the path (she's being so very careful to avoid the puddles, bless her!), without the pond, without the ducks, without the swans, without my new coat keeping me warm, without the man with the dog who smiles and says “hi” as he walks past.
We are bound to each other, all things are bound to all things, which is to say there are not really any separate "things" at all, there is only Oneness, only the whole, only the Buddha, only Christ, only the Tao, only God himself, and nothing exists apart from anything else.
And so to say that on that day there was no "I" is really to say that there was only God, there was only Christ, there was only the Tao, only Buddha, only Oneness, only Spirit, and Jeff had exploded into it all, Jeff was nowhere to be found, in the sense that he was not separate from everything that arose. Jeff was just a story spun by a storyteller with a vivid imagination, Jeff was missing from the scene and yet infused into it, Jeff was nothing and he was everything, he was present to his own absence and absent to his presence, he was life itself, in its entirety, and yet he, in all truth, had died.
And yes, there were tears. What else is there to do but cry at such a discovery? A discovery which really wasn't a discovery at all, because nothing had been found, since nothing had really ever been lost. This clarity had always been there, I'd just been looking elsewhere my whole life and ignoring the utterly obvious. God had always been right there, in the present moment, in the midst of things, but I'd spent my life seeking Him in the future. The Buddha Mind had been my own mind, always, but I'd spent years trying to attain it. Christ had been crucified and resurrected and was walking in the midst of us, drenching our lives in unconditional love, but for a lifetime I had assumed he was elsewhere, in some other world (or in this world but not in my own life, at least).
No, nothing had been found, because nothing had ever been lost. But perhaps it was the realisation of the utterly obvious that hit me that day, the realisation that there was nothing to realise, that everything I ever wanted was always right there in front of me and always would be, that peace and love and joy were always freely available in each and every moment, that love, pure unconditional love, the love of Jesus, the love of Buddha, the love that passes all understanding was the very ground of all things, the very reason for anything being here in the first place. It was there, always there, always waiting patiently for me to return home.
And there, in the rain, on that day, I knew finally that I was home, and what's more, that I would always be home, that I had always been home, through it all, through all the tears and the pain, through the dark times and the desperate times and all the times I thought I'd never make it, through all those times and more, the Home of all Homes had been there. The possibility of the Kingdom of Heaven was always present, the grace of God was always an open invitation, through thick and thin, through sickness and through health, through all that, world without end....
It was a very ordinary walk on a very ordinary, and very wet, Autumn day. And yet, in that ordinariness, the extraordinary revealed itself, shining through the wetness and the darkness and the sludge on the ground, shining so brightly that I was no more, that I dissolved into that brightness and became it.
And yet, that makes it sound way too special. That day, in the rain, nothing really happened at all. It was just a very ordinary walk on a very ordinary day.
I left through the large iron gates, crossed the road and waited for the bus, huddling in the shelter with several others.
Nothing had changed and everything had changed. I had glimpsed something, something deep and profound and in some ways shocking, and yet something that was utterly ordinary and somewhat unsurprising. Yes, it was unsurprising that the very ordinary should turn out to be the only meaning of life, that who I took myself to be should turn out to be just a nice fairy story.
Yes, it was unsurprising, that the divine should be in the utterly ordinary, that God should be one with the world, present in and as each and every thing.
I boarded the bus and as the rain streamed down the dirty windows I smiled to myself. What a gift - to be alive now of all moments, to be in this body of all bodies, to be here, in this place of all places, even though it is all a dream, even though it is all impermanent, even though if we really look, we find nothing but emptiness...
Original story here