June 10, 2015 admin

PURPOSE: “I Had Been My Whole Life A Bell”

by Hal Harber

Age 79. Tucson, AZ & Seattle, WA

Discovering that there is no meaning or ultimate purpose to my life was one of the most freeing, exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had.  A weight came off my shoulders, I rushed outside and saw the asphalt shimmering –asphalt! The trees were aflame, and I danced with joy. What a relief!

Without her presence I’d probably still be drinking scotch and playing golf at the country club.

For most of my life, until Labor Day weekend 1978, I had looked to authority figures, older people I thought were wise and books for guidance. I had read John Dewey’s pragmatism and knew I was responsible for the consequences of my acts.  In college I voraciously read everything I could by Harry Emerson Fosdick. When I got a divorce my first impulse was to try to figure out what went wrong. Not knowing then that one can’t “figure it out,” I read Lucretius On the Nature of Things. When I recall that now, my heart goes out to that young man. But it wasn’t until much later that I had a realization that Jean-Paul Sartre, like most thinkers, was caught in his mind – like the poet who said, “I’m a stranger and afraid in a world I never made.”

If it weren’t for our profoundly handicapped daughter who, though non-verbal, asked questions that I was unable to answer and forced me, inexorably like gravity to confront my own life – without her presence I’d probably still be drinking scotch and playing golf at the country club. Nobody I know willingly surrenders in defeat, but that’s what it took.

“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until that moment I was lifted and struck.”

After having a direct inner experience of what is really true – not knowledge or more information from outside myself – I realized how trapped I’d been not knowing who and what I am. Understanding is the booby prize. In my experience feeling fulfilled has little to do with culture, much of which turns out to be a hindrance.  By nature I’m sort of a loner and Western individualism is my default position, but try as I might, I couldn’t do it alone. It took teachers, not to tell me but to guide me to my own inner experience.

Words can’t get me home. Words can only point the way. And poetic language has worked best for me. As close as I can come to describing my own experiences is to quote Annie Dillard who said, “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until that moment I was lifted and struck.” As my wife says, “Until you see it, you don’t see it!” For me Goethe gets to the nub of it when he says,”…And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”

After those transformative experiences I saw life as a great mystery and that my unconscious attempt to cover over my essence as love was the only way I knew to survive, so my ongoing task is, not to do things that I think will bring more love and joy into my life but to peal away my defenses that obscure what is, in fact, the love and joy that is already present.

“peace of mind” is an oxymoron. I can never find peace when I’m only in my mind.

My life probably looks to others as quite ordinary, but my inner life has changed and now whatever happens is simply grist for the mill. I realize I no longer have to search to quell a yearning for purpose or meaning because that yearning simply dropped away.

If I lose the feeling of being in a flow, I stop and clear my mind by changing my level of consciousness because I know that “peace of mind” is an oxymoron. I can never find peace when I’m only in my mind. Contrary to my Western culture, I now know that I’m not in charge.

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