An Exercise to Help Ease the Way into the Frightening Wonder
I have been traumatized many times over, and I can say that trauma is not necessarily a bad thing.
Besides all the normal life traumas, like some of the teachers and other masters most of us encounter along the way, as well as by a number of unexpected life events, I have been traumatized by the thunder I have heard and which is still, continually it seems, rumbling. Not that I hear it continually, but whenever I remember, I hear it again, and from that I assume it’s a 24/7 channel available whenever I’m available.
I’m traumatized from some of the sights I have seen, some of the places I have stood, some of the faces and eyes there, from streams passing underneath me and currents meeting in front of me.
Traumatized from incessant miracles, from truth of a certain kind, from a reality gratefully making itself known from behind lattices. Traumatized from standing locked face-to-face, eye-to-eye, and mind-to-mind with an intense Jewish spiritual leader who had stood eleven times on the brink of the most dangerous of precipices. Traumatized from the shock of encountering literal powerhouses in Jerusalem, and encounters with their gravestones. Traumatized, maybe most of all, by my instant of Olam HaBa and other near-life experiences…and more.
And always, the thunder and the rumbling were there whenever I was.
Traumatized. And infinitely thankful for it all.
Thankful because it was all awe-full, in the best sense of the word.
And because of that I may be able to speak of the frightening wonder. You can do shiftF7 in Word for synonyms of both those words.
I’ve never taken one of those shamanistic trips in South America where they ingest the powerful plants native to that part of the world, but I hear that they can have long periods of unfathomable horror. I don’t need it, and even if it would somehow benefit me, I wouldn’t do it. But I can say that the frightening wonder that we are talking about pulls me as it intrigues me. This journey is something different than the one in South America: Marvelously Awful as it wraps you in its wonder and the first thing you do is wonder in ways you never thought possible before this.
Horror is when you are surprised/shocked by something looming. Trapped.
There’s no horror here because you don’t have time for it. It’s something you don’t even see looming. It’s already arrived. Something new is inside of you. Something happens at the times of these wonderfully traumatic encounters, and simultaneous with the happening, you know you are changed, and you don’t know how to deal with a change like this. You’ve never had one like this before. When you finally turn from the encounter you meet a world you’ve never known before, but you want no treatment for your “condition,” and you don’t give any alphabet names for it, like PTSD.
It may have the name strange, even if beautiful. Or, as a poet of 750 years ago said, “If name be needed, call it wonder.”
It had to be a frightening wonder if it’s going to be the wonder you need, wouldn’t you agree?
Isn’t that, as the Rav in the shiur I heard says, “the entire purpose of everything?” Don’t you want to be one of “those people who can see the visibility of the invisible… who see through its existence and touch the non-existence within it…To touch limitation and see the unlimited within it…Who can see through measurement to realize the immeasurability within it… Who can touch limitation and taste the unlimited within it.”
Maybe, there is a true Torah that is traumatic.
But it’s not one that says, “If you’re afraid, don’t turn the page,” but rather, “If you’re afraid, take your time but turn the page. Are you willing to take the chance?”
I am not courting special favors or praise by telling over those parts of my story that I’ve referred to here. I am not looking to be anything in the eyes of others whose stories when told are truly remarkable. Many people have stories of great daring in their lives, and many accomplishments that I can’t hope to match, but I can say that I have one thing: a compelling memory. And with that I remind myself about the frightening wonder almost as often as necessary. If anybody else is around who I think might like to be reminded, I remind them also. Usually, but not always, they’re grateful.
In that vein, to that purpose, here’s an exercise that can help ease the way into the world of frightening wonder:
I have a neighbor who is a baal teshuva. Once, in the old days, he decided to sail a boat across the ocean by himself, and he succeeded in doing it with not much more to guide him than a book with a title like “How to Sail Across the Ocean,” which he read starting from page one as he set sail.
One day, he was way out in the middle of the ocean…It was deep blue and green and silent and alone…He decided to go for a swim, so he set his anchor and jumped into the ocean.
That was it! Instantly, he broke out of the water, scrambling back into the boat, escaping with his life and sanity…
He didn’t see any sharks or other frightening animals. All he saw was a reality, a shining clear reality reaching far in front of him and all around him without end. As if he were in the middle of a crystal clear diamond where everything was translucent and lucid in a way that made him feel on the verge of non-existence.
Into the Process
The exercise is to get that picture really clear, as he saw it, and as you imagine yourself seeing it. You’ll know you’ve got it when you’re also terrified.
Now go back there again. You may go right back to that place, or you might take your time getting there. Whatever works for you is good. Work with it as you approach that frightening lucidity, see how you work with it. Observe everything, including yourself. Learn well.
It can take minutes, weeks, years. You can do it for 30 seconds at a time because after you get it going, the process of seeing like this continues even when you’re doing something else. But whenever the time comes that you’re finally swimming in that magnificent sublimely awe-full sea, it will be norah and awfully awesome indeed…And norah to you that you actually did it and it worked! And you should be able to swim in many other seas after that.
Now you’re in the Process, the wondrous process, which may not be anymore overly frightening. A norah/wondrous Process of History, and with your every action, you are furthering the process. History always has been running through your veins, but from this point on, the history you make will be momentous.
It’s that time in history.