What is the difference between being and non-being? Is it possible not to be? Virginia Woolf once described ‘non-being’ as unconscious living. For her it was “the cotton wool of daily life” that became unconscious living. Since daily living is mundane, I can see how it feels like cotton wool that shrouds one moment to the next, unmemorable, unnoticed, forever passed, never to be regained. What happens to us when we are conscious every minute? Is it even possible to hold onto conscious consideration every minute? Perhaps it is in paying attention to those moments that are magical that we find consciousness, or being, the easiest.
Virginia Woolf’s first memory of ‘being’ was as a child looking at a flower. As she studied it, the flower seemed to her more than flower, it was Earth as well and by looking at the flower she was also looking at all of the Earth and feeling her place as part of it all.
Could I pinpoint a definitive time when I realized the difference between “being” and “non-being?” Was there a first moment when life opened and I felt complete, part of the whole?
As a child, there are two possibilities; times I remember well enough to create a blog post. The first is a day when I was nine, and I put on prescription glasses for the first time. Trees were suddenly more than two-dimensional, giant green shadows. They had leaves, which intellectually I knew of course, but I didn’t see well enough to count their separateness until I saw individual leaves on individual branches as we drove past them on the way home from the optometrist. My mother graciously stopped the car so I could focus completely upon them. I saw separate lines of shadow, pulling each graceful branch into three-dimensional existence. I saw birds. I saw the movement of the wind as it rustled past all that was within a tree. Each tree was different, unique. Trees were amazing and everywhere. Life was miraculous!
The second time that I remember was the day I truly understood “being.” I had an encounter with a cricket….
My maternal grandmother’s yard was an adventure. It encircled her home, a reclaimed chicken coop rebuilt into a house by my grandfather’s love. Nestled in the middle of a quarter of an acre within the city limits of Stockton, California, it seemed to go on forever.
Innately aware of feng shui, my grandmother created room after outdoor room with unique fencing, hedges, gates and trellises, or simply turns of the building. The result was living art, and dreamlike. At fourteen, and labeled a magical thinker, I spent a lot of time outdoors appreciating her creation. Her yard was Wonderland within which a imaginative child could find freedom and peace.
One day, as I was sitting on the back steps leading to the innermost courtyard, I saw a cricket. To look at him, I may not have recognized him as such, but he scratched his wing with a back leg and created that familiar chirp that comforted me to sleep every night.
As I watched him chirp, and wave his antennae, I swear to you, he spoke to me. “Admire the geranium next to you.”
What? The geranium?
I looked to my left at a few squatty, plain green bushes. To my right, beyond him, was a leafy plant with a brilliant red-orange blossom reaching out of its foliage on a long straight stalk. What a pretty color, I thought. I didn’t know what a geranium was at the time, but the flower was beautiful and it was nearest the cricket, so I admired it.
At my side, the cricket chirped, his beautiful bell tone adding magic. Suddenly the slightest of vibrations frizzled around the edges of each blossom, a glow of dark that seemed to soften the solidness of each petal in the stark contrast. It was as if the petals were only a vibration of possible structure rather than coherently in this world. This caused the petals themselves to glow even more brightly as they seemingly strove to hold my attention.
Riveted, I no longer heard the cricket, or any other sound for that matter. I was totally absorbed as the geranium vibrated with red, with life, signaling a magnificence I could not at that time fully understand, except I knew a moment had opened a window onto life, how it manifests and comes into being. I sat in wonder at how beautiful it all was and how grateful I was to be witnessing it.
My grandmother knocked on the door before she opened it gently. I jumped when I felt it lightly touch my back.
“Time for lunch,” she said, quietly. Then she shut the door.
I didn’t look at her, though I could imagine her smiling at me as she shut it. Instead, I looked for my cricket friend to exclaim my discovery and to thank him. To my dismay, he had crawled into silent invisibility.
But that flower!
I didn’t forget that experience, even when adulting took me away from observing the world with such an open eye. Like all of us, the hustle of living during this time in the United States, and perhaps anywhere, stuffed cotton wool into my brain.
Later, when life slowed as it does as one ages, I began to see those vibrating edges again. I pointed them out to my art students, my math students, really, any student that took to staring at the geranium blossoms next to the entrance to the school for which I worked. Some of them claimed to see it, others didn’t. I hope someday they do.
I hope someday they can see the shadow where a fig tree plans to set fruit, or the joy that glitters around their dog, or the insect that lights up when a bird spots it. I hope they see the light around the people they meet, and smile because it is so beautiful. I hope they understand how beautiful they are.
This world is amazing. I hope each one of us takes a moment when a cricket insists we admire a geranium to watch as life vibrates around each petal’s edges where it meets the whole of Creation and says, “I am.” That is a moment of “being.”
One thought on “Cricket’s Lesson”
Stunningly real and beautiful.