To see a World in a Gram of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
— William Blake
Mine was a cautious approach, for I recall feeling that the answers might somehow destroy my sense of being solidly planted on this earth; I did not think my wings strong enough to sustain my flight into the unknown and back! However, the lure of the unfathomed must have aroused a hidden resource, because some kind of courage steadied me. Once, after a time, I felt myself on the misty edges of the earth, watching the movement of life — a drama simple and complete. For brief, transcendent moments it was like being an overseer of every living thing, perfect in knowledge of them all. There was no detail — it was merely a sensation, but of such wholeness. For a moment in Time there seemed to be a reason without reasons for the existence of everything.
Such treasured moments pass almost instantly, however, as though rationed out by a thrifty custodian. So quickly the mundane sweeps back and obscures the larger vision.
We all have known the beauty of the sunset that lies in brief and splendid repose on the horizon. Then, as we watch it pass from our sight we think perhaps — how far is the sunset from eternity? How far does our faculty of sight take our vision? In truth, we are looking into the face of eternity, a fact spoken by the poets, artists, and philosophers of all ages; a fact understood by the soul of all mankind.
It seems that physical encumbrances shadow the places where reality dwells, and something in us longs to push aside the heavy curtain we feel to be obscuring the soul of things. Yet, our physical senses disclose much.
How are we touched by reality? In the soft caress of the night-breeze, in the refreshing cool of water on the parched throat.
Is there a taste to reality? In the sweet sun-ripened fruit of the season's harvest; in the acrid dust of the desert trail.
Is reality visible? In the white hermit-cloud that drifts along the highways of the summer sky; in the beloved child reaching trustfully for the butterfly.
Does reality have an identifying smell? In the dankness of the woods after rain; in the perfume of the rose.
Can we hear reality? In the tumult of the breakers slashing at the seacliff; in the voice of the violin, and in the dissonance of the city street at mid-day.
In our individual reservoirs of spirit rests the knowledge of our relationship with the eternal. The reality we seek is not limited to the region of the philosopher's cloud, or the poet's imagination, or the musician's inner ear; it is not beyond the reaches of us ordinary men. There are degrees of reality extending from our fingertips outward to infinity, and toward which we grow daily in our experience as mankind. But I guess we must first know how to count from one to ten before undertaking a study of differential calculus, and yet such a study cannot be without the simple groundwork. Also, we can see only the surface waters of the ocean, but we know that beneath that outermost layer lie vast depths. Although most of us do not have anything to do with those deeps, we know that the two waters are identically composed.
So it is that in the voiceless workings of nature — in the color, form, sounds, tastes, and smells of the familiar; in the joy and pathos of human experience; in the sound and fury of modern living; in the preservation of classical thought in literature; in the birth and death of people, flowers, and nations; in love and in thoughtful deeds; in the quest for right and truth as guides in our daily pursuits, wherein we find meaning and purpose in living — in all of this is something of the eternal. Like Emerson's beauty, these are their own excuse for being.
Understanding seems to grow merely by its yearning to do so. Thus grows the capacity for seeing the reflection of the real in the ordinary. By quietly contemplating the sunset, imagination can encompass in time all natural phenomena. All that we see and know can be pictured then as a perfect plan, an interrelated system, whose parts work in flawless harmony. Only that which is real can find reality. That is why we can find it wherever we happen to be. That is why we truly "hold infinity in the palm of our hand."
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