I dream a universal dream. I hear these words clearly spoken: “The truth is but a tiny seed.” And then I see a seed, a speck, a flash of insight. Then black clouds and white clouds roll in, covering the seed. I know they are the dark clouds of fear and the white clouds of illusion, covering what we don’t want to know, what we will not face. I understand that this is what we do with our deepest truths—we hide them from ourselves. They are still there, however, tiny seeds waiting to be discovered.
I lie awake in the night and know that I must always dare myself to part the clouds and find the meaning of the seeds. I must not let the seeds of truth lie there untended, never properly nurtured. If I don’t tend to them they will grow moldy and create problems.
Contemplation of this dream leads me back along a winding road, to a spark of a memory that emerges, grows, and is nurtured as I face the truth of it.
I was living in New York City in 1984, working for a publishing company. It was the height of the AIDS crisis. An office meeting was called because a man among us had AIDS, in fact was dying. I will call him David. David was about 50, a man of energy and vitality, an actor and singer, so sweet and kind, so gentle and considerate. He kept a jar of chocolates on his desk. He’d invite anyone in to sit, have a chocolate, and shoot the breeze. His health had been steadily deteriorating. In the few years that I knew him, I watched him go from healthy physique to skeletal sickness. He worked until he could no longer do so. The day that the meeting was called he was still coming into the office on occasion, though on that day he was not there.
The meeting was a real eye-opener for me. When asked to be open and honest, assured that no one was taking notes, people revealed themselves. People I had thought kind and compassionate showed that they were judgmental, bigoted and homophobic, hate-filled and fearful. There was a guy I had a slight romantic interest in. When he spoke at this meeting, a very intelligent guy, I lost all interest in him. I was, in fact, floored by the ignorance I heard. Was I being judgmental myself? Probably, but that’s where I was at the time. I could not believe that others did not share the same love that I felt for this deeply suffering fellow human being. On that day, however, I also saw what was kept so carefully guarded at all of our cores, the fearful seed of truth that we will all face death one day.
David got sicker and sicker. About two weeks before he died a friend came into my office and asked me, as an illustrator, if I would make a card for him that everyone could sign. I accepted the assignment with a heavy heart, knowing how important it would be.
I knew that David loved llamas—the furry animal kind—that he’d had some transformative experience with them while traveling, and so I knew I had to incorporate them into the card. I faced also that he was dying, that he was leaving this world, and so I didn’t want to paint a ‘let’s pretend you’re NOT dying’ picture.
I sat at my drawing board for a long time and then I let the illustration come through me. I channeled it. It flowed out of my pens and brushes, a four-part comic strip story. Winged angel llamas grazed peacefully in a bucolic setting. A new winged angel llama flew up to be with them and was lovingly welcomed amongst them. Contented and at peace, he too grazed and frolicked happily, finally at home among the llama angels. When I was done I sat back and looked at the card. It was beautiful and sensitive, but it frightened me. I’d written something inside too, about his friends waiting to greet him again, or something like that.
I stared at what I had created for a long time, left it sitting, came back to it over and over again, finally decided that it was just right. It had to be right, for David; deeply respectful of this man who was facing an early death with such graciousness, his sense of humor intact throughout his illness, his thankfulness for having had such a good life. It had to be the right, meaningful, personal, sendoff.
I brought it to work and handed it over to my friend, a little fearful that she might think it was too much, that I had gone too far, for I had a sense that it was a little daring, confronting the fact of death, even in this gentle way. “This is great!” she said. “Oh my God, he’ll love it.” It went around the office and everyone signed it, everyone loved it, except one person.
Normally a pussycat, and someone I knew as a friend, stormed into my office. “How dare you!” he fumed, a big man, barely able to keep his voice down. “He’s dying! You can’t send a card like that to a dying man! You can’t put llamas on his card! He loves llamas! I won’t sign it!”
My retort was just as angry as his, though I did not hold back. I didn’t care that anyone else heard me either. I stood up from my chair, looked up into his red face towering above me, and yelled at him. I told him that he didn’t have to sign the card, that I felt the card was totally appropriate and that the llamas were there for a very good reason, exactly because David had such a spiritual connection with them. And in the frightened face of that big man, I knew I was facing my own fear of death, what he himself could not face in his friend. His fear was real, and yet I would not back down or even sympathize.
He stomped out of my office in an angry huff and didn’t speak to me for a long time. He stared daggers at me every time I passed his desk. He stepped away from me on the subway train that we both rode. In turn, I had to face why I got so angry when he confronted me. Why did I usually get angry like that when confronted by something, especially something that I knew to be true? Why did I always run from the truth? I could have been more diplomatic: “Well, I felt the same way at first, but that’s just what came to me, and it felt right, but of course you don’t have to sign it if it doesn’t feel right,” was what I should have said, but I knew there was more to it. I had to face, not only that I was really just as scared of death as he was, but that for some unknown reason I had vitriolic anger boiling inside me. How easily it slipped out!
Eventually, I approached the big man and apologized for screaming at him. By this time word had gotten around that David did indeed love the card. He sent back word, thanking me, telling me that he kept it near him, looked at it often, laughed and felt so happy every time he looked at it. It was in his arms when he died. I’d also heard that it ended up incorporated into an AIDS quilt, on a section commemorating David.
I know now that no matter where we are in our lives, our inner world is interwoven in our everyday world. The seeds of our truths lie at our core, festering and asking to be reckoned with, consciously on occasion, but, more often than not, unconsciously. Even those who live lives greatly disconnected from their inner world, who have no sense of its existence, are dominated by it in a myriad of ways: in anger, depression, jealousy, pain; in acting out; in feelings of worthlessness, inflation, hopelessness; in fear.
Our inner world dominates us until we finally clear away the black clouds of darkness and the white clouds of illusion and reveal the seeds of truth at our core for what they truly are and what they truly mean. And then we are offered the chance of gaining some equilibrium, for otherwise we are sorely off balance.
Finally, I have learned that signs and synchronicities constantly come to point us inwardly, yet they are often missed, dismissed, or too frightening to bear. But it is only in the bearing of the tension of them that we discover just where we need to go and just what we need to face. In facing our deepest issues, those signs and synchronicities take on magical significance, their messages offering direct experience of life on a totally new level, out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary.
Looking at those seeds very closely,