Have you ever had an extraordinary experience when for just one moment you can suddenly see everything with clarity and understanding? I had a moment like that a few years ago, while—strange as it may seem—enjoying dinner at an Asian restaurant.
We were seated outside the restaurant on a narrow deck where 6 tables were lined up side-by-side. It was early evening in late August and the temperature was finally becoming tolerable as the sun descended toward the horizon.
I was sipping Jasmine tea and chatting with my husband when a woman sitting at the table next to us caught my eye. I saw that she was wearing a straw hat to shield her eyes from the sun and then I noticed her sandals: white leather with tiny daisies on the straps across her feet. Something about those daisies—so precious and humble as they quietly decorated her shoe—opened my heart.
When I glanced at the woman’s face again I saw a beautiful radiant light emanating from her and my heart filled with pure love. Her partner was glowing with the same light as he fumbled with chopsticks while attempting to dip a potsticker into a small dish of soy sauce. His face, slightly sunburned, was animated with laughter so melodious that my heart again overflowed with love.
What was it about those two people, I wondered.
But then I glanced the other direction and saw an elderly man sitting by himself at another table nearby. He was wearing a button down shirt and a blazer, even though it was quite hot outside, and I noticed how carefully he sipped his miso soup from the ceramic spoon in his trembling hand. There was a small, leather-bound book on the table next to his plate—something to keep him company during the meal, I thought. He was beautifully radiant with light and my love for him poured out as I silently wished for him to know he was not alone.
What was happening to me? I didn’t really know.
But the same experience of seeing a glowing light and feeling expansive love occurred when our server returned to our table. Despite her efficient and somewhat brusque behavior I could feel how much she cared and even more love flowed from me.
She placed a small plate in front of me with an appetizer serving of lobster tempura—the house specialty. The dish was garnished with a small orchid and the sight of its purple petals arranged elegantly around a tiny yellow center brought tears to my eyes. I have never tasted tempura so delicious, with a delicate batter fried to the perfect degree of crispness.
This all happened in a moment even though it seemed that hours had passed. The next time I looked up from my plate the lighting on the deck had returned to normal and I was no longer flooded with infinite love. But I knew what it felt like to be awash with love as immense as the Universe. And I knew it was possible to experience it again.
In Buddhism such a moment is called a satori, which means an awakening, a “seeing into one’s true nature.” Thomas Merton describes seeing the True Self within as a “pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven.” He says if we could see the True Self of others we would recognize billions of points light that would shine brighter than the sun and banish all darkness.
Since that day of my lobster tempura satori, I have had other such experiences and have become more adept at seeing the diamond within others simply by choosing to do so. It is not possible to hate anyone when you can see the light they carry within them. It is not possible to wish evil upon them when you recognize that they, like you, are truly sacred.
To survive the passage that we are currently navigating we are going to need to see the diamonds that are all around us instead of the darkness that hides the light inside some of our fellow humans. We are going to need to open our eyes and our hearts so that we can carry the love and light necessary to guide us through the darkness. This is no small task but it is possible right here, right now. Stop for one moment and look within. See the light.