A baby comes into the world with its own experience of the womb and the birth process, something the baby can never share, even with the mother. The mother, for her part, has her own experience of the birthing process, which she can never share with her own child, albeit they coexisted with each other for nine months of their respective lives in perhaps the closest association two human beings can have. When we die, even surrounded by family and friends, we pass out of this material life, as we know it, without being able to share the experience. Thus, we are born and we pass on alone—the only person in the world who will ever experience the experience, like a soldier alone in his foxhole.
I use the metaphor of a foxhole to describe one of the most severe tests we face along the spiritual path because it has always seemed to me that the men—and now women—who have been hailed as heroes and have received recognition and medals during war have been those whose actions have often been spectacular and were witnessed by someone else. For the most part, such actions were instinctive and occurred in the space of seconds in which there was little or no time to think about the possible, negative consequences.
I do not mean by this statement to in any way detract from what these men and women have done. I, myself, have committed some deeds that were relatively dangerous without the time to consider the possible, negative consequences I might suffer. So I have some sense about the speed of instinctive action, even when other-centered.
But, now consider a man in a foxhole, a man sitting wet, hungry, cold, and cramped in a muddy hole on a moonless night with a steady rain falling. Sleep is impossible even if he could quell his fear of the unknown creeping about in the black night of his imagination. This man has all the time in the world to consider what might happen as alone he faces the unknown—that time when the enemy has no face.
There is no one to support him, no one to see his bravery as he constantly strains his eyes and his ears for some slight hint of danger, all the while choking back his fear. And there is no hero’s welcome, no special recognition, no medal of honor when the war is over. There is only the private knowledge that he did his duty to the best of his ability in a strange place, under difficult circumstances, and that he faced his test—his fear—totally alone.
This is the test of the foxhole, the test no one sees, the test only you know about. This is the test of your courage to keep on keeping on when all about you people are oblivious to your struggle, and others seem to get all the attention and the awards. This is your personal, hidden, silent test of the agony of doubt in the material world.
Even if we could verbally share an experience with someone who had been through a similar experience, we would still be alone with our own rendition of it because all we can share are metaphors of feelings and emotions through a chosen combination of words available in the language we are speaking. Furthermore, our ability to share the meaning of the metaphors we choose depends on how conversant the person with whom we are visiting is with the language. We cannot, however, share the feelings, emotions, or thoughts themselves because they cannot be expressed through language. Even two people in the midst of a deeply intimate, sexual union have vastly different, private experiences, which neither can accurately portray to the other.
If the notion of being alone is expanded into the arena of life, it soon becomes apparent that we are alone with each thought we have, each question we ask, each decision we make, each rainbow or flower we observe, each bird’s song we hear or symphony we listen to, and each emotion we experience. We are alone—totally alone—within the psychological world of our own making, regardless of how extroverted or introverted we are. Be it a world of exceeding beauty or terrific horror, we are the sole creator of the life we experience, and we live it alone both as creator of our thoughts and as prisoner of our thinking.
Text © by Chris Maser 2012. All rights reserved.