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I suddenly knew I was looking at it from the wrong angle and I gave the cloth in my hand a quarter turn. Immediately I saw a beautiful and coherent golden pattern... In wonder, the pattern had emerged, to be seen in all its beauty by those who could learn to make the quarter turn.
The above quote is from Helen’s inner autobiography, Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On. She begins the book with a dream in which one of her oldest friends, now gone, is asked on the other side to weave a tapestry that tells the story of her life. But as Helen looks at the cloth, it makes no sense—until she gives the cloth a quarter turn and the pattern of her friend’s life emerges plainly.
Helen then offers the quarter turn as a synonym for a paradigm shift, as a way to understand those unexpected shifts of perception that return us to the hidden wholeness, the spot of grace, the Oneness that exists beneath all subjects and conclusions. And like the fine-adjustment knob on a telescope or microscope that brings what you’re looking at into focus, the quarter turn is the skill of perception by which you can bring into focus the instrument that is you.
We have all experienced shifts in how we see. It is not something to teach, but to lift up and share, to understand better, and to enlist more fully. If we want to see together, we have to understand how we see as individual spirits first.
I experienced a profound quarter turn during my struggle with cancer. I was at one of many frightening ledges, needing to make another impossible decision. The tumor on my brain was pressing, and I had to say yes to surgery or chance waiting for further tests. Then, on October 4, 1987, we had an early, heavy snow in the midst of autumn’s full color. I woke that morning, tense and afraid of what lay ahead. When I looked into our yard, I saw that the early storm had brought all the trees down because the leaves, no matter how brilliant, weighed the trees down. If the leaves had let go, the snow would have left the trees standing. This was a paradigm shift for me, which caused me to see holding on and letting go differently. I stopped trying to maneuver my way through my cancer and began to grow slim as a leafless tree.
Sometimes, quarter turns grow within us like seeds. During my cancer journey, I recalled being a boy of six or seven chasing a butterfly in a reservoir. When I finally caught it, I felt it flitting in my cupped hands, and it became clear that as long as I held it, I couldn’t see it. To see it, I had to let it go. When I did, its lightness and magnificence circled me. I quickly forgot the lesson. Until thirty years later, when overcome with fear that I would die. Then, at last, the quarter turn came back to me. I realized that the fear thumping in my chest was like the butterfly cupped in my hands. As long as I kept the fear inside, I couldn’t see it. And so, I tried to let it go, so it could mix with the quiet magnificence that was speaking to me when I was so close to death, so close to life.
At the end of his life, the painter Raphael Soyer said, “I wish I had more eyes.” The only way to have more eyes is to stay open to the view from all of life’s positions. When we fall down, we must see from there. When lifted beyond our hopes, we must see from there. And when we fall down again, we must not forget the view of the lift. And when we are lifted again, we must not forget the view of the fallen. No one view is complete or permanent, and so, no one view is home. It’s the place from which we see that is home.
This excerpt is from my new book, Drinking from the River of Light, published this fall by Sounds True.
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