Friday, April 24, 2020

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The word ‘refuge’ derives from the Latin word meaning ‘flee’, and over my 78 years, I’ve done more than my share of fleeing. For a large part of my life, I have been filled with fears – of illness, of storms, of other people, etc. – and I have spent numberless hours fleeing from one ominous adversary or another. During these flights, I have found refuge in food, television, friendships, reading, and especially alcohol, but none of these refuges kept me safe for long. Soon, the fears flowed back like rivers, and I once again started seeking refuge. 

         It wasn’t until I was in my mid-40’s that I began to break through the belief that I was an isolated, vulnerable individual surrounded by countless threats. I guess I began to get some distance from my ‘self’. It was as if I was standing on a mountaintop and could see, for the first time, that what had seemed to be a separate, shaky, material ‘thing’ called Hamilton Salsich, was actually part of a vast and harmonious dance called ‘the universe’. With that distant view, I could see that what I called ‘me’ was, in fact, like an inseparable breeze in an immense cosmic wind, or a wave in an infinite ocean. What was especially surprising about this view from a distance was the way everything was obviously working in harmony – me, illnesses, good health, storms, sunshine, other people, failures, and successes all blended together and working in accord in a unified flow. It was a shockingly new view for me. Suddenly, life was more like a dance than a struggle, more filled with wonder than with fear. What I realized, too, is that this vision – this understanding of how life really is – was – finally! – the perfect refuge for me. I didn’t need to run from anything anymore. All I needed to do was understand – just be still and see the harmony that’s irrepressibly flowing in every single moment.

         Now, let me say for sure that this new understanding of life that came to me many years ago has by no means stayed constantly with me. For some reason, I still, on an almost daily basis – especially in these distressing times – slip back into the fears I lived with in my younger years. I still sometimes find myself seeking refuge in various fleeting diversions (though no longer in alcohol, thankfully), and life still sometimes seem small and scary. 

         However, that wondrous mountaintop view I had in my 40’s is still available to me, and I go back to it as often I think of it (which, sadly, sometimes doesn’t happen for days at a time). When I can get up on that mountain in my mind, I see a universe that’s neither fragmented nor scary, but unified, fearless, and free. I realize that  life – because of things like pandemics – won’t always happen the way I want it to, but it will always happen the way the boundless, harmonious universe wants it to. When I’m on that mountaintop, I’m not always happy with what’s occurring, but at least I’m not fleeing from anything, not seeking refuge. I’m watching, accepting, trying to appreciate, and almost always being amazed.    

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LAKESIDE REFUGE, acrylic, by George Lockwood

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