One morning in around 1610 Jakob Boehme saw sunlight reflected on a pewter bowl and wrote that he had seen all heaven. In the early twentieth century, a high school kid living in Hollywood was invited by his family’s friend Krishnamurti to attend a retreat in Holland. I included his account of his experience and its effect on his life in a chapter in the manuscript of The Realms of Gold. Notice the similarity to Jane Goodall’s in Gombe and Notre Dame Cathedral I posted January 21. Here’s Sidney Field’s story:
Hawks and Sunflowers
Just after graduation from Hollywood High, at the invitation of his family’s friend, Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher, teacher and mystic, Sidney Field had traveled to Camp Ommen in Holland and to a pre-Camp gathering at Eerde, an elegant estate that had been set aside for Krishnamurti’s use in his teaching. Sidney was seated with a number of other guests on a Persian rug in the large library where Krishnamurti was giving a short welcoming talk.
At some point during the talk, something extraordinary happened to me. For no apparent reason I experienced a sudden outburst of intense joy in the region of the heart. It went on and on in increasingly strong rhythmic waves, until I thought I would have to open my mouth and shout for joy. . . . It was an experience that practically lifted me out of my body, something I had never felt before or thought I could ever feel.
Later, hoping to “preserve the fragrance of that indescribable moment as long as possible,” Sidney sat by himself under a shady elm and felt the force of the experience gradually quiet down and leave a “ great sense of peace and up-welling love.” Even though the intensity of the experience receded as the days passed, it informed all the years of his life. Ten years his senior, Krishnamurti remained his friend and spiritual touchstone till Krishnamurti’s death sixty years later.
Traveling in the Realms of Gold
On his way back to California from Europe Sidney had his second experience of ‘the miracle of Eerde.’ He had left Chicago on the Sunset Limited feeling depressed and discouraged at the prospect of returning to the ordinary reality of American life. He was standing on the open section of the observation car, thinking of nothing in particular, looking out at the hot and dusty desert, when
a giant sunflower growing beside the railroad tracks, a few inches from destruction, brushed rapidly past my face, incredibly close, its golden face momentarily shutting out the world. Like a coiled spring, the great joy, self-exiled these past few weeks, leaped out of me, as if to greet the daring flower beside the tracks – a joyous sunburst to a glorious sunflower!
When he looked back into the observation car, the world of a moment before was transfigured. The same dull, fat people were still there, but touched with the laser beam of clarity, all as marvelous as the golden face that had momentarily stripped away the sackcloth of ordinary reality. It had come totally unexpected and uninvited.
The preface to Sidney Field’s book KRISHNAMURTI The Reluctant Messiah in which he records these experiences begins with a line from Yeats: “One has had a vision; one wants another; that is all.” Back home and caught up in the family business, it seemed to Sidney the joy that had so overwhelmed him might recede over the years and become a fading memory. But in Nichols Canyon in the hills just above his home, he found a way to be at peace with himself. He would sit by the hour absorbing sounds and sights all around him with an acuity he had never before enjoyed. One day, lying on his back and looking up at the sky, he became absorbed with a hawk circling high above, its flight “a thing of sheer beauty.”
All at once the wondrous joy seized my heart. It had returned! I was ecstatic. I let it carry me higher and higher . . . in rhythmic waves of joy. But the “altitude” and intensity of it held me back somewhat. I knew I was dealing with a tremendous force entirely new in my life, and although I realized I must eventually let go completely, something kept me from surrendering completely to it.
After that, the experience came to him regularly, a joyous presence he cherished but which was sometimes so powerful he would pull back and let it unwind at a more bearable tempo. One evening on his way home from the hills, he writes, “I was so filled with the shining joy that everything my eyes met, whether a human being, an animal, a tree or a rock, called forth an outpouring of love.” His body felt a vitality, harmony and balance he had never known before. His mind was tranquil and crystal clear. When he got home, a friend of the family exclaimed, “Look at Sidney! Look at his face. He must be in love!” She had been right, he wrote, but it was not the kind of love she was thinking of.
Even so, there is a line between that-which-is (love) and ordinary reality beyond which a rare few venture. Mark Bittner [ Who wrote of his own epiphany in The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and whose experience is described earlier in the manuscript for Realms of Gold] had stepped back the evening Dogen, the cherry-headed parrot, pulled herself onto his chest and looked into his eyes. Something had kept Sidney Field from going all the way through the magic opening. He knew if we do not pass through without hesitation the opening will probably close. That-which-is demands all or nothing.