I've had much to reflect on this past week; first, I went to Melbourne to attend a special service for the father of my friend Martha who passed away recently. In the Armenian Church, there is a service forty days after death to mark the significance of passing. The Armenians were one of the first established Christian communities many centuries ago so the ritual of their worship is ancient and grounded (and notably abundant in incense). Though the entire service was in a language I did not comprehend, there is so much experiential material in ritual and song that the narrative itself wasn't so important. We attended the passing of time and life in a way that takes, perhaps, so many centuries to form and express. I think there is something to be said for the old ways that are sometimes more able to hold these moments.
Also, that same day (or technically the day after here in Australia) was the ten year anniversary of my car accident. It's been ten years since I was pinned under tonnes of twisted steel in the middle of a rural highway that evening at dusk. It's been a decade since that day and I'm still not sure I have fully resolved the experience in my head or spirit. I survived a 'statistically unsurvivable' accident. That is no small thing; yet, it's also not something that I can pull out and either fully describe or openly carry with me day to day. The incident itself was a 'peak experience'; it's only a reference point from which I can draw—not a time one can re-live in the same way (and, thankfully, I've had very little in the way of PTSD though there is the occasional sound of metal scraping across cement that brings me right back). The peak experience isn't an end unto itself but a catalyst to something further; it's something that is one's own and not subject to any judgement from outside (in that one person might have a peak experience in what another might consider a mundane activity). The significance isn't bound up in the grandness of a particular incident but how that experience opens a given person to new perspectives and growth. I think this is the problem sometimes with 'arranged adventures' that, in the minds of participants, might not live up to the peak expectation. I'm thinking of the recent stories of long lines of people climbing Mt Everest or hordes of Instagrammers clamouring to photograph the same spot as another influential Instagrammer in some endless cycle of imagery. Both cases are built on the expectation of capturing or reliving the peak experience of another; yet, all those same circumstances might not coalesce into a personal peak. Though they can be facilitated, the peaks cannot often be packaged so. It's more up to the Cosmos to align in a way that one isn't expecting.
I hit a peak though an experience that nearly cost my life; that, obviously, isn't something I would or could arrange. Yet that experience in itself isn't where the meaning is held. The meaning came through my call in that moment that I wanted to live (a life that was for myself and for the people who I'm connected to—even for the future people who I could not have known at that time but whom I have since encountered). The cry for life came so I could sit here on the other side of the world a decade later typing this in a café where the people know my name. That experience of survival at the peak came so I could come back down to the nominal level of life and carry that potential onward. It's the same with the more exhilarating but less life threatening experiences I've had. I've been places and had experiences that I would, if I could, return to and linger on; however, that's not the role or purpose of these experiences.
I went Friday evening to hear Dr David Russell speak at the Jung Society in Sydney. He spoke on The Shadow and the Art of Dying; one of his references was Blake's contrast between Heaven (form) and Hell (energy). It's in the contrast between light and shadow, these poles and intertwined forces, that we find the expression of our Self. Without the contrast of these peaks, we have no dynamism to form ourselves as individuals. If it's all light, there is no solidity; if there is no safe space from the darkness, people can break from the compounded traumas. I've been fortunate, I think, to have had a fairly even balance between in my own life. I hope that, with the life that is allotted me, I will continue to be open to the peaks (no matter what form they may take) because I know these are the experiences that ultimately shape who I become in it. That, on ten years of consideration, is I think 'the lesson' of the accident; yes, it's partially 'I'm glad to be alive' and all the expected reflections, but really it's that one should not fear the experience of light and shadow even in the starkest contrast. Life is constantly in the balance and both my hands need to be open to receive those polarities in equal measure if that's what's called for to become wholly human.
On another note, the further peak experience this week was going for (and passing) my Australian Citizenship interview. Hopefully in the coming month I'll receive a letter confirming my status as a candidate and, some months after when I have my citizenship ceremony, will became a dual American/Australian. This has been now eight years in the making and I'm glad to adopt this country as my new home for the foreseeable future. I hope that, as a citizen, I can contribute to this place as it has given to me in these past few years. (I'm still a long way from developing a proper Australian accent though.)