This morning while sitting in meditation my half-closed eyes suddenly fell upon a glimmer of light from a nearby pool of water as it flashed upward against the lip of the pool’s edge. I watched, and saw a luminous rolling line of light, wavering up and down in a small but seemingly endless series of perturbations and oscillations. As my mind slowly caught up with my vision, I saw that the sun, at that moment at a perfect angle, was beaming its light onto the wavering surface of the water, which then cast it upward to be mirrored along the edge of the pool. However it got there, the light glowed a luminous silver, shining brightly and yet somehow also transparent. As I gazed at this rolling, numinous line of light I noticed that at the same moment a perfectly similar but complementary wavering line of light was flowing in the opposite direction. Effortlessly, I saw, these two lines of light gently touched each other, intersected, and then continued, each in its own direction, ephemeral, flowing, perfect.
Finally – perhaps “at last” – I had one of those “Aha!’ moments as I realized deeply that, in reality, I was honored to be observing what is most fundamental in this universe – luminous lines of light, each turning and wavering in its own direction. Wherever it was going, I saw, it was also coming back. There before me was energy, light, coming and going, energy that is a reflection of the essence, a messenger from the ultimate source of the sun, and yet containing that essence and no more separate from its source than an arm is to a body, a finger from a hand or a leaf to a tree or to the water beneath the ground that feeds that tree. This wavering line of light did not speak a literal human language, but it nonetheless carried within itself the essence of all existence. Energy, coming and going. I understood, for a moment, that that is all that matters.
A little later, thoughts entered my mind of other comings and goings – I found myself recalling a drooping summer’s day when I was 16 years old and sitting on the porch stoop of my childhood home in the crowded urban area where I grew up. Suddenly my older sister rolled by in the passenger seat of a Volkswagen bug, the iconic car of those days. The car stopped and she rolled down the window and asked me if I wanted to accompany she and her friend to some rock and roll concert she had heard about in upper New York state. Having nothing better to do, in fact having nothing to do at all, I said sure and jumped into the car. It was August 15, 1969.
Hours later, after we finally abandoned the car by the jammed roadside in Woodstock and continued on foot, I found myself walking along a trail in a wooded area. Evening darkness was falling and I was one person in an incredibly massive flowing body of humanity tromping through a path in the forest. Wafting through the air were the clanging notes of faraway electric music and the roaring of what, at the time was the largest crowd ever to gather for such an event. It reminded me of the great movements of people I had read about in history and literature, for example Tolstoy’s depiction of the retreat of Napoleon’s army in “War and Peace.” I noticed that there was a similar massive troop of people marching in the opposite direction, seemingly of an equal number; I was a small part of a great double-flowed procession, one aspect gravitating toward the music, another away. As we used to say in those adventurous days, I didn’t necessarily know what it all meant, nor did I at the time have any idea of what by strange chance I had become a part of, but I knew it was profound. It was, again, this time in the form of people, energy coming and going.
My mind then travelled to an evening, around the same period, when I was working as a janitor in the huge urban high school I then attended. My job was to push a mop and bucket into an endless series of restrooms and clean the floors. I was a philosophical sort and the long, silent, half darkened hallways presented a perfect environment for the kind of pensive meditation I was drawn to at the time. I was reading Marx and Sartre and Hesse as well as Thomas Wolfe’s “Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test.” I was wondering deeply, as only a teenager can, what was going on, existentially speaking.
It was, I found, a very satisfying job – perhaps, I have thought over the subsequent half-century, the most simply gratifying job I have ever had. I ran the mop back and forth over the hard tile surfaces and soon the tile floor shone brightly in the fluorescent light – and then I left before things went south again. My work, I saw, made a difference, was not too challenging or difficult, and I did not have to witness it being undone.
So one evening as I mopped the seventh or eighth bathroom floor and swung the heavy metal mop handle back and forth, back and forth, I found myself repeating in rhythm an inquiry that formed a sort of mantra – “Order in the universe, order in the universe, what is the order in the universe?” I repeated my statement and question over and over as the mop slid across the floor. For whatever reason – perhaps the gods smiled on my innocence and earnestness – almost in mid mop-swing I was suddenly possessed by a transcendent feeling of bliss. I stopped whipping the long mop and stood there, metal pole in hand, in the semi-darkness of the huge now-vacant building. The feeling, which felt like an invasion of benevolent light which took a perfect form of nonverbal coherence, persisted as, in a moment, I deeply comprehended how the universe was organized – though I could not then, and could not now, explain it. Rather, I felt the orderliness and coherence of all existence, as it was shown to me in the most immediate sense, and for a precious few moments the scales of blindness fell from my eyes and I was, both literally and figuratively, enlightened.
I remember thinking, “This can’t last, it surely will slip away, it must slip away, this perfect awareness and understanding – for what 16 year old janitor can be a spiritual master?”
And sure enough, no matter how I strained to hold onto the feeling, to recall in words its essence, the numinous wisdom did slip away, quietly, into the darkness. I felt mystified, frustrated and blessed, all at the same time. To have ecstasy and insight for a few short moments is better than not having it at all, but it is nonetheless hard to lose.
One more; a few months ago I was walking for the hundredth time along a trail behind my former home in rural Vermont. I came to the end of the trail and sat on a flat rock in the quiet forest to meditate. Later, I opened my eyes and slowly my sight adjusted to the mid-morning light. My eyes happened to travel to a single leaf that hung from a nearby tree. As I watched, the tiny leaf slowly unfolded, expanding to its full width. At the time the thought struck me with unmitigated certainty, “That’s all there is, the leaf unfolding. That’s it.”
And I realized, once again, the essence had been manifested to me; energy, coming and going. When I was young, and now when I am old, it is the same; energy coming and going. When I am happy or sad or lonely or focused or wandering, it is the same; energy coming and going. When I feel successful or feel like a failure it is the same, when I behave wisely or ignorantly it is the same, when I think incessantly or am silent and still it is the same; energy coming and going.

The Buddha well understood that when enlightenment comes it will not be with firecrackers and adoring thousands. It will be during a silent moment while sitting under a tree, just looking, without expectation or attachment. Suddenly, without anticipation, it will be time. The insight of enlightenment, however brief, will not bring fame or riches or eternal bliss. It will instead bring balance and understanding and compassion for the tremendous variety of all manifestations; it will show the middle way. And it will reflect the pure awareness, nothing more, of energy coming and going. We will sense a seeing, knowing, even “understanding,” if we allow that understanding not to involve reflection. I will be, as it has always been, one note, one tone, one vibration – we will sense that by our very song we are bringing the universe one small step closer to completion. Energy, coming and going.