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Excerpted from The Ecstatic Journey by Sophy Burnham. Copyright © 1999 by Sophy Burnham. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
 


"The experience lasted hardly a second. But I have never forgotten that restful state of perfect peace. Time stopped, all feeling, analysis, all consciousness of self, all sense of being 'I.'"

Sophy Burnham, The Ecstatic Journey, Part 2

Satori, the thought repeated. But I was back in my isolated body. That's how holy people see, I marveled, though I had only the dimmest idea of the meaning of the word I'd used, or of its sister word, nirvana.

The experience lasted hardly a second. But I have never forgotten that restful state of perfect peace. Time stopped, all feeling, analysis, all consciousness of self, all sense of being "I."

I knew that something precious had been given me. I didn't know it was a state that you could cultivate, or that it had anything to do with this word called "God."

I did not want to return to Washington. I loved New York, our life, our friends. For four years I had opposed my husband's wish to move, until one day a knowledge fell across my skin, like the shudder of a horse's skin when brushing off a fly: the move was decreed, inevitable. I remember I was walking from one room to another when this understanding hit. I stopped dead in my tracks. Later I came to trust these intuitions, but at the time the strength of this "knowing" frightened me. It was one of the first times I recognized an inner, silent voice and knew I was powerless to fight it.

Moreover, the move made sense. My father in Baltimore had had a stroke, my family needed me, and Washington was less expensive to live in, a more benevolent climate for children than New York. Finally, my journalist husband wanted with all his heart to be at the nerve center of politics, covering a particular beat, and of course I wanted his happiness.

We moved.

Yet something in me died.

I missed my friends, my work, my sense of place. Every morning the sun came up, a ball of fire flinging itself out of the tangle of tree limbs and up into the sky. I watched, surprised that it could dawn each day when my heart felt so heavy. I cried. I felt abandoned.

Each morning, out of sheer willpower, I got out of bed to care for my house and children or try--without heart--to write. One morning, after the children had left for school, I found the opening lines of Dante's Inferno running through my mind. I had studied the poem in college. I went to the bookcase, pulled down my dog-eared copy, and read aloud to the empty room.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi retrovai per una selva oscura
chè la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood
for the straight path had been lost.

The words struck me to the core.

Ah quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la poura!

Ah, how to describe how hard it was,
this savage bitter wilderness,
even to think of which strikes fear in me again!

I fell to my knees, the tears streaming down my cheeks. "Help me, help me, help!"

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