I wondered how Tiffany could become No-thing, when she was the oldest, favorite child of a family that was Everything the perfect family, the most respected family, the most successful family. Within her lay the desire for no-thing-ness: as expressed in all of her good works with the poor. I almost had the sense that Tiffany aspired to selflessness, as in having no self, as in being completely empty. This was the gist of the stories she showed me. Though I sensed another Tiffany from her imagery, a wild girl who wanted to sell hats in a "throw-back-from-the-60's" store or buy a Harley-Davidson and set out across Route 66. That path would be unique and iconoclastic. These choices were constrained by her family and her religion. My stories about these versions of her were too frivolous to be believable, though they made her laugh.
Was this the pivotal point, to empty Tiffany of the sense of fullness her family provided her, the sense of fullness her culture provided her? Her own attempts at emptying had been serious, planned, careful, thoughtful, and safe. When she finally was empty at times during our sessions, she came alive with a vivacity that didn't often show. Spirit was clearly in her then, but I think that level of passion and excitement went against her definitions of acceptable religiosity.
In one exercise, we found 7 versions of Tiffany who were well. One, as I mentioned earlier, sold hats. Another rode a bike down Route 66. Yet another taught school in an impoverished neighborhood but as a vital member of that living community. This brought forth Tiffany's satisfaction at worship in the gospel church of the inner city black community in which the sermon is a dialogue between minister and congregation, and the music smacks of vitality compared to the staid, conventional, quiet realm of Protestant Sundays. It was this wild abandonment for life that attracted the versions of her who were well.
Another of her favorite Eckhart quotes said (p. 215), "One must be so free of all knowledge that he or she does not know or recognize or perceive that God lives in him or her; even more, one should be free of all knowledge that lives in him or her. For, when people still stood in God's eternal being, nothing else lived in them. What lived there was their selves. Hence we say that people should be as free of their own knowledge as when they were not yet, letting God accomplish whatever God wills. People should stand empty."
While this paragraph could profoundly connect Christianity and Buddhism and Native American spirituality, I found myself feeling that Tiffany was using it to make meaning out of her disappearing from life.
I think Tiffany did achieve, as Thich Nhat Hahn said, awareness of no-thing. She set about letting her little bottle of self drain out. She did empty her will and poured out her self. She pulled the plug and let her personality drain out into the sand so that only empty remained. Did God enter? No one goes to the gas station with a full tank. I try only to go when the "Empty" warning light comes on. Then I know I am ready for a fill-up.
Together Tiffany and I had profound spiritual experiences that I will never forget. We did experience Christ. We experienced God's entry into the soul. We felt that spark of life that enlightens and enlivens us all. Tiffany became a living saint. But, even as she lived, I kept wondering how she could be a saint and still live. Together we experienced wise, kind, compassionate, loving, enlivened, and all-encompassing energy, whether you call it Christ, Spirit, or bodhisattva. When we are filled with Spirit, we are no longer ourselves, but a hybrid human-spirit being, thing and no-thing simultaneously. Working with her through the dying process became one of the profound events of my life.
In this hybrid state miracles can occur, though the miracle for Tiffany had no relationship to the health of her physical body. I believe she achieved sainthood in this life. She achieved the state of human empty -- spirit full. But she eventually stopped returning to the state of being only human and marveling at the wonder of what has happened.
Another Eckhart quote said, "...there is something in the soul from which knowing and loving flow. It does not itself know and love as do the forces of the soul. Whoever comes to know this something knows what happiness consists in. It has neither before nor after, and it is in need of nothing additional, for it can neither gain nor lose. For this very reason, it is deprived of understanding that God is acting within it. Moreover, it is that identical self which enjoys itself just as God does. Thus we say that people shall keep themselves free and void so that they neither understand nor know that God works in them...."
"The masters say that God is a being, an intelligent being, and that he knows all things. We say, however: God is neither being nor intelligent nor does he know this or that. Thus God is free of all things, and therefore he is all things.
"Therefore it is necessary that people desire not to understand or know anything at all of the works of God. In this way is a person able to be poor of one's own understanding." This understanding in physicality was what Tiffany achieved through the experience of cancer.
Though she died, Tiffany had a healing. She attained holiness from the perspectives of everyone who knew her. She taught me that writing about healing and the suspended state of grace entailed in healing is difficult because the location of healing is never quite available. Like Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle, we cannot locate healing precisely in both space and time. It happens through the creation of emptiness and the infiltration into the emptiness of a mysterious force free of all things because it is all things. So this emptiness is a metaphor for giving up our will and surrendering to the larger good, to the larger cell or organ or being of which we are but a miniscule part. Thinking that God controls us like the puppeteer as is popular in fundamentalist religions, is like thinking that we control one mitochondrium in one liver cell. We do not. God does not, because we are God and God is us.
Tiffany was quite fond of the "five touchings of the earth" meditation, which we did often. In the first meditation, we contemplate that whatever we think we are is but one wave in the ocean that we are. Each wave is a manifestation of the greater whole. The waves come and go. They are impermanent. But the ocean remains forever. This body that I have, it is a wave. It will come and go. But knowing that I am truly the ocean and not the wave, I can feel peaceful.
In the second meditation, we consider that we have been many times and will be many times, and all these beings are again manifestations of that which we truly are. Again, we are the ocean and not each wave.