Years ago when I was a bachelor living in Lancashire, England, an incident occurred that stands out like a revelation. My home, in an area where working-class houses were built in rows so that one street looked like every other, was located at the rear of a corner shop. Thus my sitting-room door opened onto one street and just around the corner my kitchen door opened onto another.
That particular evening I was alone, reading until a late hour. I had gone to the kitchen to make a cup of cocoa, when suddenly I was startled by a loud knocking on the front door. I fancied I heard someone tampering with the doorknob.
Cautiously, I opened the door just enough to see a dark figure stooping close against the door as if trying to peer through the letterbox. It was so eerie that I panicked. Slamming the door shut, I fastened the lock and went to the kitchen even though I thought I heard sounds as if the intruder had been knocked off balance and had tumbled down the front steps. Back in the kitchen, I turned off the lights and sat down to my cocoa. The drink calmed me. In a few seconds my panic disappeared.
It was then that I experienced a revelation. With my returning sanity, my rational, higher self stood, as it were, face to face with my irrational, lower self and I glimpsed something, at least, of its nature and how it had affected my life.
Brought out in conscious awareness, I saw how the compulsion of my personal self to withdraw from everything strange or unfamiliar had made me, even in childhood, something of a solitary. Failing to deal with this in earlier years, I had come to accept myself through adulthood into middle life on its terms. Had rationalized that this was not altogether on the debit side: I had read much and acquired some intellectual grasp of the world's philosophies. But now in this moment of stress I saw how subtly my lower nature had disguised my limitation; how vanity had made a virtue of weakness, thereby binding it the more securely upon me. "I am the reserved, studious type" — I had prided myself on this very weakness which had so greatly inhibited my freedom of association and action among my fellow men. The shock of my egoism was painful in the extreme, but at the same time the picture of my folly was so ludicrous that I sat there in a state between laughing and crying.
Then, suddenly, a knock at the kitchen door. This time I went forward without hesitation, turned on the lights, and threw open the door. A well-dressed man stood outside. "Excuse me," he said, "I am a music-hall artist. After the show I went for a walk, but I'm afraid I've become quite lost. Could you please direct me to my hotel?" "I will get my coat," I said at once, "and take you there myself."
As we set off he turned to me gratefully: "It is particularly pleasing to meet a man so kind and helpful. Would you believe that your neighbor just around the corner actually slammed his door in my face. Sent me rolling down the steps into the street! He must be a great curmudgeon, surely?" "Yes," I replied after a moment or two. "He can be quite a curmudgeon. However, at this moment he may be taking second thought on the matter. Who knows?"
There is a split-second hiatus — a conscious pause — between thought and action, in which, can we but grasp and use it, the door to our higher consciousness seemingly is opened. Perhaps then we get a glimpse of ourselves as we really are, and so find answers to our problems.
(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)
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