When I was a little boy,
I used to sit up in a tree in our backyard
and wonder about the worlds I knew existed just beyond the horizon.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about: Worlds that we can’t quite put into words, but most definitely can sense. Worlds that fill us with awe and curiosity…and wonder.
Every now and then when I was a kid, if I stayed very still and squinted really hard, I’d catch a glimpse of those worlds, but then I’d notice a bug commuting on a branch or hear Mom calling me for dinner and I’d come down from the tree. At ten, I came down for good. Because it was time to stop wondering about worlds I could not see and start figuring out the one I could. The transition wasn’t easy.
It took a while to get the hang of this world we live in. Fifteen years to be exact. I call it my “Goldilocks period.”
Eventually, around the time I turned twenty-five, I found the life that was “just right” and everything started coming together.
I got a really cool job as the political director for the first openly gay Member of Congress which I parlayed into a lucrative career as a consultant. “Hire Will,” even my opponents would say, “he always wins.”
I made enough money so that all the right people knew me and my American Express Platinum card, be they clerks at Neiman’s, maitre d’s at Bostons’ best restaurants, or Members of Congress trying to win re-election…or become president.
And I fell in love with an amazing man who I actually got to marry. Together, we built a life that included a nice home, good friends, fun trips, tons of laughter, and a little Scottish Terrier named Tyra Banks.
By the time I turned forty, I had everything I’d ever wanted. Well, almost everything. I no longer thought about the worlds I couldn’t see. I was too busy trying to hold together the one I’d meticulously created. And then, one Saturday afternoon, I woke from a nap to see a raven rising up from between the slats of our bedroom floor. It brushed its wing against my cheek, said, “It’s time” and disappeared into the ceiling.
I didn’t even like birds.
But there was something about this particular bird and it’s very specific (not to mention succinct) message that got my attention.
So I began to wonder what it meant. What it was “time” for. For ten years, I bought a lot of books, went to more than a few weekend retreats, learned some chants, studied with a wizard, an alchemist, and a clairvoyant healer. I got to know spirits and energies I’d never heard of, or if I had, I thought were only the stuff of nonsensical fantasy. I’m talking dragons and moons, serpents and ghosts, my dead grandmother…and Raven.
The tariff for all of this was the loss of everything I did not think I could stand to lose: clients, money, status, friends, my marriage and, eventually, my mind.
The “boon”, as Joseph Campbell would say, was the gift of remembering what all of us knew as children and some of us only remember right before we die: That none of this is real. That it’s all just one long dance of our perception. A “blink and you’ll miss it” bridge between the first cry of birth and the last gasp of death.
I think Thomas Merton was onto something when he wrote that “you can never understand it; you can only experience it.” Which is what I try to do, practicing a sadhana of awareness, which means simply that I try to be present with and grateful for the wonder that is all around and within.
Showing up for it, taking it in, and, from time to time, sharing the experience.