Polly Greeks’ Blog: Spiritual intelligence


Polly ponders life and death after bumping into Dave, an electrician and the victim of a nasty shock.

We thought the electrician had forgotten his promise. Dave had agreed to return to the bush at some unspecified future date and wire up our house for solar power.

But he never re-appeared, or so much as answered his phone and, as months passed, James and I realized gaining electricity wasn’t a priority after all.

We decided to let the broken agreement with Dave quietly die. In actuality, however, it was the electrician who was quietly dying. He had been rushed to hospital with a rare disease where paralysis set like cement through his body. Soon the only things he could move were his eyes. As his lungs collapsed, he comprehended each breath could be his last.

“Did you panic?” Twelve months later, our paths randomly re-crossed. Finally, we were learning what had happened to Dave. He shook his head. He was too far beyond the metaphorical reef to attempt struggling back. It was time to surrender to the current. “I just wanted to die peacefully.”

Caught between life and death and watching for his final moment, Dave discovered an infinite space existing between every in and out breath.

Filled with calmness, he mentally blessed the people in his life. After propelling love and goodwill to family and friends, he individually addressed every person he could recall encountering in his life, sending them all loving kindness.

“That’s all I did; over and over. I didn’t have a lot to give at first — I was pretty weak, but then I noticed, the more I gave, the stronger I became.”

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After a week, he came off life-support machines. His recovery was deemed miraculous. Dave’s certain it’s the energy he sent out, returning magnified, that brought him back to life. “I could feel it coming in. It was extraordinary.” More than a year later, he still carries luminosity from the experience.

No one is especially dying in our house this summer, except we all are, a little. That knowledge is a gift on these sublime early mornings. It says to savour each glowing moment like it’s an ember about to fade into permanent darkness.

When you’re looking, the details are exquisite. Before dawn, the forest is black. Behind me, the children’s sleep exhalations roll like tiny waves onto their pillows. Even as moonlight splashes silver on leaf tips, the birds are changing guard. Owls or ruru still echo one another across the valley; kiwis whistle from the gully, but the first notes from the tūī drip slowly, one-by-one, into the pool of perfect stillness.

Just as a candle flame makes the shadows blacker; the aural droplets make the surrounding silence even deeper. Sometimes there is nothing between me and the calling tūī. The clarity is astonishing. There are no mental filters for the sound to percolate through. No angst, no planning or faint tinge of guilt; just a clear, empty mind and a tūī.

Lately, people have been asking what to do about eco-anxiety. Novelist Wendell Berry wrote, “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”

Spiritual intelligence is, perhaps, knowing what and where we are in the scheme of things. The unaware place themselves at the centre yet we’re all part of something bigger. We need to live as if we’re links in a chain; already ancestors, with generations of our children’s children existing downstream from this point in time. What world did we leave them?

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Balanced between existence and extinction, our electrician found a profound and miraculous life force reverberating back as he gave love and gratitude. The chink between what’s already been and what’s coming is now. It’s a limitless space if you know how to stop but, usually, we’re so busy moving from the past to the future that we miss it.

United States inventor Buckminster Fuller said nothing is altered by fighting the current reality. “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing reality obsolete.”

Maybe the antidote to eco-anxiety involves opening our hearts to the beauty of now. Who knows what could happen in that infinite place if enough people loved what we have?

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NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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