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THE VIEW FROM DOWN BELOW

So there I was, at the bottom of the swimming pool, staring up at the surface. I was calm, unperturbed, relaxed, albeit totally submerged in water, a foreign environment for one whose lungs require oxygen and yet are unable to obtain this precious commodity from H20, and yet I was one with my surroundings. Without a care in the world.

Such a state of mind might seem odd in light of the fact that at the time I couldn't swim.

I couldn't have been but a year old at the time. Hearing my mother tell it, I was crawling around in our backyard with her not far away, and she must have turned her back for a second, during which time I acquired a fascination with the shimmering water and took my first unaided plunge. I don't know how long I remained at the bottom of the 9-foot-deep end of the pool. But I do remember a huge splash of water as mom dove in to retrieve me.

But what I remember more was the peace I felt. Totally at ease. No fear. No anxiety. This is the first memory I have of life on Earth. And I'm willing to wager a similar recollection is lodged in the memory banks of each and every one of us. Not necessarily involving a near-death experience - for had mom been a bit farther away, or if I sank without a splash, I may not be here to tell of it today - but for that feeling of Oneness and equipoise. Drop me in the pool today and chain my arms so I cannot swim and I'd experience crippling panic and frantically flail about. Because I have learned about death, I know the dangers of suffocation (at least of holding breath for an unpleasantly long time). In short, I have been conditioned to view myself as a separate entity existing in sometimes hostile relationship to my environment, to the water I cannot breathe for example, and knowing life I have been conditioned to rue death, which is believed to be life's absence. In short, separation breeds fear, and neither is our true state.

There is nothing to fear but fear itself - and fear is a product of the mind.

The trick is to retain the openness and pervasive calm an infant feels even in the most harrying of circumstances - put an infant in the crib with a viper, let its skin be overrun by tarantulas, and the babe shows not a wink of trepidation - while at the same time protecting the flesh and blood vehicle we've been entrusted with for this Earthly sojourn and which conducts us through this phenomenon called life. But never forget the oneness that is your nature. If you can exist amidst duality (life death, pleasure pain, etc.) while keeping the unity that underlies opposites ever in your heart, you are forever young, no matter what signs of age may appear with time on the outside. The body's not you anyway.

This is not to say that we should go sleeping with vipers or courting arachnids, only to know that if we get bit by the viper of life, what we truly are is imperishable, perfect, blemishless, infinitely free and eternal. Yes we come into this world with a lot to learn (to potty train, tie our shoes, function in society) but we also have a lot to teach, for we remain ever close to the Source of all being. And more than any know-how, this knowledge of our true nature deserves the name wisdom.

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