Wednesday, April 27, 2016
One morning, seven-year-old Simone Putnam woke to silence. Lying in bed, still emerging from the dream tunnel, she saw, through half-closed eyelids, two of her brothers, Timmy and David, laughing as they wrestled on the floor. She wondered why they weren't making any sound. She gazed at them and their antics a few moments more before it dawned that the silence was in her.
She climbed out of bed, still rubbing her eyes, wondering if this was all a dream, and went to her harried mother, consumed by the clamor and demands of her five children: "Mommy, I can't hear." Maybe her mother couldn't hear her, either, or didn't believe her. After all, she could hardly believe the words herself -- ghost words she couldn't hear. She was dressed in a hurry, hustled out the door, and her father, abstracted and distant as he always was in the mornings, drove her to school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, as he always did before going to work. She didn't tell him she couldn't hear the usual morning sounds: the the chirp of the birds in their yard, the car starting up, his cigarette cough. Like her mother, he probably wouldn't hear or believe her, anyway.
She was late. Alone, she climbed the winding staircase, and with a sense of forboding, walked down the long hall to her second grade class. The saints and angels pictured on the walls seemed to be eyeing her strangely. Perhaps, like herself, they wondered why her footsteps echoed silence on the polished wood floor.
Sister Eva Marie smiled at her indulgently as she came in, and Simone saw that her classmates were writing in their reading workbooks. She was relieved; this something she could do that didn't require hearing. She immersed herself in it, and for a short time was able to forget about her hearing, but then she happened to look up and saw that the others had put their workbooks away. They were staring at her. Some of them were laughing, and even Sister Eva Marie was smiling. Her lips were moving as she looked directly at Simone, who froze. She struggled with her embarrassment and confusion for several moments before she flew to her teacher in tears, seeking refuge in her arms, in the folds of her black habit, speaking those agonized, unheard words again: "I can't hear. I can't hear."
Only this time, she was heard. Simone's mother was called to come and get her, and one of the nuns waited with her outside the school. Still upset, still needing to share with someone, as if in the sharing there would be healing, she told her the whole story. The words rippled outward on the surface of the pool of silence, and a faint smile played on the nun's face, as though her surprise and concern was mixed with amusement.
In the car going home, her mother seemed both disgruntled and vaguely reassuring. Worn out by the high drama, Simone retreated into herself, gazing out the window at the passing scenery.
The next day, she got another surprise--she could hear again. But, as she was still reeling from the events of the day before, and her mother thought she might have an ear infection, she was allowed to stay home from school. In the afternoon it began to rain, and she pressed her nose against her bedroom window, looking out on the front lawn, luxuriating in the reassuring thrum of the raindrops on the roof and the ground, the fresh scent that blew in through the screen, the dance of the birch tree in the wind and rain.
The next morning, as she woke, she thought she heard something, but wasn't sure, so she did a test: she knocked on the adjacent wall, on the door of her hearing, and there was no response. "Why?" she asked aloud, and that too was not heard nor answered.
As the sounds became ever more elusive during the day, so did they become unwelcome guests in the night, when Simone was often tormented with head noises. During one of these bouts, she came crying to her mother: "It's like the wind howling through a haunted house." Looking into Simone's frightened, pleading eyes, her mother felt they were both being sucked into that huge, neglected, echoing shell of a house, and that they might roam there together endlessly with those bewildered, wandering ghosts.
Her parents took her to one doctor after another, her ears were examined with lights and probes, and they, who were supposed to have the answers, looked at her grimly, their faces haggard with frustration and puzzlement. One of them took her parents aside, and wiping tears from his eyes, told them: "She'll have to learn sign language and go to a school for the deaf."
"We don't buy that," said Mr. Putnam, and his wife nodded her agreement. But later, after the children had gone to bed, he broke down crying. "It sure doesn't look good," he said through his tears. "What are we going to do?"
His unaccustomed display of vulnerability tapped into an unaccustomed bravado and optimism in his wife. "Oh, everything's going to be fine," she said, managing to soothe both his fears and her own, for the moment. She couldn't say why or how, but she felt it had to be true.
Simone's hearing was still unpredictable. A couple of the doctors had said her on-again, off-again hearing could be psychological, that she might be blocking sound.
And so her parents, still hoping for a solution that would restore their daughter and their lives to normalcy, made an appointment with another kind of doctor--a child psychiatrist.
Simone had become used to the round of doctors, and was a bit jaded by it all, but this was different. For one thing, instead of a nurse telling them when to go in, this one--tall, smiling, pleasant--appeared in the doorway himself, and her mother remained sitting instead of accompanying her. She hesitated, but the doctor motioned her to come with him. Simone looked at her mother, who nodded, and she followed him into his office.
They sat opposite one another, and the doctor spoke. But her hearing was "off" that day. "I can't hear you," she said with a laugh, to cover her embarrassment.
"That's OK," he answered, and she understood him from his mouth movements and the look on his face. In that moment, she felt curiously released, and relieved. It was OK. It wasn't wrong or bad. Those words, so casually and smilingly spoken, stayed with her.
They spent most of the time in their sessions playing with the assortment of toys the doctor kept in this office. Sitting in the waiting room, taking advantage of the rare, uninterrupted space of time to catch up on her reading, Simone's mother got used to hearing her daughter's gales of laughter through the closed office door. They played with the puppets, the Play-Doh, the Pick Up Sticks, the dolls, and they rolled balls back and forth on the office floor.
The days when Simone could hear were becoming ever fewer and farther between, and the doctor wanted to be able to talk with her at least once in therapy. He told Mrs. Putnam to be sure to bring her in on a day when she could hear. That day came, and when the doctor asked her how she was doing, she replied, "I'm okay." Then she went over to the dollhouse and started moving the dolls around in the dollhouse rooms.
This time the doctor made no move to play with her. His gaze was alert and attentive to all that she did. Soon Simone tired of the dolls and began forming the Play-Doh.
She made a ball out of the Play-Doh and rolled it to the doctor. He picked it up and held it. "You want to play, and I want to talk."
"Why can't we do both?" she asked.
"All right." He rolled the ball back at her. "How is school?"
"I saw Gretchen yesterday."
"Ah. Who's Gretchen?"
"She was in our class last year," said Simone. "Not this year."
"But she was there yesterday?"
"Yes. I don't know why," she said. "Maybe she was visiting. She said hi. She was happy to see me, but I didn't want to talk to her, because I couldn't hear."
"How do you feel about that now?"
"Not so good. But it's hard..." her voice trailed off.
"It's hard to talk to people, even when you want to, if you can't hear."
"That's right." She nodded. "When we were in first grade, Gretchen sat in front of
me in class. I used to pull her braids." She giggled in remembrance of this game. "Our teacher told Mommy I should make friends with Gretchen, so she came over and played at our house."
"And then you became friends?"
"Kind of. She was always saying 'Oh, baloney!' " Simone laughed.
"Gretchen was funny," said the doctor.
"Yes." There was a pause. "We're rehearsing for First Holy Communion," she said. "We learned a song today. We'll sing it when we have our First Holy Communion."
"What's the song?" he asked.
"I'll sing it for you." She sang in a sweet, thin, slightly off-key voice: "Jesus, Jesus, come to me, all my longing is for thee..."
"That's pretty," said the doctor.
"There's more, but I couldn't understand it all."
The doctor nodded, and if she could have found the words, she would have told him of the soaring hymns--Tantum Ergo, Ave Maria, O Salutaris Hostia--that she and the other girls had sung, like an angelic chorus, so many times in the several years she had been at the Convent--songs that would reverberate forever within her, whenever she wished to hear them. But she was beginning to understand already that some things were too deep for telling, too deep even for tears.
They spent the rest of the hour playing, but this time, Mrs. Putnam noted the absence of laughter as she perused magazines in the waiting room.
Rehearsals for First Holy Communion went on for about a week more, and then the ritual took place at the school chapel, with the girls' parents in attendance. As she walked up the aisle to take Communion, dressed all in white and with a veil like all the girls, Simone was thrilled that her mother was watching from the pews. She smiled her delight and tried to make eye contact, oblivious to the fact that she was the only one who wasn't singing. She was also the only one who wasn't keeping her eyes modestly lowered, as she hadn't heard the nuns' repeated instructions about this during rehearsals. Her mother's face tightened, and she wouldn't meet Simone's eyes. The girls' sweet, tender young voices, set off by the majestic, sonorous organ music, lifted in words and rhythms of love and longing:
Jesus, Jesus, come to me,
All my longing is for thee.
Of all friends the best thou art,
Make of me thy counterpart.
Jesus, I live for thee,
Jesus, I die for thee,
I belong to thee
Forever in death and life.
As Simone received the insubstantial, slightly sweet Communion wafer, gently placed on her tongue like a benediction, Simone's mother felt an unutterable longing herself--that her daughter be again one of the singers, that she would be able to participate fully in her life as well as in this sacred ritual.
Mrs. Putnam had shared with Sister Eva Marie that the psychiatrist had suggested Simone could be blocking sound because she was sharing a bedroom with her 1 year old brother, who cried at night. After conferring with the Reverend Mother, the head of the Convent, Sister Eva Marie proposed to Mrs. Putnam that Simone stay at the school as a boarder for a time -- that her hearing might return, once she was away from Donny's crying.
Simone's mother felt her spirits rise at this straw of hope. "I'll speak to my husband," she said. When she brought it up with him, he hesitated a moment. Like her, he wanted to believe this was the solution, but he said, "We don't know for sure that her deafness is psychological. Didn't the therapist say he hadn't formed a definite opinion yet?"
"Yes, but Hugh, I have to believe that one way or another, we'll have our daughter back the way she was. All of this has just been too much. Yesterday, I raged at her when she didn't understand something I said--I can't even remember what it was. She was hurt, I could tell--but I just couldn't help myself."
Her husband nodded and heaved a sigh. "Yes, it's hard. Well, it wouldn't do any harm to let her stay at the Convent for a while. If that doesn't help..." His voice trailed off, and they both felt the uncertainty of what lay ahead for them all.
Mrs. Putnam called the psychiatrist to tell him of the plan, half hoping he would approve, but he said: "Don't do it. She's too vulnerable now--she'll think you're rejecting her."
"Oh, she loves it there," Simone's mother said evasively. "The nuns are so kind."
She said goodbye and hung up quickly, not wanting to hear any more cautions. She couldn't give up the dream of her daughter coming home from her visit healed and happy, of their lives returning to normal. She never called for an appointment again.
The doctor sat for some time as twilight deepened and darkened his office, shaking his head at the emotional disaster that surely lay ahead for Simone. He recalled the lines of the hymn she'd sung, and murmured, "Jesus, my old pal...Simone needs you now! Listen within, Simone, the silence has a voice. Your heart will always tell you what need to hear and know."
Mrs. Putnam consulted further with the nuns, and it was decided that Simone would stay with them for about a week, to see if her hearing would improve. Simone was not informed of the plan, since no one knew how to tell her or make her understand. On the day she was to begin
her stay as a boarder, her mother showed up after school at the playground as usual, and handed the supervising nun a bag containing some of Simone's clothes and personal items. Then, without even acknowledging her daughter, she turned abruptly and started walking away.
Simone couldn't believe her mother was leaving her behind. "Mommy!" she cried, but that most sacred, trusted name was for the first time impotent, unheard by herself and ignored by her mother. Feeling as though she'd been punched in the stomach, unable to cry out again, Simone stood rooted to the spot, while the sight of her mother's quickly retreating back was burned on her memory forever.
First her hearing had deserted her, and now her mother. And as in that first instance,
she felt compelled to share her loss. She spoke to a cluster of girls: "My mommy left me here. She ran away from me. I called to her, but she didn't listen." They listened, though. Simone was talking about every child's worst nightmare, and their attention was caught, their eyes wide and concerned. Yet still Simone left unsaid, even to herself, the most awful thought--that her mother didn't want her because she couldn't hear.
As she wandered around there, still in shock, she remembered what happened last year with Penny, who was one of the boarders. With her blond hair and olive skin, Simone thought she was the prettiest of all the girls. Penny was yelling and crying as they walked through the halls back to their classroom, after the Christmas concert. Simone asked their teacher, "What's the matter with Penny?" She could tell the teacher was upset herself, as she answered: "Be very glad you have your family, Simone. Penny just got the news she won't be seeing her parents. She'll be staying here over Christmas." Simone felt sorry for Penny, and it was hard to imagine being without family at Christmas--hard to imagine being without family, period. Now she knew how Penny felt.
While formerly Simone had known only the daytime, well-lit side of the Convent,
starting that night, she became acquainted with the mysteries of the nighttime
aspect. First, there was the mystery of the bath. At the Convent, the baths were in small cubicles, and each girl was expected to bathe herself. But Simone had never, in all her seven years, bathed alone. She always took baths with one or more of her brothers, and one of their parents, usually her mother, was always there if they called. It felt strange and lonely to bathe alone. Baths and bodies went together in her world. Even the faucets had always been turned on and off by whoever was watching them. Simone couldn't manage the faucets in that bathtub--they gushed forth with an angry intensity, which only increased when she tried to turn them down. More than once, she panicked and called for help, and the supervising nun would rush in, impatient, her habit flying.
As they were preparing for bed, this same nun took it upon herself to cut Simone's bangs, and then turned away with a guilty and embarrassed look
on her face. Simone was hearing more that day, and she heard the nun say: "Oh, well, it'll grow out." She looked at herself in the mirror and saw that her bangs were now very short and stuck straight out. It looked funny. She felt she was turning into a different person in so many awkward, uncomfortable ways.
The huge, dimly lit room, with its rows of beds, was so different from her bedroom at home that she shared with Donny. Sister Mary Theresa showed Simone to her bed, helped her change into pajamas, and moved on to help another girl. Simone sat on the edge of her bed, observing the nuns fussing lovingly over the girls. One of them was paying special attention to Penny, and it seemed there was a special bond between them. "She acts like she's her mommy," thought Simone.
There were many empty beds, and as Simone lay there, tired out, already half asleep, she thought that the ghosts of former child boarders might still be there in the room at night, watching them sleep, playing tag with one another as they flew across the high ceiling, and napping in an empty bed when they got tired. The thought comforted her, and took her mind off the nagging questions--would she become like Penny? Would the Convent become her home as well as her school? Would one of the nuns take her mother's place?
Simone had hardly tasted the dinner in the dining room her first evening there, and wasn't able to eat much. But she had never tasted anything like the breakfast they had next morning--Mexican hot chocolate and a freshly baked cinnamon roll with raisins and pecans. Breakfast at home was usually cereal. She could hear somewhat that morning--the clamor of voices, the clink of her spoon as she stirred the chocolate--but she could only make out a word or a phrase here and there. The morning treat, however, communicated loud and clear; the flavors reminded her that warmth, enjoyment and sweetness were still there in her world.
In the following days, there was more to appreciate about staying at the Convent with the boarding students. The girls' camaraderie embraced and included her, even though she wasn't able to join in their talk. One evening after dinner, they were led into a large playroom filled with toys, including many Simone had never seen before, like the ping-pong table. She learned by watching two of the girls playing, and got the chance to play herself. She was flushed, excited, almost
manic, reveling in the joy of learning a new game, of being a child playing among children again, and
Sister Mary Theresa pulled her close in an enveloping hug.
But always her thoughts would return to the same question when she could no longer hold it in: "When am I going home?" The nuns were evasive or didn't answer her.
But after Simone had been at the Convent for a week, Sister Eva Marie spoke to Mrs. Putnam on the phone, and said: "God has given Simone a cross to bear." Mrs. Putnam thanked her and hung up the phone with a sigh. That platitude held little comfort. Still she realized that like Simone,
they had to come to terms with the mystery and reality of her deafness.
And so she was brought home, with little fanfare. There was no emotional reunion. Her mother picked her up and drove her home while Simone stared out the window. Unsaid words of disappointment on her mother's side, and recriminations on Simone's side, clamored between them.
A couple of years later, Simone did have her say. In an argument with her mother, the feelings of betrayal burst forth: "You LEFT me at the Convent!"
And in almost the same moment, she was silenced by the agonized, sorrowful expression on her mother's face, the pleading of her voice as she cried, "Simone, I didn't KNOW!" She went on to talk about how confusing it had all been, and Simone could only nod. She had been there, smack in the middle of the maelstrom.
Since then they had been through the mill of audiologists' offices, soundproof rooms where her hearing was tested, audiograms that Simone referred to as her "report cards," her first hearing aid, and speech therapy to ensure she didn't lose the ability to speak clearly. She had left the Convent to attend St. Thomas, a school closer to home, but she didn't like it much. Her classmates didn't know what to make of this new girl who so often didn't understand what was being said. They looked down on her, and some of the boys called her "Grandma." She would play hooky on occasion with her brother--he didn't like school, either. It felt deliciously adventurous to roam the park near the school together instead of sitting in class. One day they decided to go to the children's library, but the librarian called their mother. The bubble of their adventure burst, and their spirits sank, when they saw her walking in the door.
One day, during her second year at St. Thomas, unhappiness with the school finally became too much for her, and she broke down in tears with her kindly speech therapist: "I'm the only one who can't hear!" Some phone calls were made, and after an initial visit to a grade school class for hard-of-hearing children forty miles away, she began commuting there on the bus with her new classmates She made friends, and was happier. She was one of them.
Simone's father was a word person, and after Simone had returned from her stay at the Convent, he remarked wryly to his wife that their daughter's hearing was no longer "hear today and gone tomorrow." It was gone, period. One day, before Simone got her first hearing aid, the family went to visit friends in another town, and they had a daughter Simone's age who wanted to play with her. The girl stood at a distance, holding a ball and saying something. It seemed she was proposing the rules for a game, but Simone could only stand there, feeling stuck and stupid. She was reminded of the time when they were visiting her grandmother and there was the daughter of another friend visiting who could hear but didn't understand, when they tried to play with her. Like Simone, she just stood there in confusion. Perhaps there wasn't that much difference between them, after all.
After dinner, Simone found a comic book of Felix The Cat lying on the living room floor and she was immediately entranced by the adventures of the funny little black and white cat, who could find whatever he wanted in his magic bag of tricks. Her parents' friends let her take the comic with her, and reading the rest of it in the car going home, she forgot all about her problems hearing.
Books and Simone had always been friends. When she was little and just starting to move around on her own, her mother would put her in the playpen, which she hated, to get her out of the way. Her mother put picture books in there along with her toys, and after Simone had worn herself out screaming, she would often lose herself in the pictures, turning the pages until she fell asleep. Now, books became her comfort, her refuge, and her magic bag of tricks, out of which she could take any kind of story she wanted and live it herself as she merged with the characters, the descriptions, and the adventures.
Her favorite book was Alice In Wonderland. Once, her brother Timmy found her poring over the book yet again, and asked in his playfully sardonic manner: "How many times have you read Lewis Carroll's great classic?"
"I don't know," she shrugged. She had tried to explain to him before about the many layers of meaning she found in the books. He listened, but Simone could tell he didn't really hear. What she didn't tell him, and could hardly articulate to herself, was that she knew very well what it meant to be a seven year old girl, like Alice, falling into an entirely different reality where she was a stranger, an alien in an upside-down world, and where, like Alice, she was continually asking: "Who in the world am I?"
A few years later in a conversation about her life, she said to the handsome and very nice Mr. Williams, who taught her seventh-grade homeroom class for hard of hearing students: "I haven't had any big traumas."
He smiled, and his eyes were gentle as he said lightly: "You had one--when you lost your hearing."
She thought about his words, and concluded that he was right. She contemplated this new realization, and she felt a new respect for herself. "I've had a big trauma and I'm still okay!" She had lived through that trauma and had come out the other end. "Maybe what happened wasn't so bad, after all..."
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Why are the Alice books by Lewis Carroll, aka Chas. Lutwidge Dodgson, like a Rorschach test? Most Carrollians who are familiar with the plethora of studies on the subject will have an inkling why the Alice books are reminiscent of that revealing inkblot personality test, even while they puzzle over the riddle put to Alice by the Mad Hatter ("Why is a raven like a writing desk?") which Dodgson always maintained had no answer at all.
Our interpretations of both the inkblot test and the Alice books are inevitably colored by who we are and what is important to us. Of course, they can also be read simply as stories, without any of the "allegorical urge" which as Michael Holmquist noted in his essay "What Is A Boojum? Nonsense And Modernism", critics of Lewis Carroll have "possibly developed...to its ultimate limits." Carroll himself assurd us that the books contained no teaching, but he also admitted to a friend, when asked about the meaing of The Hunting of The Snark: "I'm very much afraid I didn't mean anything but nonsense. Still , you know, words mean more than we mean to express when we use them; so a whole book ought to mean a good deal more than the writer means. So whatever good meanings are in the book, I'm glad to accept as the meaning of the book."
(Collingwood, The LIfe and Letters of Lewis Carroll)
My own take on the meaning of the Alice books, as a self-styled metaphysician and mystic, is that they are, aside from being brilliant and amusing stories, an encoded master teaching about the larger questions of consciousness and existence: who we are, where we came from, where we are going, and the nature of reality in our world.
It is well known that Charles Dodgson ventured off the beaten track in his own explorations of occultism and metaphysical
thought. As a deacon, he departed from certain aspects of orthodox religious beliefs, such as the doctrine of eternal damnation.
Beyond that, he was active in the Theosophical Society of hs day, and was one of the founders of the Society for Psychical
Research. He believed that life was a dream--a concept that has historically been embraced by philosophers and metaphysicians as varied as Plato and Gurdjieff, and is now being confirmed by modern-day physics. Most people understand that our night dreams are projections of our mind; in this waking dream of ours, the same principle is at work in what quantum physics
has dubbed the observer effect (the act of observing evokes the things that are observed). His dream-stories of Alice reflect
this belief. He also saw life as a school for soul growth: "Life is really a sort of school, or training-time, meant chiefly for the building
up of character, and of disciplining the spirit." This too is reflected in many instances in the Alice books, i.e.: "How the creatures
order one about, and make one repeat lessons! I might as well be at school at once." Games are another theme of the books.
In Alice in Wonderland, we have playing cards and croquet; in Through the Looking-Glass, chess. So: life is a dream, a school,
and a game. All Us in Onederland, dreaming, learning, and playing.
One of the meanings of the name Alice, which is of Greek derivation, is "truth." On the one hand, truth is relative, and we each
must discover our own truth within. On the other hand, there is a fundamental Truth or Reality that goes beyond our personal
perceptions. The ancient scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas, call the innermnost personal reality "Atman," and the ultimate reality
of the universe "Brahman." Ultimately, there is no separation between these two aspects, thus they are one in Alice,
whose name has also been interpreted by Mark Burstein in his essay To Catch A Bandersnatch as, among other things, All Us or All Is.
So, we have the young Alice/All Us, blissfully unaware of her cosmic significance, restless on the riverbank, close to her Spirit/Source
(the timeless river of Being), yet tired of it all, including her sister's book which she had peeked into a few times: "What was the use of a book without pictures or conversations?" Such a book is abstract, too much so for our Alice--reflecting her desire for more direct experience.
Similarly, many metaphysical sources, including the "sleeping prophet" Edgar Cayce, say that the Oneness got bored or lonely,
and conceived the idea of breaking itself up into individual souls, setting them free to evolve as embodied Creators according to
their own free will. As all is (Alice) a part of and an expression of Source or God, this Source gets to experience our various
Wonderland adventures and evolvement along with us. (Of course, none of this is meant to be taken literally, but more as fable or myth, geared to the linear nature of our understanding. However. fable and myth have their own truth and reality.)
Alice, as the Virgin Soul is aptly described by Carroll: "...trustful, ready to accept the wildest possibilities with all that utter trust that only dreamers know...curious--wildly curious..." This description has much in common with the Fool card in the Tarot, and if we freeze-frame her at the edge of the rabbit-hole just as she is about to jump in after the White Rabbit, we can see the similarities. She is stepping off
a cliff of sorts, heedlesss of danger, intent only on plunging into the unkown as she follows her instinct into new and exciting (if
no always pleasant) adventures. The Fool card represents all of us (Alice) as we set out on our cosmic/comic journey through life.
Keywords for the Fool are innocence, inner child/inner sage, trust, faith, and new beginnings. The Joker or the "Wild Card"
in regular playing decks is very similar to the Fool card. The Joker, numbered zero as is the Fool, can be any value
we decide, while the Fool is open to transform into any and all of the 21 cards in the Major Arcana. From the formless (zero) we create our lives and meaning. As Alfred North Whitehead postulates in his "process theology", God is adventurous (doesn't know what the result of his creation will be). And, writes Nisargadatta in I Am That: "It is the instinct of exploration, the love of the unknown, that brings me into existence. It is in the nature of being to seek adventure in becoming, as it is in the nature of becoming to seek peace in being...The spirit is a sport and enjoys to overcome obstacles."
But there is a catch for All Us souls who have incarnated from the realms of spirit into the material realm: we forgot Who We Really Are--i.e., that we are Brahman as well as Atman, the whole as well as the part. This is what is meant by "original sin" in Christianity--separation from this Oneness, or the aboriginal Onederland. The White Rabbit is a harbinger of this forgetting. As Carroll wrote in Alice For The Stage: "And the White Rabbit, what of him? Was he framed on the 'Alice' lines, or meant as a contrast? As a contrast, distinctly. For her 'youth', 'audiacity', 'vigour', and 'swift directness of purpose,' read 'elderly', 'timid', 'feeble', and 'nervously shillly-shallying', and you will get something of what I meant him to be. ..I am sure his voice should quaver, and his knees quiver, and his whole air suggest an inability to say 'Bo' to a goose!" And what was the White Rabbit so nervous about, when he first appeared to Alice? Time! "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" Time is part and parcel of physicality, as it is linked to the concept of the finite and death as opposed to the infinite and eternal; most of us do have anxiety connected to time in general, and aging and death in particular.
It is noteworthy that Alice is not hurt when she reaches the bottom of the rabbit hole. This too is in sync with the Fool's nature; it is said that drunks and fools are especially protected. Being relaxed, they are fearless and far less likely to be hurt in a fall. There in a long passage is the White Rabbit, still all in a tizzy: "Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!" Alice pursues him but he eludes
her. Finding herself in a long, dark hall, her identity crisis, and her Wanderland journey, begins in earnest.
Paradoxically, although she has just come from a bucolic Nature setting by a river, and was bored with it, she is entranced when she opens a door leading to a passageway that in turn opens to "the loveliest garden you ever saw," and despite (or perhaps because of) the impossibility of going through the tiny door, she yearns to get out there. Wanting what we can't have, and boredom with what we do have, is another characteristic of material existence--"the grass is always greener on the other side." This is echoed in the Wool and Water chapter in Through The Looking-Glass, when Alice, gathering rushes, exclaims: "The prettiest ones are always further!"
There's a kaleidoscopic flurry of events after Alice first discovers the door leading to the garden. A bottle appears on the little three-legged glass table, labeled DRINK ME. After making sure that it's not
marked "poison," she drinks it and finds herself shutting down like a telescope, until she is only ten inches high. She contemplates the possibility that she might "go out like a candle," trying to imagine what the flame of a candle looks like after it's blown out, "for she could not remember even having seen such a thing" (one of the many Zen-like conundrums in the Alice books). She's pleased that she is now the right size to go through the little door to the garden, but alas! Alice has forgotten the key, and is too small to get it off the
tabletop again. Frustrated to the point of tears, she then finds a small cake under the table with the words "EAT ME" spelled out in
currants. She eats it, in the hope that it will effect another change in size, allowing her to get the key and gain entrance into the garden.
And then--"curiouser and curiouser!"--she opens up "like the largest telescope that ever was." So tall is she that she bids goodbye to her feet, and muses on the problem of how she will put on her shoes and socks in future. Realizing anew the impossibility of getting into the
garden, she begins crying in earnest, chastising herself for her emotionalism while shedding "gallons" of tears, "until there was a large pool around her, about four inches deep and reaching halfway down the hall."
One interpretation of Alice's condition of being either too large or too small to go through the door: if we are overly focused on the spiritual and idealism (as symbolized by growing enormously tall) or too much on the material side of things (becoming tiny), we become caught in duality, and in losing the connection to our whole selves, we also lose the "key" to the fullness of life, as symbolized by the lovely garden. In this dualistic condition, our sense of self is fragmented, cut off as we are from the totality of our being. Thus, the identity crisis Alice undergoes throughout her Wanderland journey, first voiced while fanning herself, perhaps creating a personal "wind of change": "Dear, dear! How queer everything is today! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think, was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is: Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle!"
The "great puzzle," indeed, and one which each of us can only answer for ourselves--a lonely undertaking. In Alice's initial process of self-inquiry, she hazards that she might be one of her little girl friends--Ada? Mabel? and decides that if people would put there heads down to coax her back up, informing her that she was indeed Mabel (a horrid fate, in Alice's eyes), she would refuse to rejoin them. At the same time, she confesses to herself that she wishes those people would show up: "I am so very tired of being all alone down here!"
This is echoed in the Wool and Water chapter in Through The Looking-Glass, when the White Queen remarks on how happy Alice must be, "living in this wood, and being glad whenever you like!" Alice responds: "Only it is so very lonely here!" Musing on her loneliness, "two large tears came rolling down her cheeks." Indeed, the very state of embodiment as a separate, individual person is essentially lonely. As Nisargadatta writes in I Am That: "You are lonely as a person. In your real being you are the whole."
But, while no one does put their head down to coax Alice back up again, in a moment Alice finds she has company, as, having shrunk again, she falls into her own pool of tears she cried when she was "a great girl", and is joined first by a mouse, and then a number of other animals who have fallen into it, apparently out of the blue, since there were no animals to be seen in the dark hall previously, aside from the hurrying, scurrying White Rabbit. Perhaps they too fell down the rabbit hole, and are involved in their own metaphysical Fall and redemption?
Although Alice and the Mouse run into some communication difficulties--it is not thrilled at her innocent chatter about her cat Dinah's mouse-catching abilities, nor about the rat-killing talents of her neighbor's dog--the image of Alice and the animals in the Pool of Tears is a powerful one. Tears are the physical manifestation of strong feeling, and thus of consciousness. When Alice first falls into the Pool, her "first idea was that she had fallen into the sea..." It has been postulated that all life had its beginning in the sea, and on another level, emerges from the "sea of universal energy," i. e. the etheric world comprised of our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, dreams and myths. Many Alice Analysts have also compared the Pool to amniotic fluid. Alice and the animals are swimming together, mixed together in that symbiotic, oceanic, feeling consciousness. In the deepest sense, we are animals as well as infinite and eternal beings. We are All Is (Alice). In Schopenhauer's essay, The Christian System, he writes of "the unnatural distinction Christianity makes between man and the animal world to which he really belongs. It sets up man as all-important, and looks upon animals as merely things. Brahmanism and Buddhism, on the other hand, true to the facts, recognize in a positive way that man is related generally to the whole of nature, and specially and principally to animal nature; and in their system man is always represented by the theory of metempsychosis and otherwise, as clearly connected with the natural world." The appearance of the ape in Tenniel's drawing of the drenched Alice and the animals seems significant here, when we consider the theory of human evolution from the apes, as well as the similarity of ape and human characteristics and DNA.
Presumably the ape, or human-in-the-making, joined the other animals in the Caucus Race, to get dry. This is the first of several games that feature prominently in the Alice books, all of which can be seen as symbolizing the game of life. The Dodo (a bird that is now extinct--one of the myriad ways the books play with the concept of time), "marked out a race-course, into a sort of circle ('the exact shape doesn't matter,' it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no 'one, two, three, and away!' but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over."
As the circle is a common symbol for eternity, so the circular race-course, in relation to the game of life, symbolizes the "eternal round" of existence--conception, birth and death--and on another level, of evolution toward our Godhood. As a circle (eternity) has no beginning and no end, thus it makes sense that there are no fixed beginnings or endings in the Caucus-Race, and despite the seeming reality of birth and death, there are no beginnings or endings for All Us in our true nature as Spirit. As has often been said, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience. And since experience is its own purpose, we all "win." As the Dodo says after the Caucus-Race: "Everybody has won, and all must have prizes."
In contrast to this freewheeling approach, we often measure and judge ourselves and others without mercy. The furious Queen of Hearts, ordering heads chopped off left and right, portrays this in an extreme manner. (It is worth noting that the touching of both shoulders with the blade of the sword in the 'knighting' ritual, thus symbolically cutting off the head, also symbolizes breaking open the limitations of the body.) In the "long and sad tale" recounted by the Mouse, the Queen is foreshadowed by a mysterious and ruthless being named Fury, who informs the mouse in the tale that he, Fury, playing the part of both judge and jury, will "try the whole cause, and condemn you to death." In fact, in "Alice On The Stage," Carroll writes that he saw the Queen as "a blind and aimless Fury."
It is significant that the White Rabbit is the first Wanderland creature that Alice encounters. As noted, he represents fear, and fear's handmaiden is control in all its aspects, including anger. When the White Rabbit shows up again in the next chapter, he mistakes Alice for his maidservant Mary Ann, angrily castigating her for shirking her job, and ordering her to fetch his gloves and fan. As Martin Gardner notes in "The Annotated Alice": "The White Rabbit's angry ordering about of his servants here and elsewhere in the chapter, is in keeping with his timid character." From this it follows that fear lurks behind the anger of the less obviously timid characters as well, such as the Queen of Hearts.