If one could find “itness” in a forest and in a field, could one find it in the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans?
- by James Inabinet
I felt strangely light. I was neither anxious nor bored; my “monkey-mind” was subdued yet audible. I just was. Just before dark, my mind quieted for a moment and I felt an indescribably beneficent feeling of perfect contentment, a “glowing” feeling, a glow like the stratus clouds.
I have since come to call this the peace-love feeling. I vaguely remembered having read about something like this before. It was in Alan Watts’ This Is It! He quoted Bernard Berenson, who called the feeling Itness:
"It was a morning in early summer. A silver haze shimmered and trembled over the lime trees. The air was laden with their fragrance. The temperature was like a caress. I remember–I need not recall–that I climbed up a tree stump and felt suddenly immersed in Itness. I did not call it by that name. I had no need for words. It and I were one."
Yes ... it and I were one. I became obsessed with this feeling. It’s important to note that I have always felt some kind of beneficent presence in the forest, but this was different. It was more than just the “good feeling” that most people (including myself) experience in nature.
I can only describe it in comparison to the feeling of coming home after an absence. In this place of beauty, I felt welcomed, “held,” like I belonged in this forest in a new, more complete way. To be sure, it was a feeling of communion with this place. Yes ... it and I were one.
The experience and my thinking about it led me to two questions that consumed me for years: what was the feeling’s cause and what was its extent?
As for the first question, I passively filed it away for later study. As for the second, I actively pursued it, looked for it wherever I went. As I wandered about the field, forest, creek, or pond, I would occasionally plop down wherever, whenever the mood struck. In twenty minutes or less, regardless of where I was, a feeling of peace-love would ensue – if I paid attention. I determined that the feeling was available all over my land.
Wanting to go further, I tried to detect it in other places. I took day trips to an estuarine bayou, the marsh’s edge, a section of isolated beach. At all of these places, the peace-love feeling soon bathed over me. At all of these places I felt held.
Months later I went to the Grand Canyon, the cathedral of stonemen, and walked along a rim trail. Breaking off, I walked a short distance and found a place to go over the edge a bit to a place where I could be alone. I wanted to find out if the “peace-love” feeling could be felt there, wondering if it had something to do an abundance of life in a place. There are very few living beings here.
I sat in a protected nook, closed my eyes and touched my face against the cool sandstone. I breathed in; a breeze caressed my face. Almost immediately I felt Itness.
Finally, one early spring I took a trip to the New Orleans French Quarter and plopped down on the sidewalk in front of the Cathedral: cement, asphalt, brick, stone, roof tiles – all stonemen. If the feeling could be had at Grand Canyon, it should be here too.
People walked back and forth, never quite completely looking at me. Pigeons rose and fell from the sidewalk in waves. I leaned against the iron fence and closed my eyes, listening to the din. A lady offered me a dollar – did I look like a vagrant?
Unable to concentrate, I walked to Royal Street and down towards Esplanade, to a more residential, quiet place. I found a blind alley that continued thirty feet or so back off the sidewalk. I sat and closed my eyes. Opening them again, I saw a spider web, a funnel weaver in a crack between the brick wall and a wooden post. Ivy grew up the wall.
There was beauty here though not as obvious as in my forest home. The walls were uneven; the stucco patchy; mortar crumbled. Closing my eyes again, I placed my face against the cool brick wall, seeking the peace-love feeling. It never came though I sat there for two hours.
In fact, even though I was surrounded by people, I had never felt more alone. I felt like I was floating in space, watching a movie of people on top of people, all milling about. Like a caged beast, I felt alone amongst my own brothers.
I went home, perplexed. It seemed that a modern city is not conducive to evoking the peace-love feeling. Now all of my efforts turned to the cause of this mysterious feeling.
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