On anguish, love and spiritual awakening
In Harlem, New York City, on the morning of March 16, 2014, I took my usual walk from the 137th Street subway station to the university. In front of the campus, a place where I'd routinely stop, was a wide, empty football court. It was an early spring day: the temperature had just notched above zero, enough for the snow to thaw. I stood gazing at it. Amid the expanse of thick snow, there were patches of green grass shooting up from spots lit by the sun.
In this part of the world, the period of early spring is very brief, occurring for just two days before the snow thaws completely and the landscape turns green all over again. To my mind, this simultaneous presence of snow and grass makes for the most intense and beautiful time of the year, the only time where death and birth are seen side by side. For a person from a tropical country where the four seasons are non-existent, this spectacle made me acutely aware of the cycle of time, as never before in my life.
I thought of a story: a young man who dies in the springtime of his youth. A short film about a fleeting life. A poetic death, a poetic resurrection.
In writing the script on that very day, two images, those that had been harbored in my unconscious, reappeared. The first was Saint Francis of Assisi, in a painting where he kneels down to accept the stigmata from the sky. Stigmata are wounds on the body that correspond to Jesus’ crucifixion wounds. The rare people who receive such wounds are said to attain certain spiritual heights as they have emptied themselves to receive God within the soul.
The second image was of Saint John the Baptist, who was beheaded by Herod. Usually depicted as a decapitated head on a plate, the head of Saint John, which drips blood, is seen as alive. His eyes bespeak unfathomable suffering, yet they see with serenity and peace.
I find that when one is in love, the source of happiness comes not from possessing the other person. The one in love wakes up to find the surrounding world suddenly teeming with beauty: one sees the beauty of the leaves, the flowers; he loves the ants, the soil, the things before his very eyes, things he experiences in the present, things he recalls from his memory, things he projects in the future. All his reason for existence is justified at that moment when he realizes he is in love. He learns to love his fate, his misfortunes, his everything. He is reborn to a different world when falling in love.
Such is the spiritual aspect of human love. It transforms itself over time, while transforming the spirits of the lovers to a different state of living. One learns to accept and encompass everything around him as he learns to accept love. The lover moves from loving one person to loving everything else, he suddenly looks at things differently, entering a perspective where life is awash with grace and vivacity.
As Plato claims in ‘The Symposium’, one travels from the love of one person’s physical beauty to the love of beauty's eternal form. One moves from loving a beautiful human, to loving beautiful things, to loving beauty itself. To be in love is in fact to be spiritual, to embark on a spiritual trip to meet the soul that vibrates beneath us and beneath the world, to find in oneself the eternal that is also present in the universe. Love is that rare state of harmony where one enters a communion with nature and the universe. As Martin Buber says, one sees in the eyes of the person he loves a glimpse of Eternity. Such is what I find to be the spiritual aspect of carnal love.
The act of surrendering oneself in love is also found in the act of faith. Faith, to me, is not so different from love, but a more devoted, extreme form of loving where one relinquishes his need to be loved and does not require his lover to give anything back. One only wishes to give, to surrender to an invisible lover who is always silent. Such was the love of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Religious ecstasy, found in the depictions of St Theresa, St Sebastian, St John the Baptist, St Francis of Assisi, is an ineffable, eroticized state of such complete love. A person makes love to the intangible God whom he loves in the thick of his soul, as any human makes love to a lover. At the same time, his body suffers from physical pain by those who wound him. The bliss, as found in that moment of religious ecstasy, is attained when one’s spirit is wholly consumed by love, and surpasses the agony of the flesh. Such ecstasy is a state where bliss and agony co-exist in the same human being, yet are driven by the pure presence of the spirit as it ascends to a higher state that transcends body, pain, and time. The spirit reaches the Eternal. What is the state of pure spirit?
‘Early spring’ is about a young man who lets God into his soul by voluntarily receiving God’s wounds. Like Saint Francis, he reaches a state of ecstasy as a result of love and agony.
If one is aware of time and its destruction, one knows for certain that the passion between two humans does not last. As a person who is deeply aware of my solitude in the world, who has gone through love and lost love, I find in myself a solitude that cannot be resolved by carnal, human love.
Solitude can be resolved only by awakening to a spiritual state catalyzed by love. In such a state, one does not possess anything; one is completely empty, unbound, unattached to the physical, a state of pure spirit. Yet, it is a state of loving and encompassing everything.
Solitude can be resolved in the moment when one surrenders one’s soul to love and to the cosmos. The character in ‘Early spring’ trades his bodily health for such union.
After receiving the wounds from God and dying, he becomes everything: He is the wind that descends on his mother, he is the voice in the air, he is the torrents of the ocean. He has overcome his separation from the world he is in.
He is free from his solitude, as he becomes one with the cosmos.