Sitting in a darkened room, I become part of this cinema,
Captured by the interplay of image, emotion, and meaning.
Serendipitous special effects suggest a hidden theme.
But what engages me most is something else:
The out-of-joint moment a single frame freezes;
I become aware of the clicking projector,
And just as the celluloid melts and burns,
Appears the blurred shadow of the Projectionist’s hand.
* * *
This poem was inspired by a section in Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s book Fingerprints of God, discussing the infirmity of temporal lobe epilepsy. Seizures are sometimes preceded by intense spiritual experience just prior to the onset of pain and collapse. Fyodor Dostoevsky was susceptible to this “sacred disease” and documented it through some of the characters in his novels, including Prince Mishkin in The Idiot. Dostoevsky’s descriptions of his own seizures are especially illuminating:
For several instants I experience a happiness that is impossible in an ordinary state, and of which other people have no conception. I feel full harmony in myself and in the whole world.
I felt that heaven descended to earth and swallowed me. I really attained god and was imbued with him.
In The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley describes the brain as a “reducing valve” that normally acts to block our tapping into what he called “Mind at Large.” There is a higher level of reality than what we normally experience, and one role of the brain may be to act as the barrier to a tsunami of spiritual input that would otherwise overwhelm us.
Both your poem and commentary are enlightening about the sacred disease and the tsunami of spiritual input. Your poem proves you don’t have to have epilepsy to find transcendence in everyday life.