If you are looking for a non-duality treatise full of mental acrobatics don’t bother with this book.
Frankly, I never manage to get through a Vicki Woodyard offering without going through at least a half a box of Kleenex—she knows how to jerk those tears. But she also elbows in a few good jokes (after all, she used to write them for comedienne Joan Rivers). Yet her wit in this book is not the laugh out loud kind, but a clever humor that catches you in such a way that you stop reading and start pondering with a smile.
Her latest book, Bigger than The Sky accomplishes this full emotional range and yet adds a surprise element, something I at least, did not perceive in her earlier works, Life with A Hole in It, and A Guru in the Guest Room. Bigger than the Sky is a less a book about spirituality as it is a book that transmits Truth.
Between the lines, embedded in the music behind the lyrics, is the melody of grace. And if you really hear it, if you let that sweet song into your heart, you will surely finish this book lighter and more at ease than when you began. (Yes, that is the sales pitch).
Even as this book is a kind of transmission, it is also at face value two interwoven stories—Woodyard’s five-year-ordeal of caring for a dying husband and her parallel email correspondence with a man named Peter, who through his own failing health, awakened to the simple joy and ease of being.
In his own words, “In the absence of a presence of a me, there is a wide wildness bigger than the sky.”
Peter has a grim prognosis for a progressive illness that leaves him tired, weak, unable to walk steadily, mentally challenged around tasks such as counting change (even though abstract math was his thing, pre-illness) and under attack from debilitating migraines.
Yet, this illness is a fierce grace. He writes, “Pain that goes on for years tends to drown out the silliness of belief in systems in favor of direct contact with life, God, or whatever one wishes to call Truth. Intermediaries are a waste of time when the body is crumbling. I have found that such difficulties tend to make all other sounds meaningless. Only the beating of one’s own true heart has meaning.”
Yet despite the pain his body endures, every one of his letters shares his utter wonder and joy at sitting in the sunlight by a stream with his cats, watching nature and feeling inseparable from it all.
Woodyard is writing from her current perch, almost a decade after the death of her husband and the end of her seven years of letters to Peter (she does not know when Peter died, only that his letters trailed off). As such, the narrative jumps time zones, taking us back to the past as she lived it, interspersed with snippets of insight gleaned years later.
Her life, she readily admits, has been a charnel ground – the death of her seven-year-old daughter to cancer and then a husband twenty years later, fuelled the raging fires of grief that would burn away illusion. “In one sense, sorrow is the true guru and when it burns away the dross of the self, only holy ash remains.”
Yet this spiritual aspirant who for many years threw herself into the quest for awakening reveals she was often lost in suffering during her husband’s slow dying. Peter was a life raft for her soul, holding her hand with gentle reminders of truth.
Vicky is a likeable narrator—she is not prone to self-pity, employs ample wit and keeps the pace brisk with short, easily digested chapters. And we see and appreciate her character arc from a beleaguered widow to years later, a woman who has fallen deeply in love with life itself, as herself.
Her hard-won peace is evident in beautiful words such as these: “Life is hard. Death is hard. Love is the gift. If you are touched by the hand of sorrow and draw back, you are just being human. Once you move forward, and let it be yours, it lets go. It lets go.”
But as much as Woodyard shines, the show stealer is Peter. He takes center stage, and our author seems more than happy to play sidekick to the delightful clarity that comes through in his letters to her. She mentions at one point the “contact high” she feels from reading his words, even years later. I too feel the light streaming through Peter’s humble wisdom.
Here are just a few of my favorite lines from Peter, who so sweetly inserts the qualifier in almost every letter to his pen pal Vicki, that these are just his opinions.
“In one’s own heart (just my opinion of course) God is patiently waiting to jump out and say “Boo!” But for many the show seems so much more interesting. Especially when the show contains apparent love and suffering.”
“We think and we think and we think we know and we think we don’t know and we think some more, all in quite a wonderful effort to avoid joy. Which it seems to me, is what we truly are.”
“Well, I kinda feel that suffering is on whole simply a path of more suffering. I cannot see how suffering leads anywhere else.”
“It seems to me that truth (perhaps with a capital T) is so simple and easy that we run past it, sweating heavily.”
“That which can be gained can also be lost. Speaking personally—and this is just my opinion of course—only that which is permanent is of interest. God dies when I fall asleep, at night, so She is of no interest. Teachers die too, as do their teachings, so they are of no interest. Insights also fade, so they are of no interest. They story of one’s life, love, hate, religious fervor, knowledge, self…all fade, so they are blind avenues too. The fun question seems to me is what lasts—what is permanent?”
“To me, just my opinion again—ease is simple, obvious, permanent and always present. So simple just to relax with a little cat and breathe the sunlit days, as they appear to pass. Tomorrow if it comes, will take care of itself.”
“We hold back from love, don’t we? And since love is what we are (yes!)—not in a silly intellectual way, but in actual fact—love here meaning ease and laughter and a quiet lightness—falling in love every time one can is such an easy tumble into oneself.”
There are so many more morsels of Peter here in this enchanting book, I leave those for you to discover.
What is so clear, at least to me, is Peter’s heart was where he lived. And it was his demonstration of this often overlooked truth–that we are love–that was the gift he gave his friend Vicki. As she confesses, “His simplicity untangled my knotted up heart.”
It is this same gift this book offers all those who will meet Peter through his words. After all, love doesn’t stop when the body dies. It’s here, right now. Where it’s always been.
As Woodyard so eloquently summarizes, “Love is not a four letter word. It is a sense of eternity filtered through time and space. It occupies the heavens and the tiniest corner of the human heart.”
Now, do Vicki and yourself a heartfelt favor and go get the book here. It’s even on kindle!
For the curious: My review of A Guru in the Guest Room.
Art: False Mirror, by Rene Magritte