When I was a little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, I was sitting in a grassy field enjoying a nice day. I don’t remember if it was spring, summer or early fall. I don’t remember where I was or what I was supposed to be doing. But I do remember the sensations. I remember the feel of the prickly grass on my skin, the warmth of the sun, and also a feeling of being at peace. I don’t have any sense of time passing or standing still. I know I was alone, but I have no sense of being lonely. I remember sitting on the ground, looking at the trees around me, looking up into the blue and white sky, and playing with the blades of grass. I would choose a blade, slide it very gently out of the earth, split open the bottom section with my thumb nail, and tickle my lips with the pointy end of the grass. It smelled fresh and clean. I think I sat there for quite some time, playing with each blade and then discarding it and choosing another one.
In an instant of unexpected awareness, I suddenly felt like I was somehow within the blade of grass. I actually felt like the blade of grass and I were part of each other, and then, the feeling expanded so that I knew — not thought, but actually KNEW — that this blade of grass and I were both distinct and the same, and that we were part of something much bigger, something universal and all encompassing. I knew the entire world was contained in this blade of grass. And I knew this instantaneously. There was no doubt, no questioning it. It was complete knowledge, complete certainty. I was just a little girl, so I had no context in which to place this experience, but I had no reason to doubt it either. I just felt included, embraced, clear and happy. That was it.
And then, I forgot. I forgot about that experience for a long time. Occasionally, I would have a sudden remembering of it. I don’t recall what would trigger the reminders. I would go months or even years not thinking about it at all, and then something would happen and the recollection of being one with the blade of grass would come to me and bring with it all those same feelings of being part of the universe. And then the memory would vanish again. It would come, and it would go. The older I got, the less frequently I experienced this moment of recollection. But when I did remember, I was very happy.
As time went on, I became exposed to more ideas — I was a big reader and very drawn to philosophy, religion and spiritual writings. I started to develop a little bit of a context for these moments, and realized at some point that Buddhists might call them moments of enlightenment. I studied Kabbalah, and found Jewish explanations for what I had experienced. I developed enough language and context to recognize these moments as divine, and to think of them as feeling God’s presence in my life. But this understanding was an intellectual one, not a spiritual one. Reading descriptions of these moments and thinking about them is totally different from being IN those moments. Ironically, the more I thought about them, the harder they were to experience. Again, borrowing from another tradition, I would say that thinking about or longing for these moments is really more like grasping, and that’s not when the moments come. It’s the opposite — they come when you least expect it.
So if this moment I had as a child was my first experience of divinity — at least in the way I define God, as a universal wholeness — and if thinking about these experiences kept them away instead of bringing them near, the question became, how do I get more of that? How can I feel God’s presence more than in a moment of happenstance?
For me, what felt like an experience of God wasn’t about the literal blade of grass — it was about the connection I felt with it. And that connection rose out of an experience of full engagement. It was being wrapped up in a moment, being truly present to something — even something as small as a blade of grass — that caused the experience of oneness and universality. So that’s the trick, then. All I have to do to feel God’s presence more is to be truly engaged in the world around me, and to do so without thinking about it. No problem.
For many people, being out in nature is their path to God. The majesty of our physical world reveals God’s presence in many ways. However, it turns out that despite my early experience of universal oneness, I’m not that much of an outdoors person. Sitting in the grass just makes me itchy and sneezy. But what I do really love is being fully present with people. Being fully engaged with others — family, friends, strangers — being fully attuned to another person so that I forget about time, space, or any other limitation or construct, is what brings me the joy and oneness I experienced so long ago as a child playing with a blade of grass. Looking into another person’s eyes and seeing their fears, dreams, sadness or joy — sharing my own truths and knowing another person is holding that space to keep me safe — these exchanges of small bits of our humanity are how we reveal the light of God. Complete and utter connectedness leads to the unwavering awareness that we are all individual and yet part of the same thing. That, to me, is Divine.
Stefanie Levine Cohen is a writer and community leader who focuses on building connections through the sharing of story. Her fiction and essays explore the intersection between the psychological and the spiritual, and address life transitions and the human condition. Her work has been published in numerous literary magazines and digital publications including The MacGuffin, The Montreal Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Storyscape, Grown & Flown and JewishSacredAging.com. These pieces and others can be found at www.stefanielevinecohen.com. Stefanie is currently working on a book about motherhood, identity, art and the meaning of truth.
Stefanie’s community engagement includes leadership roles at a variety of spiritually based, educational, and service-driven organizations. She is a co-founder and board member of the non-profit Meditation4Leadership, which seeks to enhance both performance and wellness among business, nonprofit and community leaders. She is a former trustee on the board of Moorestown Friends School and a current board member of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Southern New Jersey. She also serves as a Leadership Council member for Impact100 South Jersey, a women’s philanthropic giving collective, and is a Past President of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ. For many years, she volunteered as a friendly visitor and end-of-life vigil team member for patients at Samaritan Hospice and Health Care. This experience significantly impacted her writing and teaching.
Always a student first, Stefanie has been a member of the Rittenhouse Writers Group, the longest-running fiction writers group in the country, for over 15 years. She has studied with teachers such as Sylvia Boorstein, Deepak Chopra, and John Perkins, and has attended numerous writing and spirituality retreats and conferences. These experiences fueled the development of her signature memoir writing workshop, “Telling Your Story, Writing From the Heart,” which she has facilitated for new and returning students.
Stefanie holds BA and MA degrees in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from New York University School of Law. Before turning her attention to writing, teaching and volunteering, Stefanie enjoyed a successful career in marketing and strategic planning for law firms, establishing the first Philadelphia branch of the National Association of Law Firm Marketing Professionals and serving as a Chief Marketing Officer for a large Philadelphia-based law firm. Stefanie resides in Moorestown, NJ with her husband Steven. They are the parents of three adult children.