“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
– Joseph Campbell
Update: This experience didn’t happen to me; it happened from or through (the) me. I’m leaving the language of the post, though, because that’s where I was at the time.
In 2010, after I’d gone off meds, I had a profound awakening that radically altered my experience of living in this world. Every time I’ve tried to put it into words, it sounds diminished, less powerful than the actual experience. Basically, I woke up one morning and knew that the fabric of the universe is love. I am love. You are love. Music is love. Trees are love. Everything that ever has been and ever will be is perfect, even though we can’t see it from our limited human perspective.
Let me backtrack. As I tapered off meds, my entire focus was on learning how to live without them. I learned to observe my thoughts (easier said than done), and when I noticed myself thinking or getting carried away into stories, I would focus intensely on stopping the thought pattern. I practiced experiencing physical sensations without labeling or interpreting them ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’. I meditated a lot, sometimes several hours a day, and I prayed to be able to see the world from a different dimension (while remaining…alive). I walked and walked and walked, in nature and along the water, and I consciously focused on noticing the positive. I didn’t speak much; in fact, I went for days at a time without talking to another person. I journaled, emailed and texted sometimes, but I didn’t use my voice. My full-time job, and my priority, was healing my brain. I did have some freelance work, but things were pretty slow, so I had an abundance of time to turn my life into my own private ashram. In retrospect, that was an enormous gift.
I listened to guided meditations, some more esoteric than others. I looked at things (nature mostly — the ocean, trees, flowers) without putting labels on them (like ‘green’ or ‘pretty’ or ‘juniper’). I stayed intensely in the present moment, because if I let my thoughts roam, they’d hijack my mind and mood.
I’d also been purging a huge amount of toxic residue and energy. Then, one morning, I walked into the kitchen and — it sounds almost cliche — I saw everything as though I’d never seen it before. The checkerboard kitchen tablecloth. Even a paper clip was wondrous. Everything seemed more vivid, more alive, and I understood intuitively that we – all living things on this planet – are expressions of the same fabric. This wasn’t an intellectual understanding; it was a deep inner knowing that transcended thought.
It was as though I’d been living in an optical illusion, and suddenly, I saw that I could look at everything — and I mean everything — in an entirely different, and totally beautiful, way.
I felt only immense appreciation, joy and love – not only for the beauty around me, but also for all the experiences (even and especially the challenges) that had brought me to that point. I knew that I’d had to go through all that to experience this. I had a flash of feeling wholly connected, unseparate, from all the people who had ever been in my life.
All my old self-loathing fell away, and I felt a new appreciation for my body (which had borne the brunt of much of my self-criticism), for its strength and resilience. Everything was perfect, just the way it was. Exactly the way it was supposed to be, including me.
Another metaphor: It was as though I’d been colour blind my whole life and suddenly I could see in Technicolor. I’d been transported into a parallel universe, one far more vibrant – on every level – than the one I’d inhabited for decades. Songs I’d listened to hundreds of times seemed to have new meanings, as if channeled from a higher perspective, even if the songwriters hadn’t consciously intended them. (“Everything around her is a silver pool of light…”)
When I thought about movies and books, they, too, were suddenly revealed to have far deeper meanings than those on the surface. Everything was about our experience as expressions of consciousness on this planet.
It went deeper than words; it was a direct, transcendental experience, and I was consumed with gratitude for this immense gift. People spend years and decades seeking this experience, and not all of them find it. I don’t think there’s anything special about me; I believe this type of experience can happen to anyone (and is happening to an increasing number of people). If everyone experienced this, the world would be a very different place.
For about four hours, the veil of illusion was lifted; I was in a state of pure bliss, and I knew things without knowing how I knew them (including that my mind would never be able to understand what I was experiencing) – I believe what I experienced was what Joseph Campbell called “the rapture of being alive.”
I also saw that all my pain was created by my intellect – that aspect of my humanity I’d most valued, and that Western society most values. My quick, creative mind had whipped up interpretations, judgments, assumptions and stories that caused me deep pain. Yet I also knew that pain had been necessary to awaken me. For a brief, glorious period of time, I was able to let go of labels and interpretations completely and experience the world directly from my heart.
The intense, indescribable part lasted about four hours… until I tried to talk about it. The moment I tried to use verbal language, it began dissipating. The rapture, though (I’m reclaiming that word), came in waves for months. I would get “downloads” of information, suddenly knowing things that I had no rational way of knowing. It was a bit like Conversations with God, only more personalized and less epic.
It didn’t “stick” in the way that Eckhart Tolle’s awakening did, or Byron Katie’s. Eventually my ego crept back in. But having had that experience, having had that direct knowing that the mind could never understand the workings of the universe, profoundly rearranged my priorities and the way I live this life.