So-called mystical experiences are impossible to be certain of, yet without experiencing something beyond the human mind life becomes a barren desert. Communion with the numinous is the wellspring of insight, but it gives rise to more questions than answers. For example, does prophecy still exist, or is it merely an Old Testament set of stories?
An experience that occurred years ago while walking along the edge of the Pacific has come to mind recently, perhaps because I have been feeling despondent about the human prospect. In relating it, am I indulging in the same strained optimism of other columnists lately? Let the reader be the judge.
The day began with a friend and I questioning intensely together, and sharing some profound insights. I don’t recall what we talked about, or what the insights were, but on the spur of the moment we decided to drive over to the coast. The beaches of Santa Cruz were less than an hour away, it was a weekday, and the weather was sunny and mild.
From the moment we arrived, it was one of those exquisitely beautiful days by the sea in which time stands still. The nearly empty beaches stretched for miles beyond our bare feet. We found ourselves walking silently apart, alone and together at the same time. Shorebirds scurried in and out on the surf, linking life inseparably to the primeval rhythm of the ocean. Seagulls swooped in low, cawing and crying in a symphony of being.
Without intention or idea, an intense meditative state ensued. The symbol-generating brain had ceased its chatter and ruminations. The mind stopped, allowing the earth to be new within the heart again. There was what people who have never experienced it pejoratively call “living in the eternal present.”
One even experienced the state the ancient Greeks called ‘aesthetic stasis,’ in which the beauty of the earth is so overwhelming that the body becomes immobile. That completely unpredictable phenomenon had happened a few times before, and though it brings a temporary paralysis, there is no fear or confusion when it occurs.
Suddenly there was a second shift in consciousness, bringing something completely new. Without duality, there was a feeling of being a small person in a very tall body. That is, the personality that normally inhabited the body and calls it his own became a small entity inside a much larger one. At the time I didn’t understand the phenomenon at all. It wasn’t imaginary, much less hallucinogenic, since the mind had fallen completely quiet, and I wasn’t on any drug.
Though I didn’t believe in gods, angels, or extraterrestrials, I couldn’t shake the feeling in the following days that a temporary incarnation of some higher being had occurred, over which I had absolutely no control, and at the time, no understanding.
Walking on, there was another spontaneous shift, a rupture in time itself. It didn’t feel like a glimpse into the future, more like one was actually there. Everything looked and appeared different. It wasn’t a perfect world, but humanity lived essentially in harmony with nature, and with itself. Awakened human beings were the rule, not the exception as they are now.
Things were more felt than seen, but I recall glimpsing buildings over the bay as if through a San Francisco fog, buildings that fit into the landscape in a way few now do. In retrospect, one looked something like a modern-day Parthenon.
Incredibly, there was one more shift in consciousness. This time one felt the presence of other beings, fully awakened but not in corporeal form. It seemed as though the separation between heaven and earth had completely dissolved.
The gods who had once walked the earth were in harmony were in with humanity and the awakened human beings on the earth. But there was one more thing, and it was surprising—a longing by these beings in another dimension to again walk on the earth. They yearned, without a trace of envy or agony, to smell the sea, feel the breeze on the skin, hear the birds and surf, and see the sun glint off the curling waves.
I came away with the insight that contrary to what I had been taught as a child, the highest state of being is not some incorporeal heaven, but having the fullest capacity of our senses in the flowering of awareness on earth. For that to occur, thought, which is based on symbol and memory, has to fall completely quiet.
The overall takeaway from the experience, which has not eliminated dark days and strong doubts since, was ‘this is what you’re working for.’ The gods will align when humans cease to be malign.
The idea that “our symbols—our monuments, our books, our thoughts and principles—are our guide and shield,” and that without them “we will be no better than ignorant armies of psychopaths riding pickup trucks with genocidal zeal through the endless dust,” is egregiously wrong.
Losing our “frame of reference” in traditions and monuments is not what unleashes the evil in the human unconscious, or in this jaded worldview, in nature itself. It is that the symbolic foundation of culture and civilization has eroded irreparably, and no longer applies to the world as it is and has become.
“The world’s progress” is ephemera, an illusion of the highest order that must be ended before a new, global civilization can be born, arising not from symbols and the past, but from a creative explosion at the core of human consciousness itself.
Whether that, the only true revolution, occurs now or at some unforeseeable point in the future of humanity, all we can do as individuals is continuously, non-accumulatively learn. That alone keeps us inwardly alive, and turns the darkness within into the light of insight, understanding and love.