Masses of magnificent white and gray clouds fill half the sky, but it’s completely clear to the west, where a brilliant sun slides slowly towards the horizon.
Over the sound of the water, the joyful voices of children can be heard on the paved path 100 meters behind me.
Toward the hills, in the direction I face, a few model planes wheel and dive, specks at the terminus of the clouds. Thankfully they can be seen but not heard. When the enthusiasts are out in droves on a weekend afternoon, the little planes sound like huge mosquitoes.
Against the vast spaces and incredible splendor all around, human technology appears as insignificant as the model planes, toys in the infinite beauty of the earth and cosmos. About a mile away, the deep bass of car speakers can be heard over the sound of the stream. It is the noise of darkness made manifest.
The undulating horizon swallows the sun. Then, marking the setting point, a pure line of golden light rims a low-lying section of the coastal hills. In a meditative state, that thin luminous line viscerally strikes one as the liminal embodiment of the sacred. Suddenly a pair of Canadian geese flies in low, honking loudly. Swerving along the line of the creek, their fat bodies and elongated necks reflect the yellow light.
With complete negation of thought and self-centered activity, there is God. Not the God of religions or of belief; nor ‘God the Father’ or God as ‘Supreme Being.’ Rather, God as immanent presence that cannot be named or known, only felt and experienced with total negation of self and thought. The experience must then be forgotten, in order for experiencing to occur again.
It’s almost impossible to even use the word God, so debased has it become by religionists. But when words are used properly, they simply point, without trying to capture the actuality conceptually. That is the perennial error of texts, scriptures, dogmas and doctrines.
A philosopher who has so-called mystical experiences wants to understand what they are in rational and replicable terms. He or she is therefore like a scientist that does not accept things on faith, much less adhere to theological contexts, but only what is actually observable and repeatable in the laboratory of self-knowing.
It’s impossible to answer the question, ‘what is God,’ since that which is called God can only be experienced with the complete negation of words, images, knowledge and self-centered activity. Is there replication without repetition? Or is replication inherently imitative?
Though meditative states did not begin in the wilderness for me, my experiences in the wilderness confirmed and deepened them. It’s been some years, but I used to take occasional trips alone backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, “the Range of Light” in California. The first night would invariably bring an emotional and cognitive storm, as memories, associations and feelings were thrown forth in consciousness.
Compounded by primal fears of the wilderness, the first night was usually very difficult. But hiking mindfully the next day, the mind, heart and brain would settle down, as one grew increasing attuned to one’s surroundings. In direct proportion to attunement with nature, thoughts and emotions would fall silent.
The next day the movement of the past in thought would cease completely, dissolving in a deepening awareness and attention. Only the memories essential for survival operated. Though I can’t remember any specific times, I recall setting up the tent, lighting fires, and making meals without a single thought except the task at hand.
As the silence deepened, time ceased, and the awareness of something that can only be called God intensified.
Memory doesn’t just permeate our consciousness; it is our consciousness. When psychological memory is totally still, consciousness has a completely different quality. This is what people over the ages and across cultures have called ‘mystical experience.’ It is the direct experience of that which is called ‘God.’