Last time, I was talking about Phil Bolsta's book, Sixty Seconds, in which various people describe brief moments of spiritual awakening, and I asked if any of you have had similar experiences. Thanks to those of you who responded! Now perhaps it's time for me to share an experience of my own...
There have been several occasions when such a thing has happened to me, and I consider myself very lucky to have been granted such revelations. I think it's happened several times because, set in my ways as I am, I've needed a great deal of prodding to grab my attention. The experiences I've had were pretty seismic shifts in consciousness, our everyday world falling away to reveal an altogether deeper truth beneath, but even so my consciousness duly shifted right back again afterwards, a bit like a snail unscathed by a nuclear bomb.
Not entirely 'unscathed' though. I think it was Sue Ann Edwards who described the process of awakening as a bit like a large cargo ship changing direction. It happens only slowly and gradually. Each revelation has made a contribution to this process, but my particular ship has a very large turning circle...
The most profound of the revelations occurred when I was twenty-one. A group of us were on a camping holiday and were staying at a place called the 'lakeside camp site'. This was in Lincoln, UK, which is not noted for its lakes, but I reasoned that the place wouldn't have a name like that if there wasn't a lake somewhere nearby. I fancied a bit of peace and quiet and a short break from my friends, so I went to look for it.
I came upon the stretch of water almost at once. It wasn't very far from where we were camping, but the place was extremely quiet, cut off from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the site. I remember spending a pleasant few minutes gazing out across the lake. It was a peaceful location; there were water birds and tall reeds by the shore. It was all very pleasant. But I don't suppose I would remember any of this now except that, as I turned to go and rejoin my friends, something extraordinary happened.
Suddenly, without any warning, my whole perspective was turned on its head. I perceived a unity, a connectedness, in everything: a connectedness which included me, except that I'm not even sure I existed any more, except as a part of the whole. I remember seeing some birds flying overhead and one of them calling out with a hoarse cry. It seemed that those birds and everything else I could see - the lake, the sky, the trees, the reeds - were a part of me: a part of my own vast, limitless being.
Then, just as suddenly as it had come upon me, the revelation disappeared. I was left back in my old perspective, standing alone on the shore of the lake. Yet as I slowly turned and went back to my friends, I was certain that what I had perceived in those few moments was closer to the real truth of things than the ordinary world with which I was so familiar.
So what did I learn from this experience? How did it change me?
To be perfectly honest, I lived the following day in the same sort of way as I had done the day before. In the short term, nothing very much changed. Yet those moments have stayed with me always, and if not for them - and other, similar incidents - I doubt that I would be writing this blog. They have allowed me to understand - or, at any rate, an important part of me to understand - that this unity, this 'oneness' I write about here at The Secret Of Life is real, and not just a theory.
But something about that experience at the campsite has always puzzled me. Why did the revelation come upon me as I turned to go? Why did it not happen earlier, as I was standing there, gazing out across the lake? Surely that is the time when I was at peace, when such a revelation might have been more likely to occur?
I have only recently come to understand what might be the answer to this riddle.
Our minds have a lot of work to do to keep us functioning in this world. This is because the world we see around us doesn't really exist. Nothing we see is solid, not even ourselves. All that exists, science now tells us, is a field of quantum particles, tiny entities smaller than an atom - except that these 'particles' aren't really particles at all. They are waves of probability, which only resolve themselves into particles when they are observed.
Our minds have to interpret this quantum soup which is reality in such a way as to allow us to function, identifying chairs for us to sit on, floors for us to walk on, and even bodies for us to inhabit, every moment of every day, every day of our lives.
But the work doesn't stop here, for our minds have evolved to do more than this. As well as identifying these objects, they have chosen to assign each one an additional significance: a significance which frequently goes way beyond what is really required for us to function. So a piece of paper is not only identified as a piece of paper. It is also attached a significance according to what is written on it. It may remind us of something we have to do a week on Tuesday, for instance - or it may be a goodbye note from a lover. People are also assigned this additional significance. This is my boss. This is my wife. This is the person who looked at me rather strangely as I walked across the street. Frequently, an object is attached a significance which has nothing to do with itself, but because it reminds us of something else which is of significance. So this room is like the one in which my mother scolded me as a child. This rose is like the one which was given to me by that boy who ran off with my best friend the following week. And so it goes on...
Our minds are carrying round this vast weight of information, some of it useful, some of it decidedly unhelpful, all to interpret a physical reality which is really little more than empty space. No wonder we tend to get so tired. No wonder there feels to be such a burden upon our shoulders. We have to work very hard to keep up this illusion...
Which is why it is impossible to anticipate a spiritual experience. If we're expecting it to happen, it doesn't happen. A spiritual experience is a glimpse beneath the woven layer of meaning we call the world. It is a glimpse into the reality which underlies this artificial tapestry. It reveals an aspect of What Really Is: the quantum field itself.
So of course we cannot have such a glimpse when the mind is engaged, when we anticipate, when we expect... At such times, our minds are busy fabricating their own interpretation of reality, poised to assign meanings from a library previously encountered experiences. This is intended for our own convenience, but it can only obscure what is really there.
Only when the mind is quiet, can the truth be revealed. When we look with innocence, like a child, before the layers of meaning have been constructed. Or when we are caught off guard, in mid-breath, our thoughts caught between the last task and the one which lies ahead.
Which is why that experience came upon me when it did, I think. I didn't see the quantum field, but I saw something much closer to that than the world with which we're familiar. Perhaps it was as close to the quantum field as I could get and still have some chance of a glimmer of comprehension. And so it could only come to me when my mind had dropped its own understanding of the lake, and was about to interpret the next object of interest. It could only come as I turned to go. Between one moment and the next.
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