Dateline 2003: It’s Christmas and I am alone again. Another relationship sacrificed to the god of my ego and my self-serving trek up the mystical garden path. Twelve years searching for liberation from my own stupidity, and I’m nowhere. I’ll never understand this. I’ll never be free. Maybe the whole thing is a lie. Maybe Buddha was the biggest conman in the history of religion. Maybe I really am crazy.
I was 20 when I was delivered from a breakdown by grace. It sent my life spinning in a new direction and I fell into a personality deconstruction of Zen proportions.
When I couldn’t answer the simple question: who am I? I searched everywhere for an answer and found only more confusion. I tried to be normal and do normal things: relationships, dead-end jobs, mindless consumption and conformity… but it never made me happy. It was hard work and I felt like a fraud, like I was gatecrashing somebody else’s party. I only felt alive when I stuck to my new path, no matter how scary or strange.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the breakdown was triggered by my consciousness evolving to the next level – or trying to. Mingled with the fear, the paranoia and doubt, were periods of tremendous expansion. My senses were enhanced, colours more vivid and smells more acute. The world pulsed with an inner light and presence, and I felt an underlying sense of interconnectedness, or oneness with all of life.
I cracked because my sense of self wasn’t strong enough to contain all that high-voltage energy pouring into my body. I couldn’t make sense of the mishmash of positive, empowering vision and dark, disembowelling fear. How do you reconcile grief, guilt and rage with the glorious, ego-shattering Oneness of the Universe?
I needed a proper education.
I had learnt nothing in school to equip me for what I was experiencing and knew nobody going through the same thing. These were the days before the Internet; my only resources were my instincts and intuition, and my library card. I devoured any books I could find that offered understanding and insight. Following my nose, I explored psychology, mythology, philosophy, and Zen.
My twenties were spent reconstructing my shattered self through meditation. I taught myself to think, reframed my experience and learnt new interpretations of reality.
Finding the Dharma
By 2003 I felt ready. For what, I didn’t know. I was happier than I’d been in ages but my mind kept returning to that moment of First Contact in 1991, like it was a puzzle I needed to solve. Why had my life been saved? What was I living for? I still didn’t know who I was. I’d read all the books, devoured the dharma, but something was missing and I couldn’t think my way through it. Like being stalked by a mystery.
My confusion and self-doubt returned. I survived a borderline psychotic episode without support or guidance. Alone and isolated, I had rebuilt my identity, but could not see myself as strong. Whenever I felt uncertain, which was often, I felt like a failure. My life was split into opposing camps:
- the normal or socially acceptable version of me which could hold down a job and form relationships that sort of worked;
- and the unconventional, mystical version which could ride waves of bliss and find joy in unexpected places.
And I wasn’t much good at either of them.
Convinced I would never resolve this dilemma and would be forever held at arms length from the truth about myself and life, I fell into despair. My seven year relationship with the man I had believed was my soul mate, ended when I realised I was making him miserable. I loved him so I let him go. I couldn’t drag him down with me in my insane attempt to destroy my ego. He deserved better.
I had nothing left to hold on to, except my desire to be free. And, inevitably in the end, that had to go too…
I force myself to sit upright and remind myself to breathe, gazing through the skylight from my rumpled nest of duvet and pillows on the bed. It is 3 a.m. and stars pierce the darkness of the sky. My mind empties itself for one glorious moment as I contemplate the vast unknowable space beyond my room.
This night is like another night twelve years before, only now it isn’t raining and the roof doesn’t leak. Life has undoubtedly improved, but what about me? I seem to be the same confused wreck I always was. Why do I continue to sit? Why do I push my mind towards the impossible, the incomprehensible? Surely it’s obvious by now that I’m not equipped to understand. The truth is probably right there, staring me in the face. I just can’t see it.
I wriggled into this hole and now I’m stuck. I can’t go back; the past is a mirage filled desert. I can’t sidestep or duck; even when my mind fills with fantasies and distractions I am bored by the same old same old. And I can’t go forward because I don’t know how. Going forward means letting go. It means surrender. It means ego death. Which is what I want. And yet I don’t.
So I’m stuck.
If I don’t find a way through this impasse my mind will give way. It may give way anyway. Perhaps if I saw the truth I wouldn’t be able to take it, perhaps that is why I hover in purgatory waiting interminably for my turn with the halo. Perhaps the force of truth would burn through my nervous system and kill me. Perhaps I’m not strong enough to see.
I am done. I can’t control this. If it kills me, so be it. If it drives me insane, so be it.
The head tilts back, the mouth falls open in a smile of ecstasy.
The mind stops.
I hadn’t expected anything to happen. One minute I’m there, crashing my mind against the universe, and the next, I’m gone. There is just the universe. There is no I, no me. No experiencer, just the experience. Raw reality, no veil, no boundaries.
Understated and yet awesome, like a deafening whisper. As if I’ve turned inside out and the whole universe is inside me. Only there’s no sense of mine, of inside or outside.
Everything is on fire. Everything is burning.
Like the Big Bang never stopped. It wasn’t a one-off but is a continually occurring event. Creation and destruction, life and death, being and non-being exploding in and out of existence at every point, in every atom, everywhere for eternity, and happening so imperceptibly fast that we don’t see it.
The satori lasted no more than 15 to 30 seconds. I can’t be sure because with no sense of I there is no sense of time. The intensity of the fire receded and vague, half-thoughts started to wriggle to the surface. It suddenly seemed strange that the roof was there; it was in the way of infinity. In fact, everything seemed more real but less substantial, like I should be able to see through objects somehow. I didn’t have time to come to terms with this paradox because the first coherent thought had arrived:
“My life isn’t my life.”
I’ve been dealing with the fallout of that realisation ever since.