This is the final episode to be posted in my series describing personal experiences venturing beyond the veil of the obvious. It takes place in a wilderness setting in the autumn, in the northern part of Alabama. Look here if you want to gain an overview and rationale about the entire “Adventures in the Supernatural” series.
“People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now. Many people are alive but do not touch the miracle of being alive.” – Thich Nhat Than
CONDENSED VERSION: Lovers of brevity might feel relieved that years ago I expressed all of this in a haiku instead. 🙂
ACTUAL VERSION: Continue Reading.
Note: This event took place directly on the heels of the previous ‘supernatural’ experience, which I’ve also written about. The two events occurred perhaps forty-five minutes apart, and in a certain way they shared the same continuous, quite meditative, mood. (It might be worth reading the previous account in order to gain a description of this context and how it originated.) I chose to separate the two accounts, however, for several reasons. For one thing I would end up with 8000 or so words if I had combined them. But also, this experience is of a distinctly different character than the immediately previous one and its description stands up on its own as a single vignette. It can be read and considered independently. I usually think of them this way. They are spiritual experiences of mine which are fairly different from each other with little else connecting them besides proximity in time.
In some ways these two experiences are the most difficult to write about in a convincing manner, out of all the things described in this series. I think it is because they are the most subtle and inward. There was no outward manifesting, and had someone else been present coincidentally at the same place and moment, they would have noticed absolutely nothing unusual. Just another human being standing or sitting in a natural setting. Therefore, for some readers it will be easier to dispatch the story as imaginary, a fantasy, or some kind of brain glitch. But it was completely real and vivid, and invested with as much certainty from the point of view of the experiencer — myself — as any other daily happening during which one happens to be paying some deliberate and focused attention.
A Forest Path
After a certain lengthy moment, during which I digested the experience with the vocalizing bird, I determined to resume my walk. The timeless quality of my sojourn persisted, making it not easy to say how many minutes passed occupied by this or that. The forest, or more correctly my awareness of it, my living participation within it, remained in a condition of radical vividness. It wasn’t so much like individual sense perceptions were ‘popping’, which is how writers often describe mind-altering drug episodes. Rather it was as though I was ‘less there’ in my usual sense and therefore presented less of a barrier than normal to the world and life all about me. This barrier is typically composed of inner chatter, association monologues, constant forming of concepts, or distracted daydreaming. That ‘I’ was dialed way down. The remaining, actual ‘I’ was completely identified with anything ‘exterior’ engaging my attention. Quite non-verbally. That is how it seemed. And there was a sweet holiness to this style of being, a sheer pointed excellence. An unusual distinctiveness, though it was uncultivated. It seemed to simply arise as a by-product of my doing a solo ‘Zen’ retreat for several days on end in a remote cabin. It was now the fifth day. I walked on, slowly. And as I did so, every footstep was filled with sense experience.
After half a mile or less the path joined another one and veered ninety degrees left. The new path was wider and I felt less enwombed within the sheltering woodlands and more a traveller upon a purposeful route. But I had no destination and also no familiarity with the trail, so I was able to press onward in approximately the same unexpectant meditative condition, though perhaps less vibrantly.
I soon came to a gradual sloping, and the pathway dropped down to a wider opening. I felt some quality in the air shift, and also in the ambient natural sounds. A wide peaceful lake heralded itself before me and the path ended at its shore. I realized the clearing was for fishermen’s access but not a soul was about and so I sat down directly at the water’s edge and partook of the great expanse in front of me. It was a distinctly new feeling. Thus far, my walk had been nestling me closely within a dense web of living and vibrant objects, bushes, leaves, trees, birdcalls, broken sunrays through the canopy. Now I was as if at a precipice. The wide open indeterminacy played against my face and being. It was beautiful but suddenly enormous. The opposite shore seemed half a mile away, and at its waterline a long gradual sloping forested hill rose upwards in distant silence. The water was calm everywhere. I let the entirety of this circumstance lap over my senses and feeling. I did not speak internally. I was still. And listened to the stillness, and it was rich and complex and enjoyable.
The Physical Body Outside Me
After a few minutes my attention coagulated towards the land mass on the opposite side of the lake. No buildings, just woodland. I took in the far shore with interest, but no longing. It seemed strangely no less connected to me than my present location was. It was the beginning of a great unknown wilderness area, perhaps extending for miles beyond the hill crest, and as far to the right and left as I could take in. I felt the vastness of it. Physically. Devotedly. No inner chatter. There was something oddly tangible about my appreciating of the vastness of the scene. It was moving. It did not begin to move — rather it was revealed to me that it had always been in movement. As though my sensing of its breadth was partly accomplished due to my ‘swallowing’ it. Not with my mouth, with my being. Then, something very definite and not gradual took place. I dislodged from myself, from out my front, from my intestines and chest and heart. I felt my location to be exterior to my calmly sitting figure on the lakeside. And then once free of the moorings, like a capsule undocking from a mother ship, I rapidly ascended and moved forward. My visual perspective was no longer in my forehead but where my ascending being was hurtling. High above the lake and halfway across it. I rose more in order to clear the far hillside and in two seconds, tops, I was across the lake, witnessing the landscape unfold around me. It was a breathtaking and thrilling sensation. And a completely foreign one. The locus of my perceiving, sensing, reflecting, and feeling was a kilometer distant and a hundred feet aloft from where I sat. I did not truly have time to feel ecstasy or joy at this locomotive innovation, for as long as it lasted I was still in a state of quiet astonishment. Spectacular as it all was, another quite strong concept came upon me: I was not driving! It was not my deliberate willing which governed this movement. And this realization immediately occasioned a twinge of doubt and fear. It was not about losing my abandoned corporeality — that seemed safely intact to me — but rather loss of trust and lack of control. I think the sheer velocity of my motion through space played a strong role in this apprehensiveness. This ‘foreign’ emotion was instantly enough to snap everything back. Almost before I really could clearly know it, faster than the speed of emotions, my consciousness located itself back. Joltingly. I ‘entered’ a kind of portal in the vicinity of my navel and collected my bearings, with something resembling a sensation of psychic nausea, back within my everyday bodily condition. I had a swift fleeting sensation of the rudeness of physical materiality, the coarse imprisonment of it, and then everything quickly normalized.
For a long time I sat there digesting what occurred, half-expecting it to resume in some fashion. But I could not muster the intensity of attention, the equanimity of being, the acceptance of the moment, to lay the proper foundation. I remained where I was, troubled slightly in that I could not cease thinking about it. I strained to describe the exact encountering of it to myself. I soon gave in and began the long trek back to my quarters. It no longer felt like morning; it seemed more like afternoon. Though still quite calm and tranquil as compared to my usual state, I no longer was as deeply meditative for the rest of the walking. For my mind was quite occupied with questions, although I remained in a state of acceptance and gratitude. The forest lost some small part of its vibrancy. I was less radically present; I had entered a swirling envelope of concepts. Nothing similar to that morning’s events happened during my concluding two days at the cabin retreat.
The Boundary Between Subject and Object
Naturally, since this time, now twenty years ago or so, I have devoted some effort here and there to looking deeper into this experience and researching what others have written about similar episodes. As always, there is a depressing amount of unskilled and sensationalized accounts out there to wade through, and abstract buzzwords like out-of-body-excursions (OOBEs) or astral projections. But one can find some good stuff, some thoughtful accounts, some deep insights, and honest explorations. Also, I have not stood still in terms of my inner development since that time, and so have been able to place the event within a more cohesive spiritual network of understandings. And this latter is more important and valuable than researching the accounts of others.
Where are we, generally speaking? Where do we locate ourselves, if seriously considering it? When undistracted and calm, most who try have the feeling that ‘they’ are located an inch or less behind a spot between the two eyes but raised slightly on the forehead. Sometimes, or in some moods, we can have the feeling that we are inside the chest, an inch or two from the surface. Great athletes, while performing with proficiency, can have the sensation of occupying parts of their limbs or solar plexus. (This is where the willpower seems to emanate from). If you are the kind of person who has fairly detailed recollecting or in-the-moment experiencing of your dreams (this can be cultivated or affected by exercises, and can be especially vivid just before waking), then your location can seem to be almost anywhere besides where your actual body is. Indeed, what unites all these cases seems to be a specially focused quality of attention. Normally, we are besieged with a cluttering typhoon of piecemeal sensory impressions and unrelated internal thoughts which drown out any possibility of a singular focus, and this happens with such overwhelming regularity that we unquestioningly regard it as natural and healthy. But maybe it is not healthy. Georg Kuhlewind once wrote a book entitled “From Normal To Healthy” detailing exactly this set of inner circumstances. The first part of the book lays out and describes the situation — he calls it ordinary diseased consciousness — and the second part describes his meditative methods and discoveries made during years devoted to correcting the problem. Attentiveness is a force which can be cultivated. It has, in potential, something magical and divine about it. When sharpened while at the same time ridding itself of any excess egoity (and I want to deliberately say that these are two equally important but separate factors), our attention seems to have the capacity to dissolve the polarity between who wields the attention (our being) and what we attend (that out there). This can lead to a state of radical empathy. Or if you like, compassionate apprehension of phenomena, achieving intuitive and experiential union. And as I described, it carries an unmistakeable vividness which clearly distinguishes it from everyday cognitive experience.
“There are many things which seem to us to exist independently of our attention. But whatever exists for us — what seems to be there for us — must appear to us, otherwise we would not know about it. This appearance can only take place within our attention.” – Georg Kuhlewind
I think I will not say too much else about this. It is the tip of a very large iceberg. A useful thing is to think about where we are, and the nature of all which constantly distracts us, and what might be possible if we took ourselves in hand.
“Meditation is not to avoid society; it is to look deep to have the kind of insight you need to take action. To think that it is just to sit down and enjoy the calm and peace, is wrong. Meditation is to get insight, to get understanding and compassion, and when you have them, you feel compelled to act.” – Thich Nhat Than
Thanks for reading about my supernatural adventure. The raison d’etre for this entire series of articles is explained here. A subsequent supernatural adventure can be read about here. May you be open to your own supernatural adventures, while taking care to retain your clear-eyed reason and mental sobriety, to protect yourself from delusion.
Note: I would like to clarify something about method regarding these kinds of experiences. Although it is true that the experiences described were occasioned by a week long solo retreat during which the main theme or suggested practice was so-called sitting zazen contemplation, I do not consider this context as either necessary or sufficient to generate this kind of extra-natural experience. For one thing, I am not an accomplished zazen practitioner and do not attach enormous value to the activity. It has interesting elements, but in general is not for me, not my path. For another thing, I was not particularly rigorous in my daily practicing, and often took hours off to just sit and think, or read, and prepare lunch. What was contributory, in my opinion, was the overall and extended state of inner quietude which the cabin stay afforded me. But this state can be had by many means, and is even itself not necessary as an extended condition. I believe adepts exist who are so practiced, or blessed, as to be able to summon this kind of condition — which is really a state of unselfish attentiveness — at will. A curious reader might like to look into some of the writings of Thich Nhat Than, the recently deceased Vietnamese Buddhist monk, for ideas. He wrote a couple of short books around the ’80s or ’90s on the topic of gentle walking meditation.
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