Waking Up

One summer twenty years ago, by the river Isis in Oxford, I had a profound experience of “waking up” from my ordinary, habitual “me” consciousness into an extraordinary “non-dual” consciousness, where I felt completely at one with my surroundings and with the whole world. It felt as though I had stepped into a timeless realm, where one instant and ten thousand years were somehow the same and where one glance at a flower was more real and meaningful than my whole life up to that point. The experience only lasted for a few hours of clock time, but once back in the “ordinary” state, I knew that I would have no choice but to dedicate the rest of my life to finding my way back again. Thomas Traherne went there hundreds of years ago:

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and the stones of the street were as precious as gold. The gates were at first the end of the world; the green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me; their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things. … Eternity was manifest in the light of day, and something infinite behind everything appeared, which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven. 

Many others have been there too. For other first hand accounts of spiritual awakening, check out Richard Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind, William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, W.T. Stace’s Mysticism and Philosophy or Mysticism: A Study and an Anthology by F.C. Happold. Here is an account taken from The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience by Masters and Houston:

The subject, S-1 (LSD), a housewife in her early thirties, was taken by the guide for a walk in the little forest that lay just beyond her house. The following is her account of this occasion:

I felt I was there with God on the day of the Creation. Everything was so fresh and new. Every plant and tree and fern and bush had its own particular holiness. As I walked along the ground the smells of nature rose to greet me – sweeter and more sacred than any incense. Around me bees hummed and birds sang and crickets chirped a ravishing hymn to Creation. Between the trees I could see the sun sending down rays of warming benediction upon this Eden, this forest paradise. I continued to wander through this wood in a state of puzzled rapture, wondering how it could have been that I lived only a few steps from this place, walked in it several times a week, and yet had never really seen it before. I remembered having read in college Frazer’s Golden Bough in which one read of the sacred forests of the ancients. Here, just outside my door, was such a forest and I swore I would never be blind to its enchantment again.