As a reader and seeker, I always get frustrated at this moment in somebody else's spiritual memoirs--that moment in which the soul excuses itself from time and place and merges with the infinite. From the Buddha to Saint Teresa to the Sufi mystics to my own Guru--so many great souls over the centuries have tried to express in so many words what it feels like to become one with the divine, but I'm never quite satisfied by these descriptions. Often you will see the maddening adjective indescribable used to describe the event. But even the most eloquent reporters of the devotional experience--like Rumi, who wrote about having abandoned all effort and tied himself to God's sleeve, or Hafiz, who said that he and God had become like two fat men living in a small boat--"we keep bumping into each other and laughing"--even these poets leave me behind. I don't want to read about it; I want to feel it, too. Sri Ramana Maharshi, a beloved Indian Guru, used to give long talks on the transcendental experience to his pupils and then always wrap it up with this instruction: "Now go find out."
So now I have found out. And I don't want to say that what I experienced that Thursday afternoon in India was indescribable, even though it was. I'll try to explain anyway. Simply put, I got pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute, and in that rush I suddenly understood the workings of the universe completely. I left my body, I left the room, I left the planet, I stepped through time and I entered the void. I was inside the void, but I also was the void and I was looking at the void, all at the same time. The void was a place of limitless peace and wisdom. The void was conscious and it was intelligent. The void was God, which means that I was inside God. But not in a gross, physical way-- not like I was Liz Gilbert stuck inside a chunk of God's thigh muscle. I just was part of God. In addition to being God. I was both a tiny piece of the universe and exactly the same size as the universe. ("All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop," wrote the sage Kabir--and I can personally attest now that this is true.)
It wasn't hallucinogenic, what I was feeling. It was the most basic of events. It was heaven, yes. It was the deepest love I'd ever experienced, beyond anything I could have previously imagined, but it wasn't euphoric. It wasn't exciting. There wasn't enough ego or passion left in me to create euphoria and excitement. It was just obvious. Like when you've been looking at an optical illusion for a long time, straining your eyes to decode the trick, and suddenly your cognizance shifts and there--now you can clearly see it!--the two vases are actually two faces. And once you've seen through the optical illusion, you can never not see it again.
"So this is God," I thought. "Congratulations to meet you."
The place in which I was standing can't be described like an earthly location. It was neither dark nor light, neither big nor small. Nor was it a place, nor was I technically standing there, nor was I exactly "I" anymore. I still had my thoughts, but they were so modest, quiet and observatory. Not only did I feel unhesitating compassion and unity with everything and everybody, it was vaguely and amusingly strange for me to wonder how anybody could ever feel anything but that. I also felt mildly charmed by all my old ideas about who I am and what I'm like. I'm a woman, I come from America, I'm talkative, I'm a writer--all this felt so cute and obsolete. Imagine cramming yourself into such a puny box of identity when you could experience your infinitude instead.
I wondered, "Why have I been chasing happiness my whole life when bliss was here the entire time?"
I don't know how long I hovered in this magnificent ether of union before I had a sudden urgent thought: "I want to hold on to this experience forever!" And that's when I started
to tumble out of it. Just those two little words--I want!--and I began to slide back to earth.
Then my mind started to really protest-- No! I don't want to leave here!--and I slid further still.
I don't want! I want!
I don't want!
With each repetition of those desperate thoughts, I could feel myself falling through layer after layer of illusion, like an action-comedy hero crashing through a dozen canvas awnings during his fall from a building. This return of useless longing was bringing me back again into my own small borders, my own mortal confines, my limited comic-strip world. I watched my ego return the way you watch a Polaroid photo develop, instant-by- instant getting clearer--there's the face, there are the lines around the mouth, there are the eyebrows--yes, now it is finished: there is a picture of regular old me. I felt a tremor of panic, mildly heartbroken to have lost this divine experience. But exactly parallel to that panic I could also sense a wit-ness, a wiser and older me, who just shook her head and smiled, knowing this: If I believed that this state of bliss was something that could be taken away from me, then I obviously didn't understand it yet. And therefore, I was not yet ready to inhabit it completely. I would have to practice more. At that moment of realization, that's when God let me go, let me slide through His fingers with this last compassionate, unspoken message:
You may return here once you have fully come to understand that you are always here.