-- Albert Pinkham Ryder, in an interview with Adelaide Louise Samson, quoted by John Updike, Better Than Nature, NYRB (Nov. 8, 1990).
Nature is a teacher who never deceives. When I grew weary with the futile struggle to imitate the canvases of the past, I went out in the fields, determined to serve nature as faithfully as I had served art. In my desire to be accurate I became lost in a maze of detail. Try as I would, my colors were not those of nature. My leaves were infinitely below the standard of a leaf, my finest strokes were coarse and crude. The old scene presented itself to me framed in a opening between two trees. It stood out like a painted canvas—the deep blue of a midday sky—a solitary tree, brilliant with the green of early summer, a foundation of brown earth and gnarled roots. There was no detail to vex the eye. Three solid masses of form and color -- sky, foliage and earth -- the whole bathed in an atmosphere of golden lumosity. I threw my brushes aside; they were too small for the work in hand. I squeezed out big chunks of pure, moist color and taking my palette knife, I laid on blue, green, white and brown in great sweeping strokes. As I worked I saw that it was good and clean and strong. I saw nature springing to life upon my dead canvas. It was better than nature, for it was vibrating with thrill of a new creation. Exultantly I painted until the sun sank below the horizon, then I raced around the fields like a colt let loose, and literally bellow for joy.
-- Albert Pinkham Ryder, in an interview with Adelaide Louise Samson, quoted by John Updike, Better Than Nature, NYRB (Nov. 8, 1990).
Richard Rohr's experiential knowledge of the Holy came one summer evening at age ten. While visiting his cousin's farm in western Kansas, he lay on a little patch of velvety grass hidden behind some chokeberry bushes. He was there alone, just looking up at the stars, when he felt the world open up. "It doesn't sound very original at all," he said and laughed, "but I knew the world was good, that I was good, and that I somehow belonged to that good world. It was what the Buddhists would call waking up, overcoming your separateness." He had no words for it as a ten-year-old boy, but he credits the experience with giving him the psychic self-confidence that would later carry him through thirteen years of formation, the training in theology and philosophy required to become a Franciscan priest.
-- Fred Bahnson, The Gate of Heaven is Everywhere, Harpers (Jan. 2021), p. 65.
I'm trying to find these rare moments where you feel completely illuminated. Facts never illuminate you. The phone directory of Manhattan doesn't illuminate you, although it has factually correct entries, millions of them. But those rare moments of illumination that you find when you read a great poem, you instantly know. You instantly feel this spark of illumination. You are almost stepping outside of yourself and you see something sublime.
"[While doing a guided breathing meditation in a qigong class] One moment I'm feeling so peaceful, and the next moment...it's hard to find words to describe...this physical being exploded into trillions of pieces of love and light. Suddenly I experienced myself the size of the entire cosmos. The feeling was so blissful and so beautiful. Really, to this day I have never found words that properly describe it, but all I knew was that I was home. That's all I knew. That this is our natural state. In that moment you can say that I remembered that this is our natural state, and that this physical body that walks around and has to meet deadlines and pays the bills--that's all pretend.
Suddenly in that moment, it became crystal clear. It was like this utter contentment, like every question I had ever had was answered. And there was no question, there was just intense and complete love and bliss and joy. And I don't know how long that lasted...but eventually the teacher's voice, I could hear her voice from afar guiding a different part of the meditation, and suddenly I remembered 'oh yeah, there's that body, maybe I should go back.'
The experience of trying to squeeze trillions and trillions of love and light back into the physical body was so ridiculous that it was almost painful. It was kind of like this painful densification to get back to my body, and avalanches of tears started coming out and coming out and coming out. And there were two things--this intense gratitude that I went home, and remembered who I actually was, and intense sorrow, intense grief, that I had been living a lie. That this whole world is backwards and upside down. The good thing is that after that I went into a very dark intense night of the soul. And it turned me into a seeker.
-- Dr. Edith Ubuntu Chan
in conversation with Charles Eisenstein on his podcast, A New and Ancient Story, August 29, 2020, available at charleseisenstein.org/podcasts/new-and-ancient-story-podcast/dr-edith-ubuntu-chan-a-trillion-points-of-light-e50/
At this retreat, after about three or four days of [a meditation retreat], things started to shift. I remember sitting in the meditation hall and suddenly being able to focus. All the effort to locate the breath and stay steady with it no longer seemed necessary. It was just there. Although I was remarkably devoid of my usual litany of thoughts, I was wide awake and clearheaded. My eyes were closed in the darkened hall, but light started to pout into my consciousness. Literally, I was seeing light while resting the bulk of my attention in the breath. The light lifted me in some way and I had that feeling I sometimes get, when very moved, of the hair of my body standing on end. A strong feeling of love came next--not love for anyone or anything in particular--just a strong sense of loving. This all lasted for a while, I could get up and walk around and then, when I sat back down, it would be there again. It was as if the curtains in my mind had parted and something more fundamental was shining through. It was tremendously reassuring. Many of my doubts about myself--as inadequate, unworthy, or insufficient--seemed, as a result, to be superfluous. I knew, from the inside, that they were stories I had been repeating to myself, but not necessarily the truth. The love pouring out of me seemed infinitely more real.
While this experience lasted for hours, it did not, of course, last forever. It was one of the more dramatic things to ever happen to me while meditating and, in fact, I subsequently spent a fair amount of time trying to get it back. But its impact is as strong today as it was when it first happened.
-- Mark Epstein, Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself, p. 172-73.
I ended up having a full-on mystical experience. The only way to describe it is to say that I suddenly understood that everything was connected.
Well, a few years ago, I started meditating. It wasn’t a huge part of my life. It was just interesting to watch how my brain worked. But I didn’t feel particularly changed. And then I had an experience on a trip to Helsinki, in Finland. I was meditating on the plane. Then when I landed, I went for a long walk and sat by a lake and meditated. I’m sure the jet lag was a part of this, but I ended up having a full-on mystical experience. The only way to describe it is to say that I suddenly understood that everything was connected. I felt it in a deep and profound way. This changed everything. The next day, I had to give a lecture about my work. I stayed up all night rethinking everything about what I do.
Photography, for me, has always been about separation and this feeling of social distance that I have. But if I know that everything is actually connected, even if I can’t experience it all the time, aren’t I just promoting or reinforcing distance with my work? So not long after this, I stopped photographing people. I stopped traveling and just stayed at home. I was completely content to give up the path I had been on for all those years. I was just so happy sitting around looking at the light. A year went by of doing this.
-- Alex Soth, interview in New York Times Style Magazine, March 3, 2019
I felt immersed in this incredibly detailed imagery that looked like Islamic architecture, with Arabic script, about which I knew nothing. And then I somehow became these exquisitely intricate patterns, losing my usual identity. And all I can say is that the eternal brilliance of mystical consciousness manifested itself. My awareness was flooded with love, beauty, and peace beyond anything I ever had known or imagined to be possible. 'Awe,' 'glory,' and 'gratitude' were the only words that remained relevant...I have never doubted the validity of these experiences [on psilocybin]. This was the realm of mystical consciousness that Shankara was talking about, that Plotinus was writing about, that Saint John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart were writing about. It's also what Abraham Maslow was talking about with his 'peak experiences,' though Abe could get there without the drugs...You go deep enough or far out enough in consciousness and you will bump into the sacred. It's not something we generate; it's something out there waiting to be discovered. And this reliably happens to nonbelievers as well as believers.
-- Bill Richards, quoted in Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind, p. 53-55.
I was lying on my back underneath a ficus tree. I knew it was going to be a strong experience. And the point came where the little I still was just started slipping away. I lost all awareness of being on the floor in an apartment in Baltimore; I couldn't tell if my eyes were opened or closed. What opened up before me was, for lack of a better word, a space, but not our ordinary concept of space, just the pure awareness of a realm without from and void of content. And into that realm came a celestial entity, which was the emergence of the physical world. It was like the big bang, but without the boom or the blinding light. It was the birth of the physical universe. In one sense it was dramatic--maybe the most important thing that ever occurred in the history of the world--yet it just sort of happened...To the extent I regard the experience as veridical--and about that I'm still not sure--it tells me that consciousness is primary to the physical universe. In fact, it precedes it."
-- Bob Jesse, quoted in Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind, p. 40-41.
I walked home to my apartment and soft-boiled a pair of fresh brown eggs for my lunch. I peeled the eggs and arranged them on a plate beside the seven stalks of the asparagus (which were so slim and snappy they didn’t need to be cooked at all). . . . For the longest time I couldn’t even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing. Finally, when I had fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat in a patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bite of it, with my fingers, while reading my daily newspaper article in Italian. Happiness inhabited my every molecule.
-- Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
I felt shattered and profoundly confused, but simultaneously filled with joy, love and an overwhelming sense of peace. It was like somebody had clicked their fingers and everything had just slotted into place: all the pieces of the puzzle of my life, before so messy, complicated and overwhelming, were now so obvious, so simple, so fluid, and so beautiful!
And I knew for the first time exactly who I was, why I am here and what I was supposed to do from that point forward.
-- Via Olivia Wood, Becoming Spiritual: A Story of Kundalini Awakening
This was something else, a boundlessness, as if I could get up . . . and just walk and walk to the end of the earth.
I made the bed into a sofa again, had a cup of tea with a generous helping of sugar as I didn't feel like any breakfast, sat looking out the window, at the shiny telephone booth, sparkling in the sunshine, the sunless grass in the park behind, the trees at the back, and then the mountain that rose steeply, with the row of brick houses above, also in shadow, then got up and put on a record, flicked through a few issues of Vinduet, all to pass the time until it was nine and I could leave. Lessons didn't start until eleven, but I had planned to walk around town first, perhaps find a cafe and read a little.
A chimney sweep came down the street with his long brush wound into a ring over one shoulder. A cat strolled across the grass. An ambulance drove down the road along the mountainside, behind the brick houses, visible between them as it passed, it moved slowly, no siren blaring, no lights flashing.
Right there, at that precise moment, I felt as if I would be able to meet whatever challenges came my way, as if there were no limits to what I could do. This wasn't about writing, this was something else, a boundlessness, as if I could get up and go now, this very minute, and then just walk and walk to the end of the earth.
This feeling lasted for thirty seconds perhaps. then it was gone, and even though I tried to summon it back, it refused to return, a bit like a dream that goes, slips from your grasp as you struggle to recall it after waking.
-- Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, Book Five, p. 58.
. . . Zach at first didn’t realize that he was having another type of seizure also. They were less frequent, but they too came unbidden. And they were pleasant. Very pleasant. He might have had them as a kid, but he can best remember the ones that happened during his college years. The world around him would turn sharp and vivid, as if until then he had been seeing everything on a flat screen and suddenly someone had taken the screen away to expose a 3-D world. He noticed details in ways that he wouldn’t otherwise.
-- Anil Ananthaswamy, The Man Who Wasn’t There, p. 227.
I feel a happiness unthinkable in the normal state and unimaginable for anyone who hasn’t experience it . . . I am then in perfect harmony with myself and the entire universe.
-- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot (some have speculated Dostoevsky was describing a feeling linked to an epileptic seizure)
The happiness that filled me and the feeling of invincibility they gave me I have searched for ever since, in vain.
I was filled with an absolutely fantastic feeling, a kind of light burnt within me, not hot and consuming but cold and clear and shining. At night I took a cup of coffee with me and sat down on the bench outside the hospital to smoke, the streets around me were quiet, and I could hardly sit still, so great was my happiness. Everything was possible, everything made sense. At two places in the novel I soared higher than I had thought possible, and those two places alone, which I could not believe I had written, and no one else has noticed or said anything about, made the preceding five years of unsuccessful, failed writing worth all the effort. They are two of the best moments in my life. By which I mean my whole life. The happiness that filled me and the feeling of invincibility they gave me I have searched for ever since, in vain.
-- Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, Book Two, p. 72
It was as if the sky cracked open and I became aware of being aware and in commune with the greater consciousness of life.
My first step was an experience of awe.
"Now comes my sales pitch."
"This I'd like to hear," Haida said.
"At the point when you agree to take on death, you gain an extraordinary capacity. A special power, you could call it. Perceiving the colors that people emit is merely one function of that power, but at the root of it all is an ability to expand your consciousness. You're able to push open what Aldous Huxley calls 'the doors of perception.' Your perception becomes pure and unadulterated. Everything around you becomes clear, like the fog lifting. You have an omniscient view of the world and see things you've never seen before."
"Is your performance the other day a result of that ability?"
Midorikawa gave a short shake of his head. "No, that was just what I've always been capable of. I've played like that for years. Perception is complete in and of itself; it doesn't reveal itself in an outward, concrete manifestation. There are no tangible benefits to it, either. It's not easy to explain in words. You have to experience it to understand. One thing I can say, though, is that once you see that true sight with your own eyes, the world you've lived in up till now will look flat and insipid. There's no logic or illogic in that scene. No good or evil. Everything is merged into one. And you are one part of that merging. You leave the boundary of your physical body behind to become a metaphysical being. You become intuition. It's at once a wonderful sensation and a hopeless one, because, almost at the last minute, you realize how shallow and superficial your life has been. And you shudder at the fact that up to that point you've been able to stand such a life."
"And you think it's worth experience this sensation, even if it means taking on death? And you only have it for a little while?"
Midorikawa nodded. "Absolutely. It's that valuable. I guarantee it."
- Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, p. 97-98
Peak experiences are transient moments of self-actualization.
- Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, p. 48
The simplest form of awakening to God is...a new, intense sense of self, accompanied with a desire...with the feeling of being a destiny. This condition...cannot be induced. It simply happens. But from time immemorial, in different cultures and religious climates, people have used a method for quieting or simplifying consciousness so that a person may be better disposed for the moment of awakening.
- Sebastian Moore, source unknown
If you see the watery pale yellow sunlight shining behind dark gray clouds, with the pale blue of heaven shining in between some wintery morning, and you see, in that light, the original light of the universe--then, you may say, in still different terms, that sometimes, very occasionally, an artist who weaves a carpet, or who shapes a building, or who paints a tile, manages to make something which has this same light in it, where this same Self is shining out. . . he has made something as close to a picture of God or Self as it can be, and it affects us, like the light of morning does, because it seems to show us directly to the heart of this self, and connects us with it, almost to the point of pain.
- Christopher Alexander, The Luminous Ground, p. 316
I began to realize that what I come in touch with when I go closer and closer to myself is not just "me." It is something vast, existing outside myself and inside myself, as if it were a contact with the eternal, something everlasting existing before me, in me, and around me. I recognized, too, that my most lucid moments occur when I am swept up in this void, and fully conscious of it, as if it were a blinding light.
- Christopher Alexander, Nature of Order, Book 4, p. 7
I am constantly searching for the rare, divine, silver-edged moments we are occasionally fortunate enough to experience, when one senses, or even actually sees, the strings that tie together the universe. Understanding the provenance of such moments, their meaning, and how to obtain more of them is what I am always seeking. This is a space for all of you to share your experiences that defy easy explanation. I hope a visit here leaves you feeling relieved, emboldened, and less alone. I look forward to hearing from you.