So, in the last few weeks, I’ve had several people ask me why I don’t share more of my personal experiences in my writing.
I write quite a bit on “having spiritual experiences” in a general sense…
But why don’t I give more specifics?
Well, part of it is that I just haven’t got there yet…
There are lots of big things going on behind the scenes right now.
And so I’ve just been publishing a couple articles a month while I gear up for [super secret stuff].
And really, I’ve been trying to keep the articles simple and self-contained. Because I didn’t want to open up some of the deeper topics until I could give them the time that they deserve.
I didn’t want to give the impression that I was glossing over the good stuff…
But… since I seem to have failed at that! Why don’t I try something a little different…
The thing about digging into specific experiences is that they’ve all got so much spiritual baggage attached.
They all come with a few millennia worth of religious dogma.
If you like the established interpretations, then the tendency is to buy into the old worldviews, and accept the experiences as something meaningful or sacred.
If you don’t buy into the standard stories, then the experiences tend to get dismissed as being fake or delusional.
Either way, it works to maintain the status quo…
And that’s never very useful or interesting.
So… I thought I’d share a couple experiences.
But along with them, some of the questions that come up when you let go of the old sacred stories…
And really look at them with fresh, modern eyes.
I’ll start with the experience that changed my life…
Concrete and Formlessness
In the bio on my About page, I talk about hitting my head on the ice… And how I began having all kinds of crazy experiences.
Well, this is how it all started…
I was seventeen years old. And was leaving school at the end of the day, carrying a clay sculpture that I’d been working on for weeks.
The parking lot was completely frozen over, and I was in a hurry.
And just as I got to my car, I slipped and went down…
Now, I probably could have caught myself.
But that would have meant dropping my sculpture… And I did not want to do that!
So I twisted to keep it safe… And went head first into the concrete.
Funny how one split-second decision can shape an entire life…
My memories after that are pretty fragmented. But I remember a few disjointed events…
I remember standing up and saying some things I won’t repeat…
I remember walking into an old hangout an hour later and asking my friends what year it was…
I remember them laughing and making fun of me until I pulled the hair away from my face so they could see the blood…
I remember being helped into a car, and seeing an ex-girlfriend working in the emergency room…
And then I remember being nowhere…
Now, when I say nowhere, I don’t mean that I was asleep.
I wasn’t unconscious.
But I wasn’t exactly conscious either…
I was in a state that was distinctly different from both.
It was a bit like waking up from a deep sleep and not remembering where you are…
Except that I couldn’t remember having ever been awake!
It was like waking up for the very first time…
I had no memories. I had no concept of self. There was no time. There were no thoughts.
I had none of my five physical senses.
For what could have been an eternity, there was only awareness, and an indescribable emptiness…
Like an infinite, unblemished sentience—awakening out of nothing, into nothing.
And then it was later…
I was in a hospital bed, feeling crappy, and answering questions like, how old are you? (Which I guessed right.)
And, what year is it? (Which I didn’t.)
Most of my memories came back after a few days. But a few never did.
(I still don’t remember where I was before driving downtown to meet my friends.)
But I remembered what it was like to awaken in emptiness.
I remembered being emptiness.
Of course, I now recognize the state as what mystics refer to as formlessness, or causal awareness. But at the time I didn’t know anything like that even existed.
And from that initial experience, things just kept getting weirder.
Lucid dreams… Strange vision states… Out of body experiences… Others I don’t even have names for…
It was another year before I discovered that these (and many other) altered states were not only common… they could be developed and induced at will.
Which was incredibly freeing!
And once I realized, I threw myself in and got to work learning everything I could…
Enlightenment in a Nutshell
By the time I was in my early twenties, I started experiencing states of nondual awareness.
Though in hindsight, I had been playing with some of the preliminary exercises used by the classical traditions.
I just had no idea that it would lead to nonduality.
At first the state came upon me sporadically, in fleeting glimpses that only lasted a few minutes.
But as time went on it occurred more and more frequently. Sometimes lasting for several days at a time.
And occasionally, even persisting throughout deep dreamless sleep.
It’s still one of the most profound states that I experience.
But it’s also one of the places where I depart sharply from the classical interpretations.
Within the nondual state there is a profound sense of order and unity…
A serene and unshakable purpose of will…
And a feeling of divine gratitude and surrender that can never be captured in words…
Such surrender, that even your deepest suffering is cherished and embraced as unutterable perfection…
And yet, there is nothing to surrender to…
The boundary between observer and observed falls away, and you awaken to the realization that you are both the Source and the Witness of all that arises…
Depending on the religious and cultural background of the mystic, this is interpreted as a state of Enlightenment (Buddhist), a realization of the true Self (Hindu), or as a divine oneness with the Godhead (Christian).
Not surprisingly, the goal of classical mysticism, of any faith, is often to attain (and retain) this state of nondual unity.
In my case, having grown up apart from any spiritual or religious teachings, I didn’t have any idea what to make of it!
The state was (and is) as profound and spiritually nourishing as it ever was.
But our knowledge of the universe has grown substantially since those quaint classical worldviews were first created.
And unless you’re willing to ignore centuries of contemporary science and physics, it makes those old interpretations impossible to embrace!
Now, just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that all of our experiences are just brain states and neurochemistry.
I’m not endorsing materialism as an explanation.
We’re all familiar with that particular story…
I’m talking about embracing the experiences as real.
While still coming to terms with the physics that have completely overturned those old religious ways of thinking.
There’s been a lot written about spirituality and quantum mechanics, and how one supposedly supports the other… (Misguided as it is.)
But without exception, those authors cherry-pick the parts they like, and leave out everything that might undermine their beliefs.
In particular, Einstein’s unification of time and space is absolutely devastating to the worldviews of traditional spirituality.
(Though few people seem to realize it.)
Of course, it’s still a valid choice to ignore any new information and just stick with the old ways.
Plenty of people have lived full and fulfilling spiritual lives doing just that.
But it’s much more interesting to meet the challenges head on, and allow ourselves to question the sacred.
To discover something new…
And magical, in a whole new way.
But in order to do that, we have to stick through some pretty tough questions…
For example, if the nondual state is an identification with the Absolute, and the Absolute resides in the core of each and every one of us, then why are we not aware of the interior feelings of others?
Like all nondual mystics, I experienced those around me as perfect expressions of the same radiant Spirit that is my own true Identity…
Yet I do not share in their awareness.
I can’t see through their eyes, nor recall their memories as my own.
Nor do I suddenly become aware of the billions of other people around the planet.
None of us do.
We move into a nondual state, and are indeed “one” with everything that enters our awareness…
But we’re not aware of everything.
We don’t become omniscient.
We can’t see the past, or peer flawlessly into the future.
Or know what’s happening on the other side of the Earth. (Or even the other side of town.)
In fact, the things that we’re not aware of can always just about fill an infinite universe!
It’s a strange sort of “ultimate realization,” to be one with everything in our awareness… yet be aware of so little.
If we are experiencing a true union with the Godhead—with the infinite Self that is no-self—then why are the contents of our awareness so limited?
And, more importantly, how are they limited?
What determines which information is accessible to our awareness, and which information remains unrealized?
It’s the same with the state of formless awareness…
If I withdraw my awareness from the exterior world, into complete formless absorption, then why do I always come back as myself?
If all of manifest reality—you, me, the dog next door—is an expression of the Absolute, then isn’t that terribly convenient?
Surely, just once, I should emerge from formlessness as a fish, or the mailman, or a lamp post, or something…
And yet, I emerge consistently me.
Obviously we retain some connection to our bodies during deep formless absorption. (A reality also evidenced by the fact that we can be physically disturbed from a state of formless awareness.)
But this connection is rather curious for absorption in a spiritual Absolute…
A true Absolute cannot possess degrees of connectedness with a world of relative form—it cannot privilege one form over another.
And yet, this is precisely what we experience.
Time is an even bigger problem…
Supposedly, the formless state is also timeless.
And I get why they say that…
Because the passage of time is never felt during the experience.
But we always come back later than we went in…
If the formless were truly timeless, then we should expect to return at the same moment we left…
Yet it never happens.
We may naïvely invoke the existence of a physical time, which passes independently of the timeless realms of spirituality…
But this appeal is quickly dashed by the insights of relativistic physics.
(Seriously, all of the archaic spiritual philosophies about time are decimated by relativity.)
And these are just a few questions that come up around two traditional states!
So that’s the reason that I haven’t gone into detail yet on specific experiences…
Because these are the kinds of things that need to be explored if we’re not just going to rehash the past or maintain the status quo.
I can’t say that I have all the answers.
But after dedicating the last 25 years of my life to all this craziness—and tearing down everything that I held sacred more times than I can count—I can say that I’ve come to a perspective that’s insightful and compelling.
And completely different from anything else that’s out there.
So, if that sounds like something you’d be into, hang in there…
I promise cool stuff is coming!
If you liked this post, please consider sharing, along with a brief comment of what you thought… It doesn’t sound like much. But these small gestures make a tremendous impact on building our community, and helping other wayward rebels find a perspective that they can resonate with.
And if it spoke to you, why not Join the Tribe? It's free.. And this is just one tiny piece of more than two decades of impassioned work...... And YOU probably belong here with the rest of us!!
In any case, thanks so much for stopping by! – \m/ – Z
About Zach Herbert
I teach people to do cool things with their consciousness, and break their brains with beautiful ideas.
Professional heretic. Unlikely mystic. Host to rebels, misfits and independent thinkers.
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