A friend recently recommended I check out Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, which I took as a not-so-subtle hint about my writing. This didn’t surprise me; clarity is one of the biggest problems facing any author. Despite the renown directive “write what you know”, we writers, being at least as curious as other humans, inevitably draw on what we do not know as much as on what we do. This is particularly true for an author of visionary fiction, the genre whose qualifier is that ‘growth in consciousness’ be the central theme. Our settings, plots, and casts of characters are replete with things no one really knows about with certainty: reincarnation, paranormal events, psychic abilities, visions, angels, alternate worlds, higher planes of awareness.
And just what is a higher plane of awareness, anyway? Is it the same as a another dimension, and don’t we really mean an additional dimension, I mean, we’re not suggesting the basic three are no longer in play—or are we? Or maybe we don’t mean a different dimension at all, but a different frequency of energy, or a different density of form beyond the range of normal perception. And while we’re at it, what’s the difference between an angel and a djinn—or a dream, hallucination, and vision if it comes to that. Or take the soul, for instance, exactly where does it reside? Some people will tell you it’s inside; they’ll equate it with their deepest desires. Trust your gut. Some will put their hand on their chest, and tell you to follow your heart. Others see it as above, outside themselves and equate it with the highest aspirations of all mankind, or the part of them that belongs to God. Are all these people even talking about the same thing? Where does my soul end and yours begin? Is there a difference between the soul and the oversoul, between the oversoul and the monad? Where do we find clarity across cultures, creeds and belief systems?
On a gorgeous May day when I was fourteen I took a long walk down the country lane from our house. After a mile or two I wandered away from the road, following a weedy and rutted tractor path into a disused pasture. I sat on an old stone wall to rest. Having dropped, along the way, any cares my scant years might have produced, I was empty of thought, simply enjoying the sweet smells and gentle breeze. I was looking up, as I recall, into the arms of an overhanging apple tree, and I was taken by the glittering effect of the sunlight flashing between its quavering leaves. I was doing nothing out of the ordinary. Then I experienced something that in hindsight I can only characterize as an epiphany. My awareness somehow stepped out of the box it had always been in. I suddenly knew that all things are One, that this One is everywhere, and is conscious of everything. This experience was somewhat surprising, but it did not shock me, it just made me very happy. I accepted it all without question, as if—of course!–I had always known it.
What really happened that day, did I just get too much sun? Maybe it low blood sugar, or dehydration, or some weird teenage hormonal high. Did I just pass out, however briefly? And why do we use that phrase anyway, pass out of what, into what, exactly? I certainly did not lose consciousness, I gained consciousness, but I did have the sensation that if I went with it, if I went too far into the bliss, I would become that and would no longer be this, an individual. It was akin to the feeling of losing one’s balance on a ladder; a jolt of fear that shook me out of the blissful space. In less than a minute, the whole thing was over, and I walked home.
Looking back, I realize that the follow up symptoms were the same as what happens when you fall in love. Everything was beautiful for a few weeks. I saw the good in everyone. Had I fallen in love with the apple tree? Did it fall in love with me? I never went back there, never tried and commune with it again. I knew it wasn’t really about the tree, but I’d had some kind of communion with…what, if not the tree—the sunlight, my soul, the soul of the tree, or the Earth or God? The experience had taught me there really is no difference.
A Buddhist monk I met once suggested that this kind of experience was common, and called it ‘little bliss’, but it didn’t feel little to me. A Theosophist implied it was called the ‘first initiation’ (one of several on ‘the Path’, whatever that meant), that it was a recapitulation of a leap in understanding I had taken in a past life, or in between lives. I read somewhere that the falling or dying sensation, known as ego death or ego-loss, is a false fear coming from the ego itself, to pull you back into the box of normal awareness. In reality I was never on the precipice of death, but of greater life. If I had only overcome this initial recoil, I might have remained in that greater sphere of awareness for hours, days, even weeks.
I have my doubts.
Nevertheless, this little episode has had a profound effect on my life; I’m still trying to understand it fifty years later. Describing it is nearly impossible. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened at the time, because what can you say? “Funny thing happened to me on the way through the pasture, I learned that you and I are connected, but…not just connected, I mean we are the same. We are…within each other, somehow or other, I mean… there’s really only one of us and we are all that.”
You can’t share an epiphany the way you can share a recipe for strudel. “Go sit on that stone wall, look at that apple tree, and you’ll know what I mean.” And when your own words fail, a popular song comes to mind, so you sing that, thinking it might help: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” And though this too is met with blank stares, you add—you know, for clarity—“I am the walrus. I mean, I am the eggman, too, and so are you.”
By the time “goo goo g’joob” comes out of your mouth you realize you’ve only succeeded in reinforcing the other face of the paradox—we are all separate, and some of us are even more separate than others. Now you’re just hoping to avoid a padded cell, so you say nothing more about it, to anyone.
Clarity eludes us, yet that is exactly what the world needs, now more than ever, now as the mind of humanity seeks to make that leap of understanding, the one necessary for our collective survival. Perhaps—when Religion says “My way or the highway”, when Science throws up its hands and calls ‘Mystery!’ or denies altogether—perhaps in visionary fiction we can find just a skosh of clarity about these abstract metaphysical concepts.
Maybe, you think (from a safe social distance), maybe if I tell them a story. Maybe that will bring them through to the other side. A story about how there’s only one soul; it’s my soul and it’s your soul, and it’s the oversoul. It resides in your heart and your head and your gut and in the eggman. Because the truth will out, even in a made up tale, and if everyone knew, the world would be a different place, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it?