Toward the middle of this traveling time, I developed a strange and inexplicable inner ear disease while visiting Kauai, in Hawaii, which created vertigo, and which was to turn me inside out, and enforce seclusion during which time I would spend months, which evolved into years, of inner work and solitude. While the doctors could offer no reassurance nor did they actually know what caused it -- “perhaps a “virus?” -- they also did not comfort me by stating that perhaps it was a brain disease, or some kind of exotic unknown disease for which they had no cure. At the time, I was bereft, not to mention terrified, at the implications of this calamity. I could not walk straight, nor gaze without nystagmus, a shifting of the eyes in an effort to re-balance or respond to the inner ear’s balance mechanism. Initially, I could not even walk without falling down. It occurred at 4:00 am in the morning, and required hospitalization for several days. After that period of stabilization, I returned to Maine and lay essentially on my back for several months’ time. Eventually I would gradually, over several years, regain my stability and the vertigo would subside.
At the time, of course this disease was anathema to me. I would have given just about anything to get rid of it. And yet, curiously, I did little to get rid of it, and instead, allowed it to unwind its apparently cruel fate. In retrospect, and even at the time, somehow I concluded that this event was necessary or pivotal to my own progress along my own path. I did write to two of my “Gurus”, which in turn, resulted in no improvement. (This was to be an instructive moment about the limitations inherent in human healers.) As it turns out, this time in my life was the most important time I can recall in my own spiritual journey, as it was an enforced retreat, or solitude, which permitted the unwinding of my own self-absorption and brought great clarification of who I was, my relationship to God, the mystery of consciousness, and the discovery of the depths of mind and consciousness and its spiritual, not to mention worldly, implications. Up until this time, no matter how spiritually embellished my motives and ideas might have been, I was still solely an egocentric individual. I was still absorbed in myself, without true understanding of the mechanism of thought, the body/mind tyranny, and the externalization of everything that goes on within. I understood much of the “problem” intellectually, but I was not “living” it, being it -- my extensive knowledge and understanding in the past, through all my studies, meditations, prayers and conclusions, had not anchored itself at all.
I was also to discover that contrary to what I had always believed about myself, that there was truly no “center” within that I could call “me”. This latter realization took me by complete surprise, and it generated enormous anger and wrath that somehow I had been duped into believing that there WAS a me. Moreover, that I had agreed to this conspiracy to delude myself. At the time, I thought there should be a “real me”, and that I had somehow been prevented from creating one by all my conditioning and culture, but instead labored under the “false me.” When this realization came upon me suddenly, I initially “blamed” the world and those in it for somehow creating a “false me” by not permitting me to develop a center of my own. I did not realize, until much, much later in life, that there never WAS a central me, nor could there ever be, either false or real, and the realization should not have generated anger as it did then, but elation, and relief, as it does now. I had somehow stumbled upon the actual experience of “no mind”, or “headlessness”, not yet recognizing that “me” is actually only, and solely, a conglomeration of concepts that created an illusion of continuity, that I labeled “me” heretofore. My reaction to this revelation at that time is just one small example of how the ego can turn what is otherwise a truly significant and transcendent event into a threat, as opposed to a blessing, in its struggle to maintain dominance. Here was a moment in time where I was exposed to the illusion of the ego, and my reaction was anger and blame as opposed to gratefulness for the exposure. The ego rushed in and distracted me from that realization with deflected anger toward the external world.
I spent many months alone in our small cabin in the woods, which S and I had built one summer during those years of travel in order to give us, me in particular, a semblance of roots, despite all our traveling. For a while, we would travel and rent between travels, but eventually I longed for some kind of home base that we could call our own, so we once again built together a small house on the acreage we kept aside from our original sale of the first Maine house. Therefore, while S continued to travel, teach, and speak, I remained home. It was within this tiny little two-room cabin that I was to discover just how human I was, and just how insignificant the body and its mind’s accumulations are. Initially I struggled just with dealing with disease, and found I only began to heal when I accepted the disease and even the possibility that I might possibly die if this was more serious than I wished. Indeed, I went through a day of actual dying, and finding that I lived through it despite its fearsome promises. At the time, when I fully surrendered to this “death”, there developed a sensation of deep stillness and rock solidity which was immovable and eternal. This did not last, of course, the mind rushes in given just a chink of space.
I found the solitude that remaining in this little cabin provided, was excruciatingly instructive. I could no longer run from myself, or from my own demons. I could not embellish what is often distraction with spiritual significance. I had to face the quiet, the silence, the fear of disease and the loss that implied, without recourse to anything else but my God and me. And as God seemed unable, or unwilling to heal me, I eventually had recourse to nothing, but surrender.
It was also during this enforced solitude that I experienced many of the “kundalini” experiences, but only discovering after the fact that they were legitimate experiences that other individuals had likewise experienced. Whether or not the vertigo was related to this shifting of energies, I am no longer sure. It may well have been simply a disease picked up in Kauai and became a vehicle for solitude and inner work for me, during which I then was able to unlock some of these energies. On the other hand, I had been struggling for many years with my own relationship with outer authority and my infantile and submissive attitude toward that authority, and just prior to the Kauai incident, I had experienced a very strong realization that those who love you do not always love unconditionally, but instead are human and fallible and thus prone to human frailty and may in fact find you unlovable. This came as a great shock to my system and my carefully built up façade of security and self-knowledge, so the blow could easily have unlocked stagnant energies and released all kinds of hitherto unresolved issues. In many ways, that realization was a kind of death for me, and a consequent new birth from the ashes. This could easily have caused conditions receptive to disease.
In any case, during this enforced solitude, I experienced all sorts of floating lights, visions, energies that swept through my body, burning and cold alternating, a sense of falling away and disappearing, shakings and tremblings, tears and laughter, fears and certainties, a presence of God, and an intimate sense of communication between God and myself, heard through songs, words, visions, and events. This was a time of mystical connection with something other than me, and its presence was heartfelt and real to me. There were many out of body experiences, one which I can still palpably feel when remembering, whereby I floated above my body, and looked down at my body lying there, and looking at the wide open eyes of my body lying on the bed being amazed at how “material” and dead the body actually was. (Of some interest, I was to learn because of the frequency of these events, that the dream body is usually dreamt in reverse, left to right, in a mirror like effect when dreamed or envisioned. If taken into consideration, dreams of one’s own body, or another, can warn or signify important clues to disease or problems, but in reverse.)
I also experienced what I believe to be sartori-like events, whereupon I was dissociated from the body, bathed in white light, and free and without limitation, but fully conscious and entirely “here”. All these experiences occurred prior to my reading about similar ones experienced by others, which was crucial to my own process I believe, because I could not so easily assume that I was simply responding to suggestion and therefore fantasized these events. It is also important to note that these were all experiences, events that I personally experienced, and not after the fact memories of events. However, there were times when I became engulfed in light, and THEN lost consciousness, and would not remember anything further. They were always preceded by meditation and prolonged immersion in spiritual considerations. The loss of consciousness was remembered only after the fact, upon awakening or recovering. At the time, I thought this highly significant. Today I conclude that this too was a kind of experience, but one in which I lost consciousness. Nothing more than that.
In retrospect, had I been distracted by travel and teaching, I doubt very much if I would have done the inner work and faced the turmoil this inner work generated, that in turn, presented me with these experiences. Therefore, I cannot help but conclude that disease has its place in the spiritual search, if one is on a spiritual search, and indeed, may be a welcome visitor along the way, particularly to those within the western culture of constant activity, accomplishment, and “doing.” And while at the time I was frightened and sometimes terrified of the consequences of this disease, it was actually my friend, because it brought me to my knees in supplication to something other than myself-- or my culture --who was at that point, unable to get through the disease alone or intact. It humiliated me, and it uplifted me. It was essential to break my arrogance and self-certainty, and to bring with it a newfound sense of confidence and purpose, but overshadowed by a wholeness and self-lessness, a sense of non-importance, generated from that humiliation. I spent those many months grappling with the old, in order to re-birth some kind of understanding and compassion that, for me at least, I might otherwise not have discovered within my depths. This took many years to anchor itself, and it is still doing so, but it built the foundation for inner work and discovery that has never left me.
Of course, at this point in my life, as I write this, I realize that perhaps the only value to this entire episode in my life was to learn to sit still and be happy sitting still. Prior to this time, I was an individual addicted to activity and accomplishment. This time wiped out that addiction. Whether it has any relevance whatsoever to my personal spiritual situation, if one can call it that, is uncertain, because my understanding of what the spiritual search is all about has changed radically from what it was while this event occurred. That said, any self-discipline, any situation that reduces complexity and misunderstanding can’t be bad, and may be good. It certainly brings a kind of peace and happiness that is more than likely not attainable to those who are immersed in worldliness and all its distraction - certainly it did for me.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers........Wordsworth