It was a late afternoon in January 1971. I was casually walking along a sidewalk at the University of Missouri, where I was now enrolled.
It was an extraordinarily warm day for winter; the temperature had risen to the midseventies. People were wearing short-sleeved shirts during a time of year when shovels and plows typically were out clearing away snow and ice. I was headed for a record shop, probably humming a jazz tune, when out of the blue I felt the most intense comfort and joy I had ever known. Sheer calm, relaxation, and happiness spread through my whole being. As I went along the way, I began to feel my body getting lighter and lighter until I felt I had no weight at all. I wasn't concerned; I assumed it was a consequence of feeling so good on a spectacular day.
This bliss continued to escalate and elaborate. I soon found myself in the midst of a kind of awareness I had never known before. An uncannily deep calm and wide-ranging peacefulness flooded my consciousness and I felt a certainty about life that no words can adequately convey. In that moment it seemed that all questions about life's meaning could be answered instantly and effortlessly. I felt complete peace and joy, but at the same time I did not feel in the least ego-centered. On the contrary, I was losing awareness of my individuality. I was floating in pure consciousness. This knowing did not reflect or analyze what was going on, nor did it show delight, amazement, curiosity, or celebration of the moment. It was more like a total centering of awareness and being that became compressed to a microscopic dot, pulling in the container that had once held it, setting it free of physical and conceptual weight and burden. Paradoxically, this getting smaller resulted in a feeling of also becoming larger, a state in which my sense of time and space was lost in a realization of eternal presence. As I write of this event now, it is obvious that I was having some kind of mystical experience. But at the time I experienced no outside evaluation of what was taking place. I was the experience, absent of all internal conversation.
My body moved without effort. It wouldn't be totally inaccurate to say that I felt as though I were flying-or at least as though I were gliding along the sidewalk, without a single muscle exerting any force to move me. It was automatic movement of a body focused entirely on a sense of pure knowing that was absent of self. My body walked me up the steps of a small university chapel made of stone.
There was no one inside. The place was dark, with only a little light coming from a dimmed iron chandelier. A dozen wooden pews faced a Gothic-style altar. I walked up to the front pew, sat down, and felt like I had arrived at my natural place. I sat absolutely still, without thought or movement. In those moments I perceived what seemed to be the unity and wholeness of the cosmos.
I don't know how long I sat there, but I do know that what I am going to describe lasted throughout the evening.
It began as a baptism into a river of absolute love. My deep sense of knowing melted into an even deeper awareness, both of being loved and of loving all of life. To be more accurate, I did not feel separate from the beloved, and the beloved was the world. As I plunged deeper and deeper into this infinite ocean of love, the inside of my body began to get heated. The base of my spine felt like an oven that was getting progressively warmer until it burned with red-hot coals. As the inner heat turned into what felt like molten lava, my body began to tremble.
It may seem strange to you that I had no fear or anxiety about what was happening. I believe this had to do with the fact that I was not in a dualistic relationship with the experience. There was no "I" having "the experience"-there was only unexamined experience. The former boundaries of my self had simultaneously shrunk to an unseen dot and expended to embrace the whole of the universe. As I went further into the depths of love's unlimited oceanic space, I also went higher into the sky, feeling both the heavens above and the underbelly of Earth below.
The fireball within began to crawl slowly up my spine. It had a purpose of its own and nothing was going to stop it. Like a baby, after the breaking of its mother's water, this birth was determinedly on its way. As the lavalike movement crept upward, heat spread throughout every cell in my body. I was on fire. My legs, abdomen, arms, and especially my hands felt as though they could melt through metal.