“It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” – Corinthians 15:44
First of all there was the shrine.
It was made of clean white marble: white like the desert, like the desert sands bleached in the sun.
Inside the shrine it was cool.
In the middle of the floor there was a pool. It was shaped like an eight petalled flower. On the surface lilly pads floated, the white flowers blooming on top, white on green; and from under the surface ever changing colours pulsed, from red, to orange, to yellow, to blue, the colours mixing and fading, merging into each other, like the multi-coloured lights on a disco floor.
The shrine itself was eight-sided with a domed roof in the Arabian style. Doric columns divided the walls, topped with Roman arches. On the far side a white curtain, of some fine, semi-transparent material, billowed though there was no wind.
The atmosphere was tranquil, calm, like the surface of a lake on a still day.
And then the curtain began to rise. This was sudden, unexpected, and it broke the quiet calm of the moment. There was already a presage of some imminent revelation.
Behind the curtain a painting was being exposed. It was brilliantly lit, bright and vivid with colours that were almost alive.
First it showed a pair of feet, naked but for sandals. They were Jesus’ feet. I must have recognised them from somewhere. I could see the ankles and the toes, larger than life, peach and cream with dashes of white. I had seen them before. I already loved the man whose feet they were.
The curtain continued to rise slowly. I became excited. I was about to see Jesus, all of Him, God Incarnate, the Blessed, the Beloved of my Dreams.
The excitement turned inexplicably to sexual arousal, and then I had a sudden pounding erection: so powerful it startled me.
Such was the force of the erection, so unexpected and inappropriate, so shockingly present, that my heart began to pound. Following that, almost immediately, my head began to ache. It was like that: in ascending order. First the throbbing of my erection, then the thudding of my heart, then the thumping drum of the headache inside my skull – throb, thud, thump; throb, thud, thump – in a relentless rhythm rising up through my body – throb, thud, thump – until it washed by body away. Literally. Like that. My body was gone. I no longer had a body. I no longer was a body. I became melded in the rhythmic thrum, free of all thought, free of all distraction, nothing but an undulating pulse of energetic excitement, a wave of energy in an ocean of bliss.
The ocean was like white noise all around me, bristling with static, and I was there, in the midst of it, like a receiving signal in an oscillator, a three-centred sine wave, allowing the energetic presence to surge through me in ululating waves of blissful abandon. I was still myself, discrete and self-knowing, although nameless; and at the same time submerged in the shimmering white ecstasy of the surrounding energy-field: merged and emerging, whole, holy, transported, transformed, a soul in joyous union with the source of all life, ever birthing in the luminous bliss.
I was outside time and space and the experience lasted forever.
But here is the really important bit, the bit that needs to be emphasised. I was still me. Despite not having a name and not having a body, despite being no more than an energy signal, despite my merging with the surrounding field of light, there was something distinct and identifiable about me, something unique and self-knowing, self-aware, a signature as well as a signal. I was a wave of awareness in an infinity of being, giving and receiving life.
And then, suddenly, I came to.
Now I was in my bed, floating about half a centimetre beneath my eyes. I could feel my body all around me, but I was unable to take control of it. I was in my body but separate from it, unable to connect, in the grip of sleep paralysis, struggling to wake up, while the morning light streamed against my eyelids, lighting up my skull.
By force of effort I finally broke the paralysis, and I was in my body again, awake, back in the ordinary world, in my ordinary bed, on an ordinary morning, with the prospect of school ahead.
I was 16 years old.
That was the first time I left my body, and the most spectacular. I have no recollection of what happened after, except that I must have resumed my ordinary existence. The dream went away and I forgot about it. The hormonal rush of my teenage years buried me in miserable self-consciousness.
It has happened a number of times since, but never with the same kind of force or intensity. Usually it involves me becoming lucid in the dream, recognising that I am asleep and, in that moment, diving through the substance of the dream, knowing that I can fly.
That’s what always happens when I become lucid in a dream. There is an exhilarating sense of freedom and the urge to fly.
This is real freedom, of course. Absolute freedom. Not political freedom. Not financial freedom. Not freedom of thought or religion. Freedom from the very constraints of the physical world itself. Freedom from gravity. Freedom to fly.
The first time this happened I was very clumsy. I was clattering around the room where my sleeping body lay, bumping into the walls and ceiling, smashing into a side lamp and knocking it flying, not knowing how to control the process. By this time, of course, the dream had transformed itself back into an ordinary dream, although much more vivid than usual. There wasn’t really a side lamp, and I didn’t really knock it flying.
I was in my early 30s by then. As the years have gone by I have learned to control it. My control has increased and the periods of lucidity have extended.
On one occasion I dreamt that I was in a chair. The chair had hands and feet and was made of flesh, and as I slipped out of the chair there was a slight tingling rip as if I was passing through the substance of the chair as I was lifting myself from it.
The chair was my body, the hands and feet were my own, and the ripping sensation was me leaving my body. As I did so a brilliant multi-coloured light flashed on revealing the silhouette of a dancing Siva and I woke up, startled, the Siva-image like a silhouette imprinted on my retina.
I won’t list all the times I’ve had this experience. They vary greatly. Sometimes I can soar through the heavens. I can leap off cliffs. I can feel the rush of air against my skin. I can travel very fast. The dream is a kind of substance, like the air itself, through which I can fly. Nothing can stop me: not walls, not floors, not ceilings. I dive into them all with joyous abandon, knowing that I can defy the Earth itself, that I can defy gravity. Other times it is but the hint of freedom and I am quickly drawn back into the dream. But whatever the level of experience I’m always left with a feeling of exhilaration, of breathless wonder and excitement, as if I’ve just been given the keys to the Universe itself, and told to make myself at home.
I will just tell you one more story, mainly because it made me laugh.
I’m an insomniac. I have been from my early 20s. I’ve tried everything to control it. I was a borderline alcoholic for many years, first of all drinking at the pub, and then, latterly, when I could no longer afford the pub, drinking on my own. This, of course, leads to depression, and it had to end. Since then I’ve tried every kind of pill and every kind of practice. The pills work, but lead to their own problems, which means I have to stop taking them after a while. None of the practices have worked.
So this was during a bout of insomnia, when I wasn’t taking the pills and I wasn’t drinking. I’d gone several nights without sleep by now. I was very, very tired, almost deliriously so, and one morning, after yet another night without sleep, perhaps the tenth in a row, I threw myself onto my bed fully dressed, and instantly had a lucid dream.
I could feel the bed beneath me, the wrinkles of the covers, the sensation of my clothes against my skin. I knew precisely where I was. But then the bed suddenly tipped upright 90 degrees, and it was like I fell off the bottom of the bed and out of my body, down, down, feeling the ripple of the sheets as I passed on by and out of bed into the open space beneath. There was an intense sensation of freedom and excitement as I first dropped and then ascended into the air. As I did so a huge billion watt light came on behind me, projecting my shadow on to a screen. I saw that I had wings. They were spread out dramatically, even as my arms were raised in glorious triumph, like a boxer who had just won the World Championship. “Hey,” I thought excitedly, “I’m an angel!”
Then I looked again and saw that I also had a very prominent erection.
“What do you call an angel with a hard-on?” I said to myself, just beginning to laugh. “Ha! It’s a devil!” I thought. At which point I laughed out loud and woke myself up cackling with delight.
So that’s it. Those are some of the experiences I’ve had which suggest to me that we are not only a body, that there is something else which survives the body, or goes beyond the body. What you call that “something” is another matter.
I’ll leave it up to you to give it a name.