So this is the more difficult piece to write –
For a long time I felt awkward to share it, ‘cause it seems like it might have been a rather privileged experience, perhaps something not to really be shared with others – not knowing how many have been able to bring such stories back to this world – yet how to reconcile the sense that this was a story for “me,” when The Story is ultimately about interbeing & the illusionary nature of having an independent existence.
And then there’s the issue of trying to describe something to others who might not have a shared basis of experience; tho that may be merely presumptuous, and perhaps the dimensions of experience we might need to share for the significant story here are varied.
& then my overdeveloped left brain has tried to play with this, to understand it intellectually, iatromechanically, as an intellectual brain trained in conventional western medicine might attempt to do. Was this a dream, a hallucination of a dying brain? I’ve had a very rich dreamlife, and afterwards, some dream images can persist & feel like “real” experiences; but in the whole, afterwards, these are easy to recognize as dreams. I had an amazingly compelling hallucination once, hypothermic while canoeing in a blustery snowstorm in northern Minnesota in late September many years ago, & still feel I can understand loon song from that experience; but again I can readily recognize that in retrospect to have been hypothermic delirium. This experience was very unlike those. This was no less illusional than my daily life, my waking samsara. I was there, my consciousness divided between a this-world presence and this walk between worlds, I suppose what the Tibetans describe as the ‘chi kha’i bar do, the transition of the moment of death, at least the death of a much missed 10% of my brain.
There was falling – of course repeatedly on the hard kitchen floor, in the bathroom; the toilet & between toilet & wall, in the pantry, & on the dog crate catching my throat, with bruised left hip, side of knee & elbow on those bony places; I eventually decided to just stay fallen, cuddled with the dogs (Rosie as sweet warm fluffy pillow, Maggie lying pressing back to me, guarding, a soft & cozy bolster); but also falling into a deep bottomless abyss; if I need to find a shared image, imagine the depths of Khazad-dûm. A deep, fathomless abyss. I’d landed (on my left hip) on a smooth sloping rock ledge off to one side, sloping down off to the abyss again to my left; behind & to my right was a tunnel, a stone arch opening, very dark. I think that was The Passage, heavily Veiled; there was only a very faint glow of light to “go into”, but a strong sense of invitation; I was too sore to move. A bit of clear starlight from what appeared to be a single star far above, reflecting off black rock. Below was black, fathomless depth. The tunnel felt like the way out, & I felt compelled to try; but clawing at my back was – well, a clawing at my back – “unfinished/unreconciled stuff” – & I felt the clear sense that entering the stone arch to the tunnel had to be done in peace. Turning back to the clawing, I heard strains of song – my “other” consciousness had gratefully received my boys’ arrival & rescue from the kitchen floor, tried to bargain for another hour of waiting, dealt with the arrival of the paramedics , the ambulance ride past the Joan of Arc monument at Coe Circle on 39th & Gleason, ER, radiology visit for CT, & arrival in ICU, & was now (time was very confused; neither linear nor going about in circles) lying in the ICU bed gazing at my CT image on my ICU room monitor, waiting for the neurologist to come by & read it. In This World, I was totally intellect – my emotive mind was elsewhere – bright white cottonball lesion deep behind my right eyeball, in from the posterior temple, above the wing of the sphenoid, the size of a – well, a cotton ball, a hemorrhage in the region of the right basal ganglia; whispy white trails into the 3rd ventricle (Not Good, nothing to tamponade that bleeding & closer to essential “housekeeping” functions); a thick pale grey halo about the cottonball (edematous swelling surrounding the bleed); the central suture & midline structures shifted prominently to the left of midline (Not Good at All) (good radiology training ;^)). My intact cognitive brain registered a 77% short-term (hours) mortality risk, with vegetal status for the 23%. Gonna be a cabbage at best for my sweet Mary & my lovely boys (I did get a dark chuckle noting how resourceful Mary is with cabbages, a little butter or olive oil, onion, caraway seed, vinegar, maybe some apple, she can totally make it rock ;^)). Feeling so happy to witness the boys’ competence & compassion, we’ve done a fine job with them, sad that my part in that job is ending, wishing I could tell them how (proud? – not quite the enormity of the word I need) I am of them, not knowing how to say good-bye, hoping that can be dignified & not drooling with a half-paralyzed tongue. Granddaughter Brigit still standing on the neighbors’ old front-yard Maple stump with neighbor twins Arlie & Boone watching me loaded into the ambulance, Mary not here, still hiking in the alpine meadows of Mt. Jefferson, but even if she were, I’m so far away; back down in the abyss, strains of Ripple playing from the nurse’s station, over & over as the Grateful Dead are known for. it seemed like hours or days, timeless; perceiving a bizarre sense of irony in the Grateful Dead’s presence in this space. I felt No fear – “Isolation” might describe my feelings, but even that concept is our invention to highlight our reality of connection, this was pure no-connection, a walk in a totally far-off place. Not wilderness, wilderness is defined by our presence in contrast, and I love wilderness, I feel comfortable there; this was wilderness’ wilderness. The feeling of Damien Rice’s Cold Water is precise (I heard him sing this, feeling it deep in my spine, at the Roxy in Prague), Empedocle’s Air Element distilled & pure. My wonderful boys were there at bedside, Ben & Caleb, I was loving their devoted presence, reminding me so of their grandfather, but most of me was far, far away, across time and space.
Back to the abyss, trying to come to some peace with the clawing, which now felt enormous, eclipsing even the depths of the abyss in its insistence for my attention, I was witness to overlapping filmstrips of my life “passing before my eyes” – like my dad’s old 16mm movie filmstrips overlapping diagonally – some passages so swift I couldn’t really make them out, others (both painful & blissful segments) in painful or blissful slow motion. The blissful segments all were about connection, about holding & being held. Wanting to replay & getting to replay some of these, wishing I could just stop the replay of others. Maybe by rolling off the ledge? But that’d be the end of the blissful segments as well and I so, so wanted to keep those. Superficially, recollections of my life – tho I now appreciate as my Karma, revealed.
At some point I discovered, just to the left of the opening of the stone arched tunnel (so out of the span of my easy awareness; Left Neglect is so difficult to describe, I will make an attempt in a subsequent post) an upward sloping ramp, narrow sidewalk-wide, about the width of my forearm’s span, spiraling far up the sides of the cylindrical abyss above. I started up toward the music, my way lit by the starlight from above, and it became clear that the starlight was issuing from the hands of a long-estranged very dear old friend; this becomes now deeply personal, to be shared with that dear soul, as I have, but not here. Perilous, as working up the spiral, the abyss was to my left, the side of my paralysis, perceptual “neglect,” (not understood at that point, more on this later) and the side of my (later labeled) “listing to port”. Not sure if I walked or crawled; I recall both. The voice of my light-giver joined the singing, chanting it seemed in aelvish, and my steps lightened, the painful segments of my Karmic visions feeling eclipsed.
An eternity (really, tho the Dead were still playing, but then, they are known for that) “later” I crawled the last of the winding spiral into my ICU bed, abysmally uncomfortable, but more padded than the ledge or the kitchen floor, and my “separated” consciousnesses (both empty of independent existence, as Avolokita so deftly observed) merged. A warmed blanket helped, felt heavenly really (that nurse was a “Wendy” – my old friends from Vermont days will understand that), and Mary was there now at bedside, so sweetly, so strong for me, having bravely driven 3 hours since receiving news from our sons, (she says “what else could I do?”) also offered a warmed blanket; my emotive mind was fully worn out, all I could greet her with were “the facts,” the technical description of my “event”, hoping that pure intellectual knowledge might be reassuring. As a “cabbage,” I was living in my head, in the relatively intact left side of my head ;^).
The illusion – magnified in the revelations of my Karma in bardo – was one of intense isolation, which is possible only within the delusion of having an independent existence; contrasting with the revealing of interbeing of us all, my “self,” my loving partner & devoted family, my dear most beloved friend of so long ago (although, do you see, Best Beloved, Time is not linear, nor does it go around in circles) bearing starlight in her hands, the sweet nurse with the warmed blankets, the cotton fields where the cotton for those blankets grew, the many-generational sufferings & joys & labors of the workers in those cotton fields, the clouds above those fields bearing rain serving the growth of the cotton; the sauce Ben made from those late-season tomatoes nourished by another falling of that same rain falling in a distant, but strangely non-distant region of the world …
Now some guys might have “gotten it” by merely reading the Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya, as I first had so many years ago, and for some it may have required as much as a sprained ankle. For this fella it took a 2cm hemorrhage in the right basal ganglia, stroke as a spiritual experience indeed.