Monday, September 15, 2014

A scientist experiences cosmic consciousness

My Experience of Cosmic Consciousness
by Allan Smith 

My Cosmic Consciousness event occurred unexpectedly while I was alone one evening and was watching a particularly beautiful sunset. I was sitting in an easy chair placed next to floor-to-ceiling windows that faced northwest. The sun was above the horizon and was partially veiled by scattered clouds, so that it was not uncomfortably bright. I had not used any marijuana for about a week previously. On the previous evening I probably had wine with dinner; I do not remember the quantity, but two glasses would have been typical. Thus, we would not have expected any residual drug effects.

The Cosmic Consciousness experience began with some mild tingling in the perineal area, the region between the genitals and anus. The feeling was unusual, but was neither particularly pleasant nor unpleasant. After the initial few minutes, I either ceased to notice the tingling or did not remember it. I then noticed that the level of light in the room as well as that of the sky outside seemed to be increasing slowly. The light seemed to be coming from everywhere, not only from the waning sun. In fact, the sun itself did not give off a strong glare. The light gave the air a bright thickened quality that slightly obscured perception rather than sharpened it. It soon became extremely bright, but the light was not in the least unpleasant. 

Along with the light came an alteration in mood. I began to feel very good, then still better, then elated. While this was happening, the passage of time seemed to become slower and slower. The brightness, mood-elevation, and time-slowing all progressed together. It is difficult to estimate the time period over which these changes occurred, since the sense of time was itself affected. However, there was a feeling of continuous change, rather than a discrete jump or jumps to a new state. Eventually, the sense of time passing stopped entirely. It is difficult to describe this feeling, but perhaps it would be better to say that there was no time, or no sense of time. Only the present moment existed. My elation proceeded to an ecstatic state, the intensity of which I had never even imagined could be possible. The white light around me merged with the reddish light of the sunset to become one all enveloping, intense undifferentiated light field. Perception of other things faded. Again, the changes seemed to be continuous. 

At this point, I merged with the light and everything, including myself, became one unified whole. There was no separation between myself and the rest of the universe. In fact, to say that there was a universe, a self, or any ‘thing’ would be misleading — it would be an equally correct description to say that there was ‘nothing’ as to say that there was ‘everything’. To say that subject merged with object might be almost adequate as a description of the entrance into Cosmic Consciousness, but during Cosmic Consciousness there was neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’. All words or discursive thinking had stopped and there was no sense of an ‘observer’ to comment or to categorize what was ‘happening’. In fact, there were no discrete events to ‘happen’ — just a timeless, unitary state of being.

Cosmic Consciousness is impossible to describe, partly because describing involves words and the state is one in which there were no words. My attempts at description here originated from reflecting on Cosmic Consciousness soon after it had passed and while there was still some ‘taste’ of the event remaining. 

Perhaps the most significant element of Cosmic Consciousness was the absolute knowingness that it involves. This knowingness is a deep understanding that occurs without words. I was certain that the universe was one whole and that it was benign and loving at its ground. Bucke’s experience was similar. He knew, ‘... that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain’ (Bucke, R. M., 1961. Cosmic Consciousness. New Hyde Park, New York: University Books. p. 8. Originally published 1901.).

The benign nature and ground of being, with which I was united, was God. However, there is little relation between my experience of God as ground of being and the anthropomorphic God of the Bible. That God is separate from the world and has many human characteristics. ‘He’ demonstrates love, anger and vengeance, makes demands, gives rewards, punishes, forgives, etc. God as experienced in Cosmic Consciousness is the very ground or ‘beingness’ of the universe and has no human characteristics in the usual sense of the word. The universe could no more be separate from God than my body could be separate from its cells. Moreover, the only emotion that I would associate with God is love, but it would be more accurate to say that God is love than God is loving. Again, even characterizing God as love and the ground of being is only a metaphor, but it is the best that I can do to describe an indescribable experience. 

The knowingness of Cosmic Consciousness permanently convinced me about the true nature of the universe. However, it did not answer many of the questions that (quite rightly) seem so important to us in our usual state of consciousness. From the perspective of Cosmic Consciousness, questions like, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ or ‘Is there an afterlife?’ are not answered because they are not relevant. That is, during Cosmic Consciousness ontologic questions are fully answered by one’s state of being and verbal questions are not to the point. 

Eventually, the Cosmic Consciousness faded. The time-changes, light, and mood-elevation passed off. When I was able to think again, the sun had set and I estimate that the event must have lasted about twenty minutes. Immediately following return to usual consciousness, I cried uncontrollably for about a half hour. I cried both for joy and for sadness, because I knew that my life would never be the same. 

Contributor's Comments on the Experience
Cosmic Consciousness had a major impact on the course of my life. I had received a national prize for my research and had a grant funded for five years, but any interest I had in becoming a famous academician evaporated. My research seemed more like an interesting puzzle than work of immense importance to the world. I left my secure and successful university faculty position and supported myself as a part-time freelance clinician. I needed time to explore spirituality and to integrate the Cosmic Consciousness experience into my life. Those explorations included theology, psychology, mysticism, eastern religion, parapsychology, consciousness studies and holistic health. Eventually, I earned a M.A. in Consciousness Studies and another in Theology. Since Cosmic Consciousness, I have not had a ‘career’ in the usual sense of the word. 

One important after-effect of Cosmic Consciousness that I soon discovered was the ability to create a subtle shift in consciousness. By quieting myself within, my inner mental chatter almost stopped and I became calm and present centered. Perception of the world and myself were both especially clear. The world seemed benign and ‘right’ with everything as it was ‘supposed to be’. There was a great sense of inner peace. As the years passed since Cosmic Consciousness, my ability to attain this state at will has diminished. When it does occur, it seems less profound than previously. I am personally very sad at this loss. 

Cosmic Consciousness did not make me into an instant saint or enlightened being. I still occasionally lose my temper, worry, judge people, and need ego support. But from the time immediately following Cosmic Consciousness there were lasting personality changes. My general anxiety level was considerably reduced and remains low. I do not (usually) strive at living, but truly enjoy it. When I do ‘lose it’, there is a subtle way in which I can mentally ‘step back’ and see the real significance (or lack thereof) of whatever disturbed me. I have not been able to return to Cosmic Consciousness, although I have a real longing to do so. However, I can usually recall enough of the experience to know that the world is benign and that my ordinary conscious phenomenal experience can only hint at the true nature of reality. 

The Cosmic Consciousness experience occurred in 1976. I did not make any notes until about a month later. Unfortunately, those original notes are lost. Even so, I feel quite confident that my memory of the essential aspects of Cosmic Consciousness is accurate. There are several reasons for this belief. (1) The Cosmic Consciousness experience was the most powerful event of my life and such a momentous experience is not possible to forget. (2) From the early weeks afterwards, I compared my experience to published accounts of Cosmic Consciousness. The comparisons constitute an independent way to stabilize the memory. (3) I frequently review the experience as a technique to achieve inner peace. (4) My remembered accounts are similar to the accounts reported in the literature. In addition, many other Cosmic Consciousness experiencers have reported that their experiences have remained fresh after the passage of many years (references in published article). 

Further comments by contributor:
A few comments on my personal background follow. I was raised in a traditionally religious household, where I learned that God was both demanding and vengeful. Throughout most of my childhood my relation to God consisted of a mixture of guilt and fear. I had very little exposure to other traditions and therefore little chance to explore other thought systems until I entered university. There I was influenced by people who seemed (to an impressionable eighteen-year old) quite sophisticated and bright, but did not believe in God at all. The thought of Jean-Paul Sartre was very much in vogue and by the end of my freshman year I had become an atheistic existentialist. Such a rapid ‘deconversion’ was surely facilitated by a strong late adolescent reaction against orthodox religion. I was angry that I had been deceived by my parents and teachers into believing a collection of fairy tales about the existence of an imaginary God who had made my childhood so miserable. The anger gradually faded over the years, but had not quite dissipated when I experienced Cosmic Consciousness at age 38. By that time religion had no place in my life at all. I was an academic researcher, scientist and materialist. I was not interested in nor was I searching for any sort of transcendent or supernatural experience. I had no idea of what a mystical experience was. 

At the time of the Cosmic Consciousness event I had never taken a psychedelic drug, but did have some previous experience with marijuana in social settings. 

Allan Smith

Further accounts of scientists who have experienced expanded states of consciousness can be read here.

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