F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 8
I had my first encounter with what people call “God” when I was four years old. The story may make you smile. You may even have a similar one.
There had been a snowstorm and my big brother and I went sledding. The long afternoon turned into evening. My brother told me he was cold and was going home, and that I should follow as quickly as I could. Then he disappeared up the quarter mile road to our house.
It was still snowing, big gentle flakes. I was a little guy and it was a long way for me to go through the deep snow, and it was nearly dark. My mother had dressed me in a snowsuit, but I was very cold — my fingers were wet and freezing in my mittens, my toes stinging. And I had to pee very badly. I waddled along as fast as I could, the snow above my knees. I became increasingly anxious, since it would have been babyish to wet my pants, my mother would scold me, and my brother would make fun of me, but I wasn’t able to unzip my snowsuit.
I came to a stone wall that was at a right angle to the path — there were large bushes in front of it making a dark tunnel between the bushes and the wall. I was desperate. I pushed through the snow into that tunnel, and fell backwards into its softness.
Everything became quiet. My hood stopped making noise in my ears. Snow drifted through the branches of the bushes above me, sparkling from the light of the street lamps out on the road. I let go. I let myself pee. The most delicious, warm feeling spread through me. I went from desperation to bliss. Suddenly everything felt enormously holy, like God was appearing in that glistening bush, though I doubt I had ever heard the word “God.” I felt an all-enveloping Motherliness holding me in that moment, peaceful and warm, a Mother who was everywhere, a Mother who had no name, not my real mother but a Bigger-Than-Everything-Mother in whose presence I was completely loved and accepted. I was Home in a Home that felt so familiar — it wasn’t strange at all. I knew this Place. It was so big and so close at the same time, and so loving, and the light on the falling snowflakes seemed like little sparkling angels.
Then it got cold and I struggled home.
It’s tempting to think the experience of that four year-old boy in the snow was just a matter of a physical release and the momentary comfort that followed. I can only reply that after seventy years have passed, the authenticity of that memory is still alive in me — not the physical sensations, but a numinous quality that escapes all telling. I didn’t make it up. I couldn’t. I was far too young and inexperienced to have any concept of holiness; I had never been to a church or been told about anything approaching that exquisite beauty or the love it radiated. And although I could, in a way, “see” it — which made it seem other than me — what I was seeing was simultaneously inside me — I was lit from within and without.
The soul of that little boy was touched by the remembrance of where it came from. I see now how the arc of my life has been shaped by that remembrance, or at least how it invited in time many other similar, and more intense, experiences — through psychedelics, Sufi teachings and practice, solitude in the desert, and immersion in Buddhist, Christian, Advaita, Dzogchen, and shamanic traditions. Each of these pathways to the numinous led me through different territories, yet each one ultimately revealed the same glimpse of Home, or what shall we call it? Supernal love? Peace? Emptiness? Bliss?
These experiences have gradually loosened the grip that loneliness, fear, and the feeling of being a separate entity had on me, and they have made my life joyous. To become certain that we are held by and are one with infinite love is, in my experience, the most beautiful teaching and gift we can receive here on earth.