The experience itself was both numinous (felt significant in a spiritual way) and ineffable (totally beyond the constraints of language to explain) and no way writing it down will capture its actual flavour or quality.
For this reason I wasn’t going to speak of it, but here is the equivalent of a grainy photocopy recounting of what happened. Just for the record:
I was away travelling on the south coast, and I had just finished 30 minutes of morning zazen (meditation) sitting on the floor of my motorhome.
After stretching out my legs for a bit I scooted up onto the bed with the plan of shortly making myself a coffee.
I closed my eyes for a moment. I had better get up and make this bed I thought.
Without warning I felt myself falling. Although I was not falling downwards but inwards, as if collapsing away from the margins of my body towards my centre.
Now, I had the perception of being in a vast pitch black space.
I felt this overwhelming fizzing/tingling sensation, although I didn’t feel I had a body to feel it. It was just everywhere.
In the centre of the space was a very bright white symbol. Sorta like a Tibetan infinity knot only different.
Just off to the side and further away was another symbol/shape that looked like a phosphorescent purple balloon animal of some sort.
I know, I know. Telling folks you are seeing purple balloon animals is a little sketchy credibility-wise. Not to mention woo-woo wise. But that’s what happened.
Yet, this didn’t have a dreamlike quality, it seemed totally real, perhaps even more real than real.
There was a very strong feeling of a presence from the balloon animal. A good word for it would be entity (more on this shortly). Even though I sensed a separate intelligence, I can’t remember anything being communicated, and there was no movement….but the fizzing feeling was most joyous.
I’m not sure how long this lasted. But I don’t think it was very long (1-2 minutes?) before I could feel myself ‘re-inflating back up to inhabit my body again.
I can remember thinking that I didn’t want the experience to end and trying to ‘get back to it’. But that only made things get normal even faster.
So then I was just lying there. Wow. What the fuck was that?
The feeling of having experienced something deeply significant and important lasted across the next couple of days.
Over the weeks since then, the whole experience has slowly become flat and simply another dream-like memory. Did I really experience it like that or have I just embellished it in the rethinking?
I have had other anomalous experiences whilst meditating, but never one as crispy real as this one.
In Zen, such experiences (in or outside the practice of meditation) are referred to as makyo and seen as distractions to the path. Teachers will usually acknowledge them, but warn not to get too caught up in trying to place any significance in them.
“…it is a figurative reference to the kind of self-delusion that results from clinging to an experience and making a conceptual “nest” out of it for oneself. Makyō is essentially synonymous with illusion, but especially in reference to experiences that can occur within meditation practice.” — Wikipedia
I mentioned before that I had the sensation of a presence or entity, and this is interesting in as much as similar meetings are frequently reported by people using psychotropics (such as LSD, Psilocybin, DMT, Ayahuasca etc). As are the visuals of symbols, or geometric patterns…and the sensation of a hyper-reality.
As I have never taken a psychedelic I’m uncertain how my unplanned journey mirrors a psychedelic trip, but my understanding is that both meditation and psychotropics suppress activity in the brains default mode network (DMN).
Very simply put, the DMN is a sort of orchestra conductor or executive administrator of overall brain activity. When the conductor steps down, the various areas of the brain begin interacting with each other in non-usual ways. And there is some research that has found neuroplastic changes in the DMN of long term meditators.
Structural changes in areas of the DMN such as the temporoparietal junction, posterior cingulate cortex, and precuneus have been found in meditation practitioners. There is reduced activation and reduced functional connectivity of the DMN in long-term practitioners. Wikipedia.
So. Was the symbol and the balloon-being a mental hallucination taking place in my brain? Did I just fall asleep and dream it? Or did I have brief access to some other aspect of reality?
I don’t know. But for me the enduring impression can be summed up by the following quote:
Things are not as they seem. Nor are they otherwise.— Surangama Sutra