Gregory HM's Experience
I remember the beginning of the dream. There emerged our of deep-sleep darkness, luminous orange ovals against deep brown. The orange morphed into moist peeled carrots on tilled earth. Sensing a presence, I look up. A person sits before me, writing. Robed in black to elbow and knee, facial profile obscured by glossy shoulder length hair, her un-tanned forearms and legs are slender and long. She is beautiful and I am glad she is here. I strain to see a page of the book in her lap. These words appear in typeface:
A Journey of Angels
by Henri Nouwen
I am confused: Is she Henri Nouwen?
A voice. My heart gulps and holds still. From beyond a pink-blue sunset ribbon, out of the dark, open sky, a presence descends. Invisible. Closer with each syllable. Solemn, resonate, intimate: "Why am I in this place, at this time?"
I want to help. All senses alert, I wait. Unless, says the voice, in a tone of discovery. And immediately, I am exposed, seen. On hands and knees in the garden, naked except for white cotton briefs, I tremble, heart and body. The images around me wobble like reflections in gelatin as the voice, with self-relinquishing compassion declares, slowly, deliberately, I'm one of them.
My mind scrambles to locate them. Are they the carrots? The angels? And a gentle but overwhelming force like an unexpected ocean wave tosses me backward. Falling, helpless and blind.
I awaken. The dream sounds and images are gone, but an offensive awareness grips me. "I'm cursed," that repellant thought presses in on me. I feel I am mortal flesh on the edge of death. And yet, because of the preternatural intensity of the experience, I also feel lucky. Trying to shake off the accursed feeling, I try to focus on the familiar present waking reality -- I am flat on my back in bed with my wife.
But before I catch my breath, I hear a loud wind-like rushing sound in my ears and a brilliant light flashes from within my body. A force, violent as a bonfire, but without the searing heat, engulfs me head to toe. It seems to be literally lifting my physical body up from the mattress. In sheer terror, I try to resist, but am unable to move.
I recall the biblical Elijah's translation into heaven: A chariot of wind and flame swept him bodily into the sky. When my wife awakens, will I be gone entirely or just dead? I try with all my strength to cry out her name. Cindy. If I am able to rouse her, I will give her a parting message, the only words I can think of: I'm one of them (meaning, one of the Angels)." My jaw moves slightly and goes slack.
The rushing sound is suddenly hushed. I am my body-shaped soul, floating up, away from the flames, away from my flesh. The sensation is pure pleasure. "Better than sex." Dying no longer troubles me.
My body shape evaporates, the pleasure ceases, and the ascent continues, a breeze in a void. My faculty of thought remains clear. So this is what the Neo-Platonists were talking about, I muse, recalling the ancient philosophers who posited separation of soul from body at death, and extolled the value of abstract thought, unencumbered by physical senses.
Sparks fall in the darkness, in my inner eye: After a distinct and complete gap in my awareness, I reappear back in bed, hovering as if weightless, physical desires strangely absent. My body, suffused with an undulating light, reminds me of glowing embers. I could move, but I stay still. All my life memories are available, yet none intrude. Sensing a heightened capacity for discernment, I ask, "Have I done anything good?" Even as I ask the question, I know that the goodness I have received in this experience through far exceeds any "good" I may have done.
A visual memory, in full color, flashes before me: The receptive faces of two children gazing up at me as I tell a story, a story detailing a manifestation of fire from heaven. Fire. I smile within.
Thoughts pass. I savor peace. Ordinary body awareness gradually returns, and
when I begin to feel drowsy, I turn to one side and drift back to sleep.
Any associated medications or substances with the potential to affect the experience? No
Was the kind of experience difficult to express in words? Yes It is hard to find descriptions that aren't cliché, and that are separated enough from religious dogma to communicate experiential immediacy. Take the word "soul" for example. As I floated up, I thought, "So this is my 'soul'" And in my mind, I had the word soul in sort of mental quotation marks. It described the sensation at the time, but I did not think of that part of myself as necessarily immortal as the notion usually suggests.
At the time of this experience, was there an associated life threatening event? No I definitely felt my life was threatened. Indeed, I assumed I was dying. But looking back objectively, there was no physical illness or trauma.
What was your level of consciousness and alertness during the experience? After I awoke, the "dream" was over. I was intellectually alert and attentive to the sensations of the experience.
Was the experience dream like in any way? It was, of course, triggered by a dream. And the bodily sensations of the dream carried on after I awoke. That is kind of typical in a dream of falling. Even after you awaken, you still feel a fear of falling in your body for a time. Although this included the falling aspect, for that is the particular phase of the dream when I awakened, there was more to it than fear. There was the feeling that , in the dream, an Angel had chosen to become one with me. When I awoke, I was feeling so very mortal, and there was a sense deep sadness that the Angel was no longer there.
In dreams there is usually visual and auditory imaginary perceptions. But in the ascent of my soul, there was none of that. The rushing sound was associated with my actual inner ear like when you put your ear in a conch shell. Likewise the inner "light" seemed somehow linked to physicality in a way that was not dreamlike.
In a dream, you have a dream body. In my soul's ascent, I had only one "body"
in my point of reference, and it was my physical body. I was progressively
unable to sense that body, and it felt as if I had ascended up out of it, but it
remained my point of reference.
Did you experience a separation of your consciousness from your body? Yes I recall the ascent in three distinct phases of ascent: 1) the feeling of bodily levitation brought on when there was a bright inner light, and a rushing sound, 2) the feeling of being a luminous, body-shaped soul out of any perceptual contact with my physical body (there was no "looking back" to see it, for there was a perceptual void via external reality.) 3) Intellect in a void.
A forth phase, the reuniting of body, with mind and soul was "out of body" in
this sense: there was no pain or desire I normally sense as inevitably part of
being in the body.
What emotions did you feel during the experience? A whole range: mortal frailty, terror, intense pleasure of soul-release, non-anxious bliss, peace.
Did you hear any unusual sounds or noises? In the dream there was the voice, the disembodied voice that came down from the sky, and something of the vibration of that voice lingered in my being as I awoke from the dream. But after i awoke there were no more sounds brought on by my faculty of imagination as in a dream. Only a rushing sound, loud like a bonfire at first, then quieter, like a whisper of breeze as I ascended.
LOCATION DESCRIPTION: Did you recognize any familiar locations or any locations from familiar religious teachings or encounter any locations inhabited by incredible or amazing creatures? Uncertain It was a "third heaven" ascent in that there was a feeling of ascent, the ascent was subsequent to a sense of bodily death and there were three levels to the process of simplification of: levitation, body-shaped soul, and faculty of intellect. The after-effect was "paradise" in that I body, mind and soul were one, but it was Edonic in that there was nothing to want for.
I did not use these categories, third heaven and paradise, to describe it to
myself as it was happening, but when I studied the account given by St Paul in 2
Cor. 12, I deeply resonated with his saying, "in the body, or out of the body, I
do not know, God knows." Then I came to think he was talking about the sort of
experience I had gone through. There was certainly that ongoing re-evaluation
and questioning about in what sense I was "in the body" or "out of the body" and
knowing that my perceptual frame simply did not provide me with enough
information to judge: I did not know. Clearly, it FELT "out of body" but I did
not entirely trust my sensations as objective. God knows what happened.
Did you see a light? Yes At first, during the seeming levitation phase, the inner light was very bright, and all over my body. In the soul phase, it was still bright, but more diffuse, sort of grainy perhaps. In the intellect alone phase, there was a distinct absence of light. At the onset of the reuniting phase, my first perception was of something like sparks falling in sense of my "third eye" although I didn't use that term at the time. In the reuniting with body phase, the light was soft and undulating through my body.
Did you meet or see any other beings? No response In the dream, there was a sense of having an Angel take me for itself. When I awoke, I felt abandoned by the divine presence and saddened by the loss. But when the levitation started, I took the inner light as a kind of manifestation, an indication that the Angel had become one with me.
At the same time, after I awoke, I felt the experience was mine alone. I did
not meet any other beings separate from me.
Did you experiment while out of the body or in another, altered state? No
Did you observe or hear anything regarding people or events during your experience that could be verified later? Yes
In the dream-vision that triggered my apophatic rapture, I saw a book, and in the book, it was written, "Journey of Angels," forthcoming, by Henri Nouwen. It never occurred to me to take it literally that Nouwen might write such a book until I learned the following.
According to his journal, in September, that year, Nouwen started writing a daybook of wisdom and faith. To write it, he bought a blank book with an Angel on the cover, and when he wrote he would sit down and asked, "Do you have a thought for your Angel?" On September 23, 95, he wrote, "Today I surprised myself with seven thoughts. I hope my Angels like them."
He crossed out that last sentence, so it didn't get published in "Sabbatical Journey: The Journal of his Final Year." That was the beginning of the crossing out of Angel talk. When the daybook came out, and he told the story of its origins, he says the blank book had a "work of art" on the cover (no mention of an Angel.) He says, "I sat down each morning, whether I had any ideas or not, and waited until my pen started to move and pull words out of my mind and heart." No mention of having a though for his Angel.
In addition to Sabbatical Journey, his other books to appear next had journey in the titles -- "The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom; and his daybook, Bread for the Journey.
Since I know the secret of the Angel references crossed out, I feel justified in thinking of that daybook as, "(Bread for) the Journey of Angels."
In addition to my carpooling nun friend, and twice daily sits, that daybook has
also become my spiritual director of sorts. As a daybook, it addresses the basic
problem of daily living out of that one apocalyptic moment of rapture. As time
goes on and I reread the book, I seem clearly that his thoughts truly are
relevant to my journey -- both the one time rapture, a kind of journey of
Angels, and my daily walk, another kind.
Did you notice how your 5 senses were working, and if so, how were they different? Yes The key inner sense was the sense of body awareness and sort of inner touch, a constantly changing perception of what I usually think of as "my body". The inner light and sound seemed likewise connected to the body rather than to imagination as in a dream or to external reality as in ordinary outward awareness.
Did you have any sense of altered space or time? Yes There was the feeling of levitation.
Also there was a feeling that time was slowed, that in a very short time frame,
I was sensing more than ordinary, far more than ordinary, details. And my mind
was both very awake and non-anxious, which also, made the most of the time.
Did you have a sense of knowing, special knowledge, universal order and/or purpose? Yes I know more about my capacity to enjoy bliss and to be free of suffering and desire. I could go on and on, because I am still learning from the experience.
Did you reach a boundary or limiting physical structure? Yes Yes, in the sense that my perceptions of my body, and my progressive detachment from it seemed to be in levels. But I did not perceive external boundaries, like walls of the house.
become aware of future events?
Were you involved in or aware of a decision regarding your return to the body? No
Did you have any psychic, paranormal or other special gifts following the experience that you did not have prior to the experience? Yes I had an experience of a kind of writing the future. I got interested in various forms of out of body and near death experiences and I was writing a fictionalized story about a man I had met years earlier, a black man who told me about his NDE. In the story I had a scene where this black man who had the NDE knocked on the door, and when I answered it, I noticed he had alcohol on his breath. In the story, that was how I first met him, so he was a stranger to me at that point. I was working on the story, specifically on the wording of his knocking on the door.
Then, as I was writing that part, in real life this happened: There was a knock at the door. I answered it and it was a black man, a stranger and I smelled alcohol on his breath. I was shocked. I said to him, in real life mind you, "this may sound strange me asking, but, have you ever had a near death experience."
He became very animated. "Yes," he said, "I was in the hospital..." Then he asked, "Have you ever seen a tree with golden apples? have you ever seen a Manticore?" "No," I replied. Then he suddenly became reticent about saying more, "I don't like to talk about it."
The timing was uncanny. We lived in a practically all white neighborhood. In the five years we lived in that house, I think he is the only black man who ever knocked on the door at all.
Since then, I've had many synchronicities. I'm seeing it as a side-effect of
living with intuitive awareness. I don't seek it. It just happens.
Did you have any changes of attitudes or beliefs following the experience? Yes One of the main changes was what in yoga they call redirection of sexual energies. I decided to stop asking my wife to have sex; instead, I only had sex with her if she felt like it and initiated. Soon we were having sex much less often. Gradually, over the past ten years, I've come to prefer to conserve sexual energy rather than have waking ejaculations. Thankfully my wife is happy with quiet cuddling, often naked cuddling. If she wants an orgasm, I enjoy being present with her during. But for the past year I have rarely had an ejaculation during sex: maybe three times in 12 months. I do have wet dreams though.
How has the experience affected your relationships? Daily life? Religious practices? Career choices? More interest in contemplative prayer and a practice of twice daily twenty minute sits. I now have a network of friends who do meditation both among Christians and others who do yoga.
I've done some intuitive/contemplative travel: a trip to the Spain of the writer who influenced Teresa of Avila, Francisco de Osuna. The scholarly journal "Studia Mystica" published notes that I wrote about the journey. I went on a 90 day solo trip to Mexico. I went on a sixty day greyhound bus pass, where I slept on the street sometimes but usually used the bus as a bunkhouse.
My wife is a professor and we have no children and we live simply. This has
afforded me freedom not to worry much about making money. Recently, I did some
real estate investing and paid off the house we live in. I have worked most
recently part time as an artisan bread baker. it was part time over three
Has your life changed specifically as a result of your experience? Yes Changed sex life, as noted above, more rich meditation, as noted, more intuitive awareness of the world around me and more synchronicities.
Have you shared this experience with others? Yes Often people don't seem to understand or want to listen. Sometimes I find a willing audience, and I love to tell the details. Often, I keep it to myself.
What emotions did you experience following your experience? Immediately after, at the point of body, soul reunion, it was peace, bliss, nirvana. After about twenty minutes, I felt tired, rolled to one side and went back to sleep.
What was the best and worst part of your experience? I love it all, it was all the best. Of course, while I was in in, the "I'm cursed," phase was pretty hellish, and the initial "fire" phase was sheer terror.
Is there anything else you would like to add concerning the experience? Thanks for listening. And thanks for providing this forum. I hope we can learn more about such experiences.
Following the experience, have you had any other events in your life, medications or substances which reproduced any part of the experience? Yes The closest thing to the "peace" I felt after has come through meditation.
Did the questions asked and information you provided accurately and comprehensively describe your experience? Yes There is much more I could say about how it has influenced my subsequent life, for example, how it has changed what I notice in my study of the New Testament, how I read scripture more contemplatively and how I understand the mystical aspect of the Christian tradition. That is just one thread. I could go on and on. But time and my energy level at the moments does not permit.
Please offer any suggestions you may have to improve this questionnaire. How did you go about finding other people with similar experiences?
Do you feel you are alone, that nobody had an experience just like yours?