On the morning of March 5, 1984, I woke up feeling good, surprisingly good. For three nights in a row, I had stayed up late, meditating into the early hours of the morning. With so little sleep I should have been dead tired, but instead, I was full of energy. After eating breakfast, I went to work, and at mid-morning I arrived at the office of a business associate. We talked for about fifteen minutes, and then I glanced down at my watch. It was exactly ten o'clock. At that precise moment, the telephone on the desk beside me rang. Suddenly, a peculiar ripple of energy passed through my body as if I had touched a faint electric current. Startled, I looked back at my friend, but the features of his face were now strangely unstable. His eyes, mouth, and nose seemed to be floating, or shimmering, as if on a fluid substrate, and I had to concentrate strongly to hold my perception of his face intact. It seemed as if the features of his face would drift apart if I did not consciously make an effort to hold them together. Certain that my own face must betray my astonishment and bewilderment, I was surprised that my friend did not seem to notice anything unusual about the way that I was staring at him.
After another moment, an enormous upwelling of emotion began rising from the center of my body. This frightened me because it wasn't clear whether I was going to start laughing or crying. I only knew that something incredibly powerful was surging toward the surface from within me. Holding down the internal emotional pressure through an act of will, I told my friend, who was now talking on the phone, that some men on a nearby construction project needed to see me. I then rushed out of his office and into the parking lot where I got into my car. I grabbed the steering wheel of the car with both hands and held on. Everything in my visual field was coming loose and in some strange way coming to life.
In my mind a fleeting thought appeared, "Maybe reality isn't what we think it is." With that thought, the emotion that was expanding within me suddenly broke to the surface, and I exploded with laughter. Wave upon wave of wild and uncontrollable laughter swept through me, and for several minutes I could not stop laughing.
Finally, the force of the eruption subsided, but I continued chuckling and giggling while starting the car. The same thought kept repeating itself in my head, "Maybe reality isn't what we think it is." I pulled out of the parking lot and drove toward one of our construction sites located about a mile away. As I did so, the world grew increasingly alive, and any desire to understand what was happening disappeared in a state of euphoric joy.
Arriving at the nearby project, I stepped out of the car. The trees along the driveway looked almost iridescent and seemed to be vibrantly shimmering. I turned around, and as my foot touched the steps leading to the house under construction, my mind suddenly split open and my body totally disintegrated. At least, I was no longer inhabiting a body in any usual sense. The point from which the world was being witnessed was slightly above and in front of my head but neither inside nor outside of a body. There simply was no inside or outside in the usual sense.
Frozen in astonishment, I looked around, but could not comprehend anything. The world had changed. Now, everything had an extreme sort of clarity and immediacy - an incredible three-dimensional quality of being. The joy that surged through me at that point was so powerful that I again laughed out loud. Everything, from the ground beneath me to the sky above, was somehow alive and present. All of my cares vanished, and a question appeared out of nowhere, "Who is perceiving this?" I had no idea. It felt as if I ought to know my own name, but try as hard as I could, I simply couldn't remember who I was. Failing to remember my name seemed extraordinarily funny, and I felt like an enormous burden had been lifted from my shoulders. Without the weight of identity there was only joy and freedom! I giggled over the fact that I had forgotten who I was. Looking around, I discovered that I was no longer fixed in time and space. There was only pure consciousness free of any hindrance.
The experience at this point was not visionary or hallucinatory in quality; it had a crystalline kind of purity and concreteness. It felt more real than any experience in my entire life. It also felt good. It felt as if the body had been injected with every mood-elevating drug in existence. I felt better than I had ever thought it was possible for a human being to feel.
My intense euphoria and joy soon turned to awe as I sensed, for the first time, an overwhelmingly vast Presence. This Presence was alive, intimate, and personal, but it was not localized. It seemed to come from everywhere at once. It was a complete harmony of Being. Everything was in its place, everything was operating perfectly, and everything was as it should be. This Presence was intelligent, conscious, and infinite, and it radiated pure love beyond the power of the mind to imagine. It cared intimately about everything, down to the smallest blade of grass. My awareness and knowledge of this Presence, however, did not arrive through a process of thought; it occurred directly through some unknown source of perception. During these moments no words entered my mind, perhaps because no words could capture what I was experiencing. This Presence was so far beyond words or ideas that the mind simply fell mute in the face of it. It would be several more days before it dawned on me that during this experience I had come face to face with what the word "God" feebly attempts to denote.
Stunned, I walked across the entrance deck of the home and followed the sounds of distant voices down to the basement. There, I found the project superintendent, two masons, and a carpenter who began asking me questions about a brick fireplace that they were working on. Effortlessly I explained what to do, and was surprised that they did not seem to notice anything unusual about me.
After giving instructions about the brickwork and framing details, I thought to myself, "This is incredible. They think I'm a sensible and logical businessman, but I can't even remember my name." This thought was so funny that it caused me to cover my mouth with my hand in order to simulate a reflective pose, like Rodin's sculpture, "The Thinker." This pose prevented anyone from seeing the huge grin on my face and stifled the laughter that was threatening to emerge. I didn't want to have to explain to anyone what was so funny because I was sure they'd think that I had lost my mind.
A few moments later, while showing the men where to install a gas pipe beside the hearth, part of the superintendent's body disappeared even though I was looking straight at it. The center of his body simply dissolved, and there was only a grayish featureless void in its place. It was as if I were looking through his body and through the wall behind him at some featureless background, or, as if he and the wall behind him were composed of the same featureless substance beneath the surface. By strongly concentrating, I could bring the missing part of his body back into focus and make it appear normal, but I sensed that if my concentration relaxed, even slightly, his image would immediately begin to dissolve. For the first time, I became frightened by what was happening. It seemed possible that I could totally lose touch with reality. I therefore told the men that another construction project needed my attention, and I quickly ran up the stairs and out of the house.
After getting into my car and exiting the driveway, I suddenly remembered my name and thought, "Oh, I'm Bob H., the builder." I was still in a state of considerable psychological shock, but it seemed that I had come back to a state of mind that I had previously regarded as "normal." After a few minutes, however, it became apparent that things were not totally back to normal. The perceptual instability and visual shimmering were now gone, but the world remained vivid, immediate, intimate, and intense; I was connected to the world in a different way than before.
Driving along, I marveled at what had just happened. It had been the most powerful event of my life, indescribable and wonderful beyond imagining, but what was it? It was clearly a gift, and one that I had not deserved. No one could deserve such a thing. Nevertheless, it had happened, and I felt unspeakable gratitude for it. Something had been given to me worth more than all the riches in the world. I had been given a brief glimpse of what lay behind the images of the ordinary world, and I now knew that reality was not what I had previously imagined. During the following days many incredible things happened, but that is another story.
Prior to that first enlightenment experience I had been consumed with a wide range of existential questions, but after twenty years of thinking and reading, I had never found a single answer. After that first experience, however, I discovered that seven of my questions had been answered. During the following fifteen years I would continue to meditate, go on silent retreats, have more unity-conscious experiences, and find the answers to all of my remaining questions.
On August 17, 1999, after a strange experience on a mountain in Colorado, the answer to my last question appeared, and my long spiritual search finally came to an end. I was free.