You may think of this as a stroke of bad luck, but for me it has been the most incredible experience — both in the minute space of time that it happened, and for what it has meant to me afterwards.
We’ve all heard the old maxim about us being spirits having a human journey. The soul in the body. The ghost in the machine. Perhaps most famous is the thought by Descartes: “Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum,” which means that everything bar pure experience is unreliable. “I think, therefore I am.”
I knew this at an intellectual level, then one day experienced it. I had the gnosis of being pure experience or pure spirit for the brief time I had my stroke. Now I can tell you that the experience of this is completely different from knowing it intellectually.
What I experienced is called a TIA, or transient ischemic attack. This means that there was a clot that clogged an artery in my body and denied my brain of blood for a brief period in time.
It didn’t hurt me in any way.
For me it lasted a few seconds.
Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.
It started. And then it was over.
The experience itself was remarkable. I will try to describe it as best as I can to explain to you what it was like. If you’ve seen The Matrix, I will describe it as a glitch in the system. An error in the simulated reality. A malfunction during which I was briefly aware that my body was not what I thought it was, and which consequently shifted my perception of the world.
In that moment I knew that there are two parts to my being. There is the gross physical aspect, which is intimately wedded to my logical brain, which in itself is intimately wedded to my ego. You can think of this as the incessant chatter that fills your being and the mechanical advisory part that tells your body how to function.
Then there is another part, an amazing part of who you are. It is as quiet as a whisper. It is huge and expansive. For me the experience of feeling this part was almost like being pure love. In those brief couple of seconds I was the world and the world was me. I was unafraid, and filled with awe and an incredible sense of joy and wonder and connectedness. The experience was huge, almost too much for one small body to contain.
Tick tock. Tick tock.
My body and mind passed out and came to in a matter of seconds, but there was a witness or another part of me that was conscious the whole time. Before my head could even drop down or my body could touch the floor, in that fleeting time I became a being of pure spirit and was watching and experiencing my body and mind. I knew at the deepest level that my body was just energy and that I was the same energy as the desk I was sitting at, the computer in front of me or my son and husband sleeping in their rooms down the hall; that everything was one great sea of energy to which I was seamlessly connected; that my body was only a construct of perceived separateness that enabled my journey through a simulated reality we call life.
Now imagine my delight then when I clicked on TED.com yesterday and watched a talk by Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuro-anatomist or brain researcher who had a massive stroke. In her experience, she got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: her brain haemorrhage enabled her to witness herself as her brain functions — motion, speech, self-awareness — shut down one by one. If there is only one video you watch online this year, I’d urge you to watch this one. It is an astounding story that confirms my experience that we are spiritual giants being contained by this very human experience.
Artwork of brain by MenschMachinen.