Mystical Experiences

1944 I was 19 years old, and in hospital with malaria and dengue fever in India. I looked out across the verandah at the sunset, which was a very unusual green colour. All at once I seemed to be taken out of myself into a realm which was quite different from anything I had experienced before. I could only label it as eternity. It did not seem to belong to time. It was as if everything stopped. I had been reading about Spinoza for the first time quite recently, and had been very impressed by that. It seemed that there might be a sort of connection. I did not make much of it. But I remembered it.

1950 This is not really a mystical experience, but it is an important link in the chain all the same. I met Harold Walsby, who became my mentor for about five years. He was versed in the philosophy of Hegel, especially as modified by the British philosophers F S Johnson and Francis Sedlak. We were out in his car, and he asked me what my fundamental beliefs were – things I could not doubt were true. As I brought out each one he demonstrated to me convincingly that it was self-contradictory, and therefore could not be fundamental. Eventually I was left with nothing. All my most basic beliefs had been laid waste, shown to be inadequate and false. (I found out later that this was the method of the Madkhamika School of Buddhism.) He then asked me to take for granted Nothing. And he showed that once Nothing was granted, Being followed from that, because this Nothing was. It had Being, the Being of Nothing. So Being and Nothing were one and the same. Yet they were not the same, because they had two different names. So what was true was the movement of Being into Nothing and Nothing into Being, indefinitely. But that brought into being a new category, Becoming. And so, by carrying on like that, all the categories of logic came into existence one by one, until the whole of it was complete. And then… but to go on would involve describing the whole dialectical philosophy of Hegel. It was a revelation, and an enormous experience for me. I went on to study Hegel for the next fifty years.

1967 I was given what I believe to have been about 400 mcg of LSD. Both set and setting were good. At one point I remember having a sense of strands of force connecting everything and everybody in the universe. I even seemed to see and hear them criss-crossing the room. This connection made everything into parts of a whole. It was somehow all one. And this seemed to be the truth. It was as if I had now seen the truth, and all other versions were lesser and less adequate. Things I had read, particularly by Jack Kerouac, now made a lot more sense. Zen Buddhism was also around at the time, and I liked that a lot. I also read Evelyn Underhill, and was very interested in that. I had also read Maslow, and labelled this as a peak experience. (I wiuld now label this as a glimpse of the Causal.)

1969 I went to see a performance of Paradise Now, by the Living Theatre, a play about the beautiful nonviolent anarchist revolution. I was very excited and moved and taken by it, particularly the freedom and the breaking of boundaries. Two friends (who had also seen the play) and I started a group called B Now, and we had a series of evenings where we would do nonverbal exercises for an hour, and then go into a group fantasy about the Best Society Humanly Possible, and then eat together, the rule being that you must not feed yourself but only someone else. At various points in these group meetings I had experiences which seemed to transcend the present scene and to take me into the space I labelled as eternity. I called these peak experiences as well. I got more interested in humanistic psychology.

1970 I came across the exercise suggested by Marion Milner in her book “A Life of My Own” where you look at something, such as a tree, and say “I want nothing”. When I did that, the tree would somehow come out towards me and be more real. As I practised this, I could see the connection between this and the experiences of unity and eternity I had already had. It seemed like a mystical experience to me.

1971 During a group experience, I enacted my own death. I lay on the middle of the floor, was covered up with a sheet, and people started to talk about me as if I were dead. I went through a very powerful experience, cried a great deal, and really had the feeling that I had experienced death. After that I felt a sense of liberation, as if I didn’t have to worry about death, because I had already been through it.

1972 After being in a number of groups, I had an experience of contacting my real self. This I consider to be a mystical experience, and although it was only a glimpse, as the authors of “Spiritual Choices” say, glimpses like this are very important. The experience did not last, and I could not get it back by an effort of will, but I went to more groups and had the experience again and again. I gradually, over the next eight years or so, became able to contact my real self at will, and to relate authentically with other people from that position. This contact with the real self, which has been described so well by many people in the humanistic tradition, is possibly the most common mystical experience. It takes us into what Ken Wilber calls the Centaur level of experience. This is the level of the authentic, of the existential self. All through the next few years, I had many peak experiences, and after reading the important book by James Horne, I called them examples of ‘casual extraverted mysticism’.

1973 During a session of co-counselling, I had the experience of facing the ultimate Abyss. It seemed that this was the Nothingness that I was most afraid of. To go into it would mean losing everything. My counsellor encouraged me to go into it. I went into the blackness of it, like stepping off a cliff into the unknown. Very soon it changed into a bright light, and I was sobbing with the glory of it all. I opened my eyes, and stood up, and felt extraordinarily tall, as if I had grown way beyond any normal size. The phrase that came into my mind was ‘ten feet tall’, but it was no exact measurement. I felt as if I had crossed some important line. It seemed more than just a peak experience. I would now describe this as an example of Subtle mysticism, because the concrete sense of darkness and light was so strong, and the absence of limits was so important.

1975 In therapy I had one of the deepest experiences yet, of quite a different kind. I seemed to contact my transpersonal self. It was an amazing experience, which I would now call an experience of the Subtle self. I felt the most amazing love and compassion, which seemed everlasting and very deep. I wrote it up in an article entitled “A Growth Experience”. It occurred as part of a whole series of experiences to do with my own therapy which brought to an end my hatred of women, and from that point on I was much more aware of the feminine, and of the Goddess.

1978 By combining deep primal group experience with taking LSD, I got down to the deepest levels of my being, and undid the schizoid level of my biographical unconscious. This meant that I could be with another person intimately for the first time. I would not classify this as a mystical experience, but it was an example of what I consider to be the truth about the relationship between “deep” experiences in therapy and “high” experiences in the transpersonal. One helps the other, both ways.

1982 As recounted in my book “The Horned God” I began to take a serious interest in what I would now label as the Subtle level of consciousness. I joined a Wiccan group and was contacted by the Great Goddess and the Horned God. I learned a great deal about ritual and its importance for the exploration of the Subtle. The Tarot came to be my favourite symbol system and I found it quite rewarding, particularly in its connection with the Kabbalah. I also came across the work of Ken Wilber, and could immediately see its relevance for me, since it described my own development so accurately. I began to meditate regularly, and did so every morning up to and including the present day.

1985 I had a number of visions, and was very much involved in symbols and symbol systems. I acquired a deep sense of the downward direction as spiritual, with the help of the writings and paintings of Monica Sjöö, and wrote an article entitled “The downward path to wholeness in transpersonal psychotherapy”, which was delivered at the Transpersonal Conference in 1989.

1989 With a woman well versed in Goddess spirituality, I co-founded The Serpent Institute as a training centre for counsellors and psychotherapists. The whole course had a structure based on insights gained from Goddess spirituality, and a great deal of the content was also based in this way. We had an altar and a number of rituals, and some of the experiences I had there were ecstatic, including a trip to Avebury, Silbury Hill and West Kennet. There were real experiences of the presence of the Goddess. I also had an experience of being contacted by the Horned God. Out of this work came the book “The transpersonal in psychotherapy and counselling” which was published in 1993.

1992 By now, I was having ecstatic experiences quite frequently at the Subtle level. Wilber said that people often avoided going on to the next level, the Causal, by a sort of contraction. The Subtle level was so full of symbols and images and powerful and good experiences that it was hard to move on. So I deliberately set myself to let go of these contractions. I found that it was easier than I thought. I could have experiences of the Causal level through a process of meditation which led me through the levels, one by one, until I could just let go of the joys of the Subtle and enter into the joys of the One, the One without a second, the pure substance of being. And then I kept on having glimpses of the Nondual, and built up quite a store of insights from that realm. I started to write more and more about the transpersonal.

1997 The woman I had been living with since 1978, and who I had started to call my Shakti, became my wife. We had talked about handfasting, and jumping through the Beltane fires, but in the end we just had a normal wedding in a registry office. She had had her own experiences of the Goddess, even though she had not deliberately cultivated them in the way in which I had. Now it seemed that we had sealed and formalised our relationship, which was and is very deep and rewarding. This is an important part of my whole appreciation and understanding of mysticism.

1999 Now it seems to me that I understand the mystical realms rather well, with the help of Ken Wilber, who I still find to be a very good guide. I can move into them at will, and come back with things that are relevant and important for me. Here are some of the insights I have come back with after these moments of illumination during my morning meditation:
22.1.92 The One now comes first, and contains all! It is quite ecstatic! Intoxicating! Wonderful!
25.1.92 The One! The One without a second! The pure substance of Being!
7.2.92 How beautiful! The One! How beautiful! How beautiful!
24.2.92 It is not the same! It is not seen as outside at first! There is no inside and no outside! That whole distinction disappears!
20.3.92 How do you know this is It? HaHaHa – catch question of the mental ego.
2.4.92 “The Peace that passes all Understanding.”
4.4.92 The One True Being. “No illusion.”
15.4.92 Not inside, not outside.
1.5.92 The Thousand Things are the One!
15.5.92 “Real” “Reality”
27.6.92 “Steady space of compassion.”
22.7.92 IT IS LOVE! IT IS ALL LOVE!! IT IS ALL UNCONDITIONAL LOVE!!!
5.9.92 “Being” doesn’t exclude anything! (e.g. having, doing, etc.)
11.12.92 “Concrete peace”
14.1.93 It is not OK to call it “The One”. This immediately calls into being “The Many”, and we are into separation again.
24.2.93 “Infinite wind”
16.3.93 Everything is just as it is, and there is no point in any of it!
17.3.93 The pointless point of meditation!
26.5.93 Steady breath of compassion.
22.7.94 The whole notion of ownership disappears!
29.3.95 Quite a different experience today. There was a sense of having no access to phrases. No way of using words at all. There was no phrase that could even get near it. Any words I could use would only falsify it.
19.5.95 Levels? What levels?
8.12.95 The incredible beauty of ordinariness
7.7.97 The great tree is no larger than a blade of grass.
16.10.97 The ecstasy of seeing a twig just as it is…
2.11.98 No fear, because nothing is alien. Compassion flows freely. (C)
3.11.98 The Dance of Being! (C)
14.8.99 …One-ing… (C)
9.2.01 Not the peace of ignoring everything, but the peace of embracing everything. (C)
23.2.01 Of course! Binocular vision is the answer! (C)

2001 WESTERN ZEN RETREAT (extract from longer account)
I carried on with my question “What is love?” and as I did so I found my heart beginning to take over. That ruined my meditation, which had been quite structured. My heart did not like structure, and I was left rudderless in the meditation. I went to Simon (the assistant master) with this, and he said to just pay attention to whatever came up. As I did this, my heart seemed to take over more and more, and I had a sort of illumination where I suddenly saw everything from a heart point of view. It was a highly emotional experience, where I seemed to lose all need for structures and concepts: instead of trying to keep apart the real self, the subtle self, the soul, and all that, they more seemed to be all one. Love was the heart, and the heart was love, and that was all I needed to know! It seemed that I really knew what love was, because love had taken over!

I went to John Crook with that, and he said I seemed to have got it. Apparently I had some kind of radiance when I talked about my experience, and this convinced him. He gave me a new question: “What is your true nature?” As I worked with this, over and over again, my heart seemed to shift to my centre – the region of the hara. It there joined up with other parts, like the mind and the senses, and they all went to the centre. It began to seem to me that that was my true nature. And then the bottom opened up, and it became bottomless. It opened up to infinity. And then it seemed that infinity could blow up through that, and through me, and that I could be filled by it – but not hold on to it or stop it or get in the way of it. And so I could be me and act in the world, but also be this infinite spirit, or infinite Nature, or infinite life at the same time. So my true nature was all that. I was quite ecstatic with it all. When I went to John Crook with it, he beamed and said that what I was describing was not just Nature and my true nature, but Buddha nature. I had experienced kensho.

2003 I have carried on with my morning meditation, and had more insights, but recently I have been giving workshops where I have demonstrated how it is possible to enter mystical states of consciousness at will, simply by setting oneself to do so. I have demonstrated therapy at the Subtle level, and got therapists to do it too, as an exercise. I have demonstrated therapy at the Causal level. It is just a question of using my experience of meditation to enter into that frame of mind, that level of consciousness.

2004 In my morning meditation, I opened myself up to the Nondual level of consciousness. It was fascinating to experience the difference between that and the Causal state. From the Nondual position, the Causal looks rather earnest and purposeful. I noticed a number of contrasts, and started to note them down.

2005 I carried on noting down the differences between the Nondual and the Causal, and eventually accumulated them to the point where I wanted to do a chart:

CAUSAL NONDUAL
The Dance of Being It’s not at the end of any continuum
No desires No such thing as a desire
Eternal infinite selfing Nothing needed
Not the peace of ignoring everything, but the peace of embracing everything Who indeed?!
No need to get attached to Freedom, either Laughter…
Laughing…
There is no portal! I am already there! I have always been already there! Ecstasy doesn’t need an experiencer
The Clarity and the Mystery are one and the same Not this, not that – and not NOT, either!
Steady breath of compassion Not about altered states of consciousness – no one here to be conscious!
One–ing… …Already given up long ago…
The Inner Light and the Inner Dark are one and the same The brightness of the fog
Just this. Just this. Two onions and a piece of string
Of course I am God! Of course I am not God! What do you mean – “God”?
What ecstasy! What ecstasy?
The Earth is empty! What Earth?
It’s all here! Nothing is missing! Eleven fingers
No fear, because nothing is alien. The sun in the mud
Compassion flows freely. Blood runs uphill exploding
The centre is everywhere What centre?
Can’t explain it Not the slightest need to explain it
I insist on the absence of categories No need to insist on anything
No fear No one to be afraid of anything
Thou Art That! What?
Meditation is the way Meditation is a pile of dead leaves in the driveway
Paradox is an important key Paradox, schmaradox!
Big Mind Big Joke
The biggest prison of all What prison?
It’s all there! Where?
At last! It all makes sense At last! It all makes nonsense

It can be seen how mad this all seems, and how far removed from ordinary consciousness. But it seems very real to me. And I discovered after a while that at the Nondual level it is very easy to ‘get’ the Zen Koans.

John Rowan 22 April 2005


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