All those spaces for free airplane,
where death found me drinking alcohol.
People call it a dark room.
It’s so incredibly outspoken.
no single routine.
Before Randy could stop me, I grabbed the one quart canteen three fourths full of Jack Daniels and guzzled it, and I didn’t even drink. He did though, was celebrating our arrival on the Continental Divide, here at about 11,000 ft. It’d taken two days to backpack up to it, and sitting around the campfire now on our third night he’d pulled out his canteen and had started drinking, after two days of sobriety. We’d been best friends and hiking partners since high school, and now pushing 30 we knew each other a little too well. He was usually a jolly drunk, but every now and then he got mean, not physically, because Randy was what you call a conscientious man; he got mean with his knowledge of me, knew where my buttons were, and he’d started pushing them. What made it so bad was he wasn’t dumb, was about as smart as they come and was using that intel on me to cut me to pieces. Being the pretentious piece of work that I was, that was as easy as cutting butter. The sneer on his face glowed in the firelight when I looked his way, and a sneer and fire just makes you think of demons, and I sure didn’t want to go through hell every time in the next two weeks he decided to pull out that canteen and drink. It was one of those decisions you make that instantaneously turns into action, and he wasn’t prepared for my assault on his canteen, and it took him too long to react, tired and high and tight as he was. My rational was simple: deprive him of whiskey by drinking it myself. There weren’t liquor stores in the Weminuche Wilderness Area to my knowledge.
When he’d realized what I’d done that sneer turned into a face full of fear, and his voice held that shrill high note voices get when the person using them is in a panic. He’d gotten to me and grabbed the canteen too late, and it’s to his credit there wasn’t a shred of anger in him over what I’d just done to his liquor supply.
“Goddamn you’ll die! You’ll die! Oh shit! Oh shit!” Or he was saying something to that effect. Honestly I don’t remember because the most peculiar sensation was coming over me, slowly, like the way the Blob eats people on the big screen, they just watching themselves be absorbed into its jelly with too much time on their hands until they’re all gone. It’s not a lame analogy because I wasn’t absorbing the alcohol; it was absorbing me.
Then its full effect hit, and I lost my body. Oh I was still in it, but I couldn’t move it, and it felt like it was some stranger out there along with the rest of the world. This was an inner thing. Without motor skills I slumped over, and Randy caught me and held me while I puked, which it seemed someone else was doing although I was there. Then he half carried half drug me to the tent and laid me in it, all the while cussing like you do when you’re not mad but scared. Laying there I heard him going around the tent in circles a bit out of his head talking to himself about trying to get me down the mountain to the road, a two-day journey. He was reasoning with himself about his responsibility in my coming death. He was also crying.
For my part I lay there and surrendered to death, knowing I was inebriated and had unwittingly ingested a fatal dose of alcohol. I had lost all control over my body and even all body sensation, except unfortunately for an excruciating pounding in my solar plexus. My breathing had almost stopped so slow it was, and I was sinking inside further, towards death I assumed. “So here I’m to meet my fate, in a tent on the mountaintops, not the worst place to meet it.” That was the only thought on dying I had. Oddly there was no fear or a panic to say goodbye to everyone I loved, like my grandfather experienced as he died of a heart attack, what I witnessed inside of him as he died in something rather unknown I call inner body time travel. It was even unlike the time I was killed in a lucid dream and tried to wake up but couldn’t and died and went to the doorway of ‘the other side’, or had what’s called a near death experience. There I was just shocked anyone could kill me because I’d had been, up to that point, invincible in my lucid dream adventures, but I had really thrown my weight around, and something there is that steps in in dreams and puts limits on things.
I was also quite familiar with cataleptic trance, or sleep paralysis as it’s called these days, because I’d had out of body experiences since childhood, and that’s the state from which it’s the easiest to induce one. This state, however, was different as similar as it was. One big difference was I couldn’t move my body if I tried, and in sleep paralysis you can, with a sudden jerk. There was also, as I surrendered to death, a depth to the trance I’d not experienced before, and when reaching it on my surrender, which took only a second, I saw bold in my visual field a bright white mandala of a star pattern, but I can’t remember how many points the star had. It acted like some gateway, and then I was absolutely free of my body.
I doubt you can appreciate what I mean, though maybe people in a coma might be able to relate to it, or I would hope that’s what they experience. You feel that peace that passes understanding because I sure couldn’t understand it so peaceful it was, like taking a timeout from the world and all its pressure. It was tinged with a bliss that, in that peace, made for a most contented and comfortable state which floated along but did not exactly cross that line that gave you a feeling of being more in spirit than in matter; it wasn’t the seat of the soul.
The pain in my solar plexus had become an intense vibration, and I remembered suddenly about chakras, what I’d heretofore thought was just another one of those convenient ways to explain things like I felt reincarnation was, until I was to remember other lives, but that’s another story. I should explain that this wasn’t a spiritual experience, in my definition of one at least, because I was still in ego consciousness, had not risen to a higher or more integral identity, or even to an emptiness, still thought a mile a minute myself the center of my thoughts. It no doubt came partly as an aftershock of a spiritual experience I’d had several months earlier, or that past experience had made me susceptible to this present metaphysical one. In that spiritual experience not only my breathing and heartbeat stopped but also my thought process and any sense of self, but there I was driving a truck down the highway and had full control over my body as though everything were normal as impossible as that sounds, a story told elsewhere.
Really tripping out on the vibration in my solar plexus, it occurred to me to next focus on my heart because I’d read there was a chakra there too, and as I did it began to vibrate, and there was more to the vibrations than that, something like a hum, and other ‘strangenesses’ I can’t remember. The heart was different than the vibration at the solar plexus. This was a spreading vibration. Then I continued up to the throat, the forehead, the top of the head, and back down, going to the genital area and the perineum, feeling the vibration of each one. I laid there for hours playing them like notes on a flute because I wanted to remember as much as I could about them, where they were, what they felt like, the sound that came with them, and other things too subtle to recall afterwards. Even still, when I came out of it I couldn’t describe each exactly as I’d felt it, like the top of the head: was it only on the top or also a little above? It’s the damndest thing experience: you just can’t recall anything exactly like it happened. I did, however, now know the chakras were actually real. I also know now where I was, in the body below the body, what’s commonly called the subtle body.
I could see and hear the outside world, just couldn’t access it in any way, and whether my eyes were open or closed your guess is as good as mine, but anyone that’s been in trance a lot can tell you that you can see the place you’re at even when your eyes are closed. Randy came in every few minutes to check on me, but as time wore on he came less and less. Drowning in your own vomit is the biggest cause of death in alcohol poisoning I’ve read, but he probably didn’t know that at the time and was just making sure I was still alive. He told me later I hardly had any vitals and that for a couple of hours he circled the tent debating with himself over what he should do and sure I was going to die, like I’d heard him doing.
Thirty some odd hours I lay in that tent, about 24 in the depths of that trance, or samadhi as it’s called in yoga, and some hours slowly coming up out of it, back into my physical body and the outer world. I think it was mid morning I awoke, as in the night I’d fallen asleep, the last stage to returning to my body again. The tent was a little in shadow, and so I didn’t notice anything unusual about myself except that I felt very cleaned out, purged, not groggy or overly stiff as you’d expect. The peace was still my major emotion, though not near as incomprehensibly deep as when in trance, and accompanying it was a splash of that joy I’d felt, a very settled joy that gave a perfect accent to the peace. I was of course hungry and thirsty, but those needs were oddly at a distance, not the insistent beggars they’d normally be after not being fulfilled for two days, though I do seem to remember chugging heartily on the canteen Randy had left near me in the tent before I came outside, maybe even hitting on it in the night once I got my motor skills back.
But I hadn’t seen anything yet. Crawling out of the tent I got quite a shock. Every single thing I looked at had a violet glow around it! Instead of reveling in the marvel, I got scared I’d messed up my vision for life, had one of those panics like when I learned demons were actually real because I was eye to eye with one I’d conjured in a glass crystal, that then preceded to wreck a bit of havoc in my life until I…, but that’s another story. What I’m trying to say is I suddenly had knowledge I didn’t want and didn’t know how to get rid of or who to go to for help with, and crouched there outside the tent on all fours looking at a small sparse forest of conifers that populated the long high pass between peaks we were in on the backbone of the Colorado Rockies, I had that same dread I’d done did it again, and I just wanted normality as strange as that may sound seeing the world bathed in such a beautiful violet glow.
I say violet, but it was something more otherworldly that violet helps to describe but doesn’t exactly define, and the glow was more like a radiation than a mere glow, or rather, some things glowed and some radiated, and I not only saw the glow around each and every thing that had a separateness from other things, even leaves and blades of grass, but there was this unfathomable depth to the world I’d not ever seen before, something the word silence can help to picture. The word sacred would be going a little too far with the description because it’d make you think of religious icons and imagery, and this was naked of anything like that, but holy it was in a very mute and basic sense. When I got home I got a book on Tibetan Buddhism, and I saw those paintings that have tongues of fire around everything, and I knew that’s what I’d seen, and that was what the artist was trying to capture, but the actual sight surpasses any attempt to capture or describe it because it’s something as subtle and sublime as it is concrete, but whatever it is it’s quite real, and in our art and with our words those seeming opposites swim away from one another. We either render metaphysical things too concrete, like in Bartolome Esteban Murillo’s painting of Jacob’s Dream, or too sublime, like José de Ribera’s interpretation in painting of that same dream.
Presently Randy came waltzing back, having left camp on a short romp, eager to get back on the trail and tired of waiting for my recovery. He didn’t seem surprised to see me out and about, acted a bit too nonchalant, like his panic at my near death embarrassed him, and so he had to show how composed he really is despite that momentary lapse, though all this was done on his part on a level he wouldn’t have been able to clearly see or admit to, it being one of those thousand and one things about human behavior, the way we all act, that’s below our own radar but beeping on everyone else’s. The violet radiation around him was intense, not just around him but on him glowing in various places. I don’t think I blurted out I was seeing violet light around everything because the peace I was feeling was so satisfying I didn’t really want to talk, and that was very unusual for me, especially around him, my best friend, sounding board, one of very few people I could let my hair down with and be stupid, silly, even bad me.
Telling him of my experiences, someone without any interest in the spiritual path other than hearing me talk about it, was a bad habit of mine that’d gotten him into trouble with with that aforementioned demon, and I still hadn’t learned you keep your spiritual and metaphysical experiences to yourself until they’ve been properly assimilated, which takes about six months or more with the big ones, least you ‘spill it’ or unintentionally harm someone by giving them knowledge they are in no way prepared for. It’s also a big stumbling block you give people who want such experiences but haven’t had them. When you’re bragging envy is the response, a poison to the people who feel it but so human a response. The only person who needs to hear your experiences as they happen is your teacher, but it would still be years until I had one. I wasn’t exactly a loner flying by the seat of my pants though, despite the number of times I did; I was trying to fly by the seat of my soul, which means, when you can do that, your very essence takes you where you need to go, shows you what you need to see, an unorthodox encounter I know.
I do remember beginning to tell him about my experience during trance, but he cut me short and told me he wanted to get going, and I had that stupid smug feeling you get when you think you have something valuable but someone else shrugs it off, and it’s not that you don’t have something valuable — maybe you do, maybe you don’t — , but by showing it at a time and place neither the time nor the place to do so, and showing a person that’s not in a mood to appreciate it, and some people never are, you just make it so cheap.
Hunger here came and tapped me on the shoulder, and so I suggested we eat breakfast before we headed on out, and this may not be the actual order of events, and it might be that we lingered there the rest of the day and that night too so I could get my strength back, and hunger came calling in the afternoon or evening, but it’s not crucial to the story one way or another. Randy I’m sure would give a different order and tell also a different story. That’s the nature of collective experience: you’re not going to come out with the same story when different people who were there tell their story of that story. When we understand this history becomes so subjective.
Simple Foods for the Pack was the book I used to plan my meals for the trip, pre-packaging them according to the book’s instructions so all I had to do was put the ingredients in boiling water. If I’d used the recipes with dairy products they might’ve been tasty meals, but I was on a puritan kick in preparation for that trip, and vegan I had to be because I had to ‘go all the way’, though I wasn’t a vegan and didn’t understand suddenly becoming one on a backpacking trip wasn’t the best place to go vegan. It would’ve been a good idea to cook one of the meals at home first to see what it tasted like, and I do think the book itself recommended that, but I had all confidence in myself, as many times as I’d learned I didn’t have grounds to be so sure of myself, and of course I could ‘take it’.
For the three months preceding the trip I’d put myself through a rigorous exercise program similar to what I did routinely when I was in the army special forces, a run one day of some miles and a ‘ruck’ the next from three to five miles with a 30 pound pack. I wasn’t so strict with diet, but I stayed mostly vegetarian, and I kept grass smoking to a minimum. I didn’t drink, and so that only left sex to abstain from if you consider the main vices, and I seem to remember for those three months I didn’t let the rooster chase Charlie, never even grabbed the chicken by the neck, and you’ll just have to interpret what I mean. I also did a daily meditation practice combined with pranayama, breathing exercises. In short I was more or less quite pure, which, when combined with ingesting so much alcohol, did some alchemy that resulted not in death but in something quite extraordinary actually, what wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been relatively pure beforehand, and that’s the paradox of purity and of this story.
I cooked one of the vegan meals, having eaten all my pogey bait (snack foods) because I hadn’t brought much, wanting to be hardcore, which in this case was a bit like self-flagellation. Though I was in such a deep state, seeing the world in tongues of fire, feeling a peace that made me want to keep my mouth shut, as unusual for me as spots on a zebra, that food was so bland and tasteless I had to ask Randy for some of his food. Not on any puritan kick, or any path other than the backpacking trail we were on, he’d stocked up on pogey bait, various cheese snacks, sausages and beef jerky, and he was eating it with such relish, for my benefit no doubt. With me sitting there looking down so forlornly at my bowl of steaming glook, we had one of those interactions that has lead down through the ages not only to murder many times but I’m sure also to war. It’s the interaction of ‘you got the good stuff; give it’. At first he refused, taking the opportunity to rub my nose in my uppity attitude about the whole trip, the need for preparation, purification, and a spiritual attitude. I’d been such a jerk about it, making myself sound so holy and him so animal, and I had to see I deserved both his refusal and him enjoying his moment.
He finally relented and, reluctantly, gave me most of his cheese snacks, me still too holy to eat pigs and cows, but I’d had to use the ‘oh I’ve been injured and need the good stuff’ reason he should share his food with me. The underground of interactions, they just kill you.
The violet glow around everything was strongest the first 24 hours, and then it began to slowly recede like a waning moon. It took three days for it to recede, and as it left, it left behind a rainbow of colors not of this world but of the capacity of imagination to combine colors, here imagination come real to sight. It was more like a patchwork of shapes, didn’t fill the sight of the world, since it was only an odd shape here and there, not radiating from everything but from certain things and not others, like from a person, other animal, ‘significant’ tree or large stone, spot even. I can sit here and use my reason to remember, but better to sum it up by saying there were splashes of colored light everywhere, rays, beams, splatters, lines, spheres, blobs, and on and on, again to imagination’s store, coming off of various objects as I looked at the world.
I was later to learn that was the outer or ‘vital’ aura, which is quite at the moment and temporary and is a snapshot of something’s vital state, the quality of someone’s life-force at that moment. It indicates the emotional state basically, if someone is afraid, mad, bored, balanced, excited, in love, and the list is long. Take red for example. It’s not always an indication of anger and can be simply passion, but to look at it a moment as anger it’s common that the brighter the red and the more chaotic the shapes the more anger there is and more dangerous it is. When you see that red extreme splattered on a wall or on the ground in front of somebody, it’s better to get out of there because maybe someone’s going to blow. If it’s coming from yourself, you need to calm down, take a walk, go do the dishes, anything to get out of the scene of conflict. I don’t know if it’s the same with everyone, but over the years the ability waned, and not only became less frequent, but less seeing other’s outer aura and more seeing my own.
I saw the world splashed with those ethereal shapes and patterns for a day or so, and then it too began to wane like the violet glow, and soon I basically only saw the outer aura of things and people close to me, which is what I see today, though as I said more rarely and less universally. A lot depends, I’ve found, on how deeply you are experiencing your moment, and the deeper you are (more inside yourself) as you experience the outer world, the more you see the subtle field of auras if you have been opened to that. With me the trigger that brought about the opening was getting drunk, inebriated, and it would bear mentioning that this is not an experiment you want to try at home folks. I’m a trained, licensed adaptable piece of bridge. It’s not likely you know what I mean. It’s likely you will die.
The rest of the journey passed like I was walking on air. I could hardly be in a better place to be in such a state, the San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado summer right at the tree line. We were hiking on the Continental Divide Trail on a two week hike, and we’d been generous with our route and had given ourselves plenty of time to meander instead of doing the Olympic walk. Even losing those days to my illness we weren’t pressed for time. I don’t know which I like better, coming upon a little hidden lake nestled in secrecy and accenting its waters with sparkling of sunlight, flowers spotting the alpine tundra to give the scene immortal presence, or the expansive view of feeling like an Immortal myself as I throw my gaze on far horizons standing on the heights of earth. That walk is a pleasant blur in my memory of flowers smelt and heights seen.
On the last day on the last leg of the trail, right before we turned to hike our way down to the car parked at a trailhead, I came upon a stream whose violence of flow had made a wide trench in the ground a meter or so deep. There was a little but vocal waterfall at that spot, and the intensity of the scene called me to do a sitting meditation, and so I went down and sat by the waterfall. Its sound drew me into a deep trance, and with a whoosh I was inside. The roar of the waterfall suddenly became a distant splash somewhere ‘out there’, like I was hearing it underwater. All my senses withdrew inside, but I was able to maintain my sitting posture without effort. I was basically asleep but sitting up and conscious. I had the strong sensation of some epiphany, and…
“Come on! It’s time to go!” I opened my eyes and saw Randy standing above me looking down at me and looking very angry. It was the forceful anger in his voice that I responded to. It hit me like a brick and knocked me right out of the trance. I could only look up at him. I didn’t have any idea how I could tell him this was important, at least to me. Maybe because I was more inside I was more sincere, and I suddenly saw how mad he was at me for being so distant the whole trip, since the death-trance in the tent. I hardly was speaking, wanted to sit and meditate every time we came to a nice spot, and that on top of the other annoying things about me like wanting to be the one to pick camping spots and other things I did to be the one in control, things we all do to one degree or another, I wasn’t being a good hiking partner to say the least. In fact, he probably put up with my quirks because he liked me talking, what I talked about, the way I joked around, and without that I was not easy to put up with, at least not to him, and it bears mentioning that at that moment I was his whole society and he mine human-wise.
He’d driven his car for this trip, and as we drove back to Houston, Texas, our home then, he was not a happy camper. I don’t know if he did it to annoy me, since I was still more or less blissed out and not talking, but he put on the new Neil Young album he’d just bought, Ragged Glory if I’m’ not mistaken, since this was in 1990. He popped the cassette in right as we drove away and played it continuously, over and over as one of the songs repeats. For the next 500 miles, that was the sound of our trip, and it was loud. I remember looking out the window, wanting to put my head out of it to get away from the music, since it was so screeching in parts. I liked Neil Young, but I didn’t like this, like he’d done some experiment with distortion, and the whole thing got distorted. But then instead of putting my head out the window, I opened to the music, and, though it still grated on me, I could see what the artist was trying to do, and to a certain extent it worked: allow chaos into the harmony, let in ragged glory. I’d done the same thing chugging that whiskey, let in the whirlwind, but I’d let the right one in, and so much spiritual order came out of it and still is, this story for example.
Randy finally turned the music off and confronted me about my distance, and we had an argument, though I did see his point. I tried to explain I just didn’t feel like talking, couldn’t make myself. When I told him that, I felt quite superior, and of course that would be in my voice and wouldn’t help any. That’s the major problem with spiritual and metaphysical experience, feeling superior to other people. Other people just hate that. The other problem is you think the experience enlightened you because you seem to have so much more knowledge, but despite the change it does bring, very small in actual substance, you’re still the same messed up person you were before — vying for position in the herd. This was to be our last backpacking trip together, since I was to leave Texas not too long after that and then go abroad, and after an initial effort to keep in touch, our relationship receded like that violet glow, and we haven’t seen one another or spoken in years. We’ve ended up on very different paths.
The spiritual path itself goes up and down through our lives much like that mountain trail, dipping below tree line into the forest of passions and desires and rising above it into the sunlit stillness and peace. But it can’t be pinned down to this or that system it is so unpredictably wild, though paradoxically without a system it can’t be taken in any fullness. Most any particular spiritual system has a set of rules or guidelines, insists on purity, and provides some security for the seeker, even a solo system such as I followed at that time, but the path itself is bound by none of these things, requires us to be able to throw three sheets to the wind when the right wind comes along and let go of everything, even rules. But no rule can be made, and herein lies the difficulty, that tells us when it’s okay to break the rules, just like no certain set of steps can be laid out that lead to enlightenment, or even peak experiences. Many pundits would disagree and say you just need to apply yourself more to the steps, but how many pundits reach enlightenment or have even seen it, if the truth be told? I guess I can sum up the story and its purity paradox by saying I didn’t go up on that mountain to get drunk but to hike the spiritual path, but I got drunk and actually in reality hiked some on up it. It seems sometimes, and only God could know when, the Spirit hearkens more readily to a rebel’s yell than a monk’s chant.