by Kelvin Chin, Life After Life Expert and Meditation Teacher
Have you ever wondered if it’s possible?
Have you ever wondered what it’s like?
This experience has been debated, pondered, interpreted, dismissed, and embraced by hundreds of millions of people over the millennia.
I’d like to discuss this with you now, maybe in a little bit of a different way than you’re normally accustomed to.
First, without attributing the following description to anyone in particular, this is a common way of describing it:
“I was sitting in the sand dunes at the beach at sunrise. The horizon began to shimmer. Then suddenly everything changed in a way I had never experienced before. The sparkle of the new sun on the water seemed to transport me to a different state of consciousness. I wasn’t just seeing with my eyes – I was perceiving everything around me. I was seeing, sensing, becoming, being the sand, the waves, the endless orange and pink sky. My body was still sitting on the dunes, but I can’t say “I” was sitting on the dunes because suddenly I was all energy, and everything around me was all the same energy, flowing within me and without me. What I normally thought of as solid matter was now a seamless reflection of all this golden energy. My body seemed to melt away totally. I became one with the sand and the surf – and then, for a moment, with all of creation. I felt tremendously expanded and alive. Joy and relief filled my mind as I understood that I was a part of something greater than the finite me.”
Poets like T.S. Eliot and William Blake, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama and the Pope, and even comedians like Woody Allen (“Eternity is really long, especially near the end…”) have all given their perspective on this sort of experience.
The usual reaction and interpretation of this experience is to immediately jump to the conclusion that it describes our connection with something greater than us, something that is “not us.” That's what the author of that experience did. That’s the most common reaction. Oneness with God, the Universe, Nature, or some divine creation.
But does that make sense?
Simply by looking at the description above, what is the common denominator? Clearly, it is “I.” The constant throughout the experience is that she is describing it, and is conscious and aware throughout the entire experience. Otherwise, how would she be able to describe it?
Yes, it may be true that she is not experiencing in the usual way she is used to experiencing being awake. She is not experiencing the usual analysis of and focus on the minutia of what is going on in her immediate environment, her body, the active analytical part of her mind — sometimes overly analytical part of her mind — however, obviously her mind is still awake and active. The analytical part of her mind is also still awake, functioning and active, otherwise she would not be able to draw the distinctions she does in her description of this experience.
I think people often misinterpret the experience of “melting away” — of less awareness of the body — as a merging with something else. With a “oneness.”
But if there is self-awareness, even a different type of self-awareness, is that actually oneness?
A Good Night’s Sleep
What if we looked at this differently?
What if we look at ourselves first? And what if in looking at ourselves, we accept that our experience can be different from what it usually is, and that we do experience differences in our experiences all the time. This happens frequently throughout our lives, doesn’t it?
For example, if you have a really good night’s sleep, you wake up incredibly refreshed, and when you walk outside and you look at the leaves on the trees it’s as if you can see like you’ve never seen before — you see the details of what makes up the leaves in a way that you have never noticed before. All the details may become clearer to your vision and you may even feel “more connected” with the leaf as you become less aware of your body (perhaps because it is so incredibly refreshed and not occupying any of your need for attention).
At least your experience of the leaf seems that way. However, does that mean you have “become one with the leaf,” that you have lost your individuality in the process of seeing the leaf in this new way because you got an incredibly good night’s sleep and are unusually refreshed?
I think not.
You are not “one with the leaf”…you and the leaf are still separate. It just feels that way because you feel more connected with the leaf. But why do you feel connected? You feel connected because you are more connected within yourself, within your mind — if there is any experience of “oneness,” it is with yourself.
That is profound and sublime all at the same time, and as such, you should acknowledge it and embrace it. But instead, the most common reaction is to project that connectedness externally to the world around you.
Why do we do that?
I think we do it for a number reasons, some are institutional and some are internal, but in the end we have internalized it all ourselves and the responsibility is ours. I think institutions have told us for millennia that we are not worthy, that only the institutions are the vehicles through which we can experience greatness, through which we can experience something larger than our normal sense of self. But, in the end, it’s our responsibility for having bought that line of thinking.
Instead, I think there can be a different interpretation of this experience…
The Same “You” But Different
It is the same “you,” except a different “you” at the same time.
Maybe more accurately, it is the same “you” experiencing your world around you in a different way because you are different, not the world. And it’s not even your “relationship” with your world that is different. It is all you. It is the experiencer which is you, your mind, your consciousness, your awareness, whatever you want to call it…which is “experiencing itself” in a different way. It is experiencing itself in this case in a more refreshed, more clear way than usual, which then causes the experience of the leaf to appear to be different.
Now, let’s look at this experience in the sand dunes through that lens.
What if her mind has simply started to experience aspects of itself that she is generally unfamiliar with, and now is just beginning to explore? (If it’s a new experience, the “newness” of it alone will be powerful and almost overwhelming initially.)
What if sitting in the dunes and being in that quiet moment somehow was a catalyst and stimulated her neurophysiology to start to experience in this different way. In other words, I think it’s always a combination of mind, body, emotions, overall energy — the whole package in other words — that is responsible for any experience on a moment to moment basis in life. And as such, since that combination is alway in flux, our experiences are always changing — even the experience of the same thing is never exactly the same.
And so, it’s no different if you were like this woman was sitting in the dunes. In my opinion, she could just as well have had the experience elsewhere, and maybe some of you have had such a similar experience, for example sitting in your cubicle at work. In other words, there is no magic to the setting, to the external environment — nothing magical that needs to be there. I think any individual’s nervous system — that is, whatever state their neurophysiology is in at the time — could elicit this type of experience.
But, now that we’ve narrowed it down to “ourselves experiencing ourselves in a very different way” that may be causing us to feel ‘blown away’ by a new sense of time, expansion, and connectedness — in this case while she’s sitting in the sand dunes on Plum Island — what about this “experience of eternity”?
Are We Experiencing “Eternity”?
So, let’s look more closely at what we have so far been loosely referring to as “the experience.” Is it actually the experience of “eternity”?
First, let’s look at “Time.” What is “time”? I think it’s our arbitrary way of measuring the continuum of change. Makes sense, right?
Have you ever been asked by an inquisitive young child, “Who decided that a day was 24 hours long? Or, why does a year have 12 months in it? Or, how come a lunar year is different?” And so forth. These are all arbitrary measurements that we have created in our attempt to organize our lives less chaotically. They are man-made.
Plus, we all experience time differently. Sometimes a tough work day seems very long if not much is going on. And, other times the day just speeds by, and the next thing you know it, it’s dinner time! How many of you have experienced not knowing what time it is when you are on vacation? Exactly. See what I mean?
Our sense of time can vary.
Now, what is “Eternity?” First, it must be beyond “time.”
And remember, since “time” is our arbitrary measurement of the continuum of change, the concept of eternity must exist outside of the continuum of change. Makes sense, right?
Saying that another way: “Eternity” is whatever is uninfluenced by that continuum of change.
So what would fall under the category of eternity? In other words, what is uninfluenced by and exists outside of the continuum of change? How about this for starters — the existence of matter, the unchanging patterns of matter, life…our very existence.
But can any of those be actually experienced ?
You see, every experience we have is part of that continuum of change. And if eternity exists outside of that continuum of change, then, while we can talk about it and understand it conceptually, we can’t really directly experience it.
So, what is going on when people report having these experiences — in the sand dunes perhaps — which they may interpret as an experience of eternity or timelessness?
As Compared To What…?
I often say, “As compared to what?…”
Let’s look at “this experience” through that lens.
Compared to each other, we experience “this” differently.
We always experience whatever we want to call “this experience” differently depending on who we are. Each person even experiences it somewhat differently (within him or herself) at different times. There is no constant, identical experience of this experience.
So there really isn’t a “this” — there are really a bunch of different “this’s” — at least one for every mind that exists, multiplied by some unknown number — i.e., a lot! Which essentially means there really isn’t a “this.”
But instead, there are many, many variations on a somewhat similar experience. In other words, there are 1) many variations of the experience of each mind experiencing itself in this different way that “seems to be” more expanded and beyond time, along with 2) that individual’s mind experiencing the vastness of reality.
And I think it only seems that way (beyond time) at first because we are so unfamiliar with how diverse and unexplored (and vast) our own minds are.
So, if every experience we have exists within the continuum of change. And if the concept of eternity exists outside of the continuum of change. Then what exactly are we experiencing?
Experience of What?
I think it’s a combination — we are experiencing our own minds, but we are experiencing our minds in a very different way than it is usually experienced. So there is a significant subjective component to these experiences. And, at the same time, we are experiencing more clearly the vastness of reality — the myriad of energy and subtlety of that expression of energy that exists in the world. So there is an objective component as well. However, as I have discussed, I think the newness of the subjective experience of the vastness of the individual’s mind tends to supersede the objective component, and the individual defaults to interpreting the experience as an “experience of eternity” (or oneness, or God, etc.).
As we have discussed, it cannot be the “experience of” eternity. Eternity as a concept can only be understood and talked about…it cannot be experienced.
Could this sense of “eternity” that is being experienced be reflective of the vastness and expansiveness of our own minds? Could these experiences be hints evidencing the eternity of the mind?
And, as we said, since all experience occurs within the continuum of change, our experiences of the eternity of our minds are also subject to change. So, while they are not experiences of eternity itself, they may be reminders of our individual vastness and diverseness, dancing around the concept of eternity.
Perhaps it is us connecting and experiencing aspects of ourselves in a way that we normally may not be accustomed to, and experiencing the world therefore around us in a way that we may not normally be accustomed to.
However, I think as we grow in our familiarity with “who we are” inside, by continuing to regularly “turn within” and experience ourselves, as we know ourselves more fully within, these experiences gradually become the norm. They become a normal, natural part of the fabric of our everyday life.
Not Just For The Few
And, these are not, as some traditions have claimed, experiences only available to a few. These are not experiences that are only available to people who are experienced long-term meditators, spiritual seekers or ascetics in the monastery or ashram.
No. These experiences are available to everyone, anytime. And if someone has their variation on such experiences and describes it to you, do not be jealous of them, because it does not mean they are more evolved or more spiritually important than you are. It simply means that their neurophysiology aligned in a certain way at that moment and created their version of the experience. Their fears subsided just enough to allow that experience to occur.
And, you can experience them as well, anytime.
We are all much bigger than we think we are. In other words, our minds are so much bigger than we think they are. There are always areas and avenues of our minds that we can explore and exercise and use that we have not yet uncovered. And by uncovering these areas of our minds, we will be able to experience and uncover for ourselves many other areas of reality that exist all around us.
Think of it this way — how much more comfortable and easy could it be than to simply allow our mind to experience itself more and more?
This is what all the great spiritual teachers, poets and seers throughout time have meant when they have said these words, “Know thyself.” By doing so, we can all experience the ‘eternity of ourselves’ as a normal, everyday occurrence.
And that simple, intimate experience inevitably infuses us with the freedom, self-confidence and compassion that will ensure continuing happiness in our lives.
Final Thoughts…Who Cares?
So, after all is said and done, you might ask, “Who cares”? Outside of a few philosophers and academics who are into esoteric bantering about of ideas and abstract concepts?
I am a practical guy. So, I look at this whole discussion from its potential practical value for us as individuals — and for us as a world community.
For me, it is important to get greater clarification — about this whole supposed experience of eternity and notion of “oneness” with creation — because when we realize that there is no ONE way it is experienced, that in fact it cannot literally be experienced at all, and that we all can have many experiences of this “altered state” sometimes referred to as an experience of eternity, it can actually bring us closer together as a world community.
Because it immediately dispenses with the notion that there is ONE way that is THE way. So, when we realize this, we may stop wasting our time seeking that. And we may stop lording ourselves over others claiming to have THE way, trying to make ourselves more important than others.
I actually think that a better understanding of this whole area might even, not only expand our inner knowledge of ourselves, but also could be the seeds for a more peaceful world.
Kelvin H. Chin is a Meditation Teacher, Life After Life Expert, and Author of “Overcoming the Fear of Death.” He learned to meditate at age 19, and has been teaching Turning Within and coaching others in their self-growth for 45 years. He helps people understand their life challenges through their individual belief systems, and helps them find their own solutions. His past life memories reach back many centuries, and he accesses those memories in his teaching and his coaching in the same way all coaches draw on their own available experiences for perspective and effective analogies. He can be reached at www.TurningWithin.org.