Body and Mind Fell Away

Mystical Experiencer:  Male in mid-forties
Current location:  U.S.A.
Age at time of experience:  41

I had been studying and practicing Zen with fervor for the previous nine months with a teacher who had moved to the city I lived in. In the course of my work with my teacher, I began koan study and was deeply in the grasp of a koan that was assaulting my sense of self. On a beautiful weekend afternoon in late May, I found myself sitting on the balcony of my mother in law’s house. The backyard was bordered by giant honeysuckle bushes that were in full bloom and the air was full of their scent. Bees were buzzing and moving from one flower to another, while birds sang in the trees and flew overhead.

As I sat there, my sense of self surrendered to the paradox of the koan and, in the words of Dogen, a twelfth century Zen monk, “body and mind fell away”. I was overcome with a sense of awe and wonder as the barriers between me, the bushes, the bees, the birds, the trees, the clouds, the sounds of the air and life around me dissolved. It was a truly overwhelming sense of oneness with everything. I was happy to be sitting down because I realized I was dizzy, for lack of a better term.

While still experiencing this overwhelming sense of connectedness, I went to find my wife to share with her this amazing thing that was happening to me. My phone was next to her and as I walked into the room to talk with her, it beeped with a notification that I’d gotten an email from an important address. It was an email from my teacher explaining that he was going to be moving from Maine to lead an established Zen Center that was in need of leadership.

Our small group of students would no longer have a place to go to practice nor a teacher to guide it. This was one of the most devastating things I could have possibly heard in that moment. The rug was pulled out from under me and the world came crashing down in waves of grief I didn’t know I was capable of.

At a moment of oneness with the world around me, my sense of self came back so fast it felt violent. In the compromised emotional state I was in, I cried for over an hour. For the next few days, I had this yo-yo experience of moving from oneness to self-centeredness and grief over losing access to a teacher and a place to practice with others. It was a profound and confusing time.

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