I remember the first time it happened.
I’m not sure how old I was. Probably no older that 15; the movie in my head shows me the bedroom I shared with my father and a bright warm day outside. I was putting on a sock.
Very suddenly, the entire Universe changed. Very suddenly, I knew the Universe made sense. Oh, I didn’t understand it, I just knew it made sense. It was like when your grandfather shows you his special pocket watch, the one with a hinged back so that instead of seeing the face and the hands that apparently move by magic, you see the gears and springs and see that the hands are moving because of a complicated mechanism inside.
Here’s how Brad Warner, my favorite living Zen writer, described it in his blog not long ago:
In fact, this personal and private something was, I now saw, the personality of the entire universe from the beginningless beginning of time right on through eternity. I saw that this thing I thought was located so deeply inside of me that no one could ever even think of touching it was actually spread throughout all the universe. It wasn’t just inside me. It was inside Tau Ceti and Alpha Centuri and the Great Megallenic Cloud. It was there when the Big Bang happened. It was the Big Bang.
I saw that it was the very same intimate, personal, private something – the “me” aspect – of every person that ever lived, will live or could live – including you, dear reader. It was the personal private something of the sky and the sun and the moon and every ant or rock or piece of bird poop anywhere at any time throughout space. Nothing had ever happened or could ever happen without it knowing every intimate detail, bad or good, happy or sad, painful or pleasant.
If that’s not God, then I don’t know what is.
And perhaps I don’t.
Because it didn’t change me into a better person. It did not grant me moral perfection or freedom from the effects of my bad deeds. It didn’t give me magic powers. It didn’t give me extrasensory perception or vast insight into all things. It didn’t even let me know what color brontosauruses were. And that’s something I’d really like to know.
It didn’t leave me with anything to prove to others that it had visited me, like, y’know, when a guy in a sci-fi movie isn’t sure he really traveled back in time until he reaches into his pocket and discovers he still has the autograph he had Abraham Lincoln sign or whatever. Nope. I got nothing but a funny story I can tell. And not even a cool enough story to get me on one of those shows Oprah Winfrey produces!
(I know how he feels. Putting on a sock? At least Brad was walking across a bridge in Japan.)
I also told my friend it was a little like going through life with a paper grocery bag over your head. Then one day somebody lifts the grocery bag for a couple seconds and you see there’s whole world out there.
Well, Brad’s written a whole book about it now.