Robin Samelson (real name) is trained in psychology, in which she holds a Masters degree. She has worked as a researcher and educational designer, and co-authored with Scott Kim,
Letterforms & Illusion, W. H. Freeman & Co., 1989. This experience occurred in March of 1998. I found it of particular interest, partly because of the difficulty of using ordinary language to convey a profound experience, partly because a rough comparison with one type of the rare “hellish” near-death experience (NDE), where the experience is perceived as terrible because of lack of ordinary meaning, suggests that whether “lack of meaning” is positive or negative depends on what you do with it.
While sleeping during the night, I woke up to a different world.
A kind of decision was made at first: was this something to panic over? There was no tension, no stress, no walls to come up against in the psyche, there was nothing. There was no meaning to anything. I woke up my partner lying next to me. “Mars,” I said, “I think I’m having a breakdown.” He remained his calm self. He asked me, “What are you feeling? What does it feel like?” And he listened while I tried to describe what seemed to be going on around me, as if the water I had been forever swimming in suddenly changed textures completely and I was floating in a more viscous, heavier substance. He assured me that I was fine and that I was going to be fine.
After calming down and deciding that panic was not necessarily the thing to do, after about an hour or so, I became very calm and still in this state, I asked myself, “If this consciousness were good for something, what would it be good for?” Within a few minutes, I lay my head on the pillow and found myself on a beach inventing a ritual that would render a specific situation completely benign. And I knew it was exactly the right thing to do. Here was the state that conflict could be rendered by. Here was the state that pain or confusion could be rendered by. It was a deeply satisfying experience for me to be creating a ritual and know that it was a deeply effective process.
(I found myself not quite clear on an aspect of the above description, so I asked ” While you were talking to Mars were you still “in” that other world, or had you “left,” returned to this one, then went back after, or what?” She responded: -Ed.)
I spoke with Mars as I was having the experience. I did not go in and out of the experience during the conversation, I could not have done that as I had no control over that perception. Mars’ safe and comforting attitude toward the experience enabled me to choose not to panic, rather to calm down enough to ask myself how I could best use this state of mind, for what purpose would it be best used? From there, an answer came to me and I found myself creating rituals for different situations.
In getting this submission ready to post, I wrote Ms. Samelson “…but find I would still like more: can you describe the “other world” you found yourself in? Did it have sense objects, e.g., like our ordinary one? I know this may be hard to do, and if you find it is not describable in ordinary language you can tell me that, but, if possible, I would like something more “concrete” to enrich your account with.” She responded: -Ed
I’m happy to further describe the other world, but I’m not sure what you are trying to see.
For example, had there been a radio on, I would have heard it and understood the meaning of the announcer, but the meaning would not have engaged my mind. Had my cat walked into the room, I would have pet him but the meaning of his presence in the room (hunger or companion ship) would not have registered with me.
The fresh flowers by my bed were no longer fragrant. It was as if the atmosphere had changed and was now made of a mix of gases that absorbed odors and meaning. If I had been cold, it would not have mattered. It may have registered but I didn’t have to respond to it. Also, it was as if the state of mind were perceiving at a time after something had wiped the slate clean of anything that might be called a cultural artifact.
Contributor’s Comments on the Experience
The experience gave me another level of comfort in the world. It further acknowledged that the creation functions in my work and takes courage not to recoil from it. Walking into another world, into another kind of physical world in the psyche, while the visual integrity of everything in the physical world remained the same, told me that I moved into a different space and would return, changed, to the one I knew. I would forever understand the process of creating ritual for oneself and for others. And I wondered, ritual is a transcendent experience, but it is not the source experience. Somehow I had immersed into the source. The ritual is a kind of gateway for moving into a source field and out again.