Editor’s Introduction:

This anonymous scientist has an MA in Cognitive (Experimental) Psychology and a D.O. in medicine, and is board certified in family practice. He has been an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and is now in private practice. His totally unexpected and unusual visionary experience took place when he was 30 years old in the most unlikely setting of a military briefing.

Riding the Dragon: An Unexpected Encounter

In the summer of 1984 I was 30 years old, fresh out of my Navy medical internship and assigned as a general medical officer to a Marine Corps Air Station. Glad to be out of training, and excited to begin my first tour of active duty, all seemed right in my world. The base was here in the continental US, and was largely a training command. There were no wars or deployments on the horizon.

It seems important to make note of several personal aspects of my life at the time – if only to anticipate questions others may have. I had been married for 10 years at that point, and no marital or financial problems were occurring. I had no psychological difficulties and I had never used any form of psychoactive drug (and have not to this day). I was a near teetotaler. Nor, at the time, was I engaged in any form of meditative or spiritual practice. In fact, it was a time when such concerns were far from my mind.

As is customary at military installations, personnel newly transferred are given a rather lengthy series of “orientations” to their new post. One of these to which I was assigned took place in a modern, well-lighted auditorium that could have been a lecture hall in any university – hardly a place in which one would expect to have a “mystical” experience. Nonetheless, that is what occurred.

As I write this account in November, 2000 I can still see the room clearly. The plain concrete floor was terraced in a series of curved steps to form the typical sloping lecture hall. There were curved tables bolted to the floors, and simple chairs arranged behind them. I was seated about 2/3 of the way to the back, on the left side of the room which was about 3/4 full of uniformed Marines and sailors.

The “orientation” being given this day consisted of an interminable series of presentations and lectures given by various officers at the base. These presentations dealt with mundane aspects of the base bureaucracy, and were completely uninspiring.

As I recall, it was probably about 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning when, after enduring several hours of these talks, I was looking at the presenter when my eye was attracted by something on the floor near the feet of the man in front of me. My initial thought was that a field mouse had run there. However, when I looked directly at the place I had sensed motion, I was astonished to see that the man’s legs seemed somehow to be elongating through the concrete floor! As I visually followed them “down” they appeared to merge with a very large, living structure which appeared to be the back of some sort of truly enormous reptile.

I was quite confused by this, as one might imagine, and looked intently to determine what I was seeing. The image did not fade, but became ever more clear. As I looked around, I saw that the same “connection” was true of everyone in the room. Each stood revealed to me as a kind of animated extrusion from the body of the beast – individual, but of a piece with the same living organism.

Until this point – which may have been 30 seconds from the initiation of the event – I had been so astonished and intrigued by what I was seeing that I had no sense of alarm whatsoever. That changed to a momentary sense of anxiety, or even dread, when it occurred to me to look down at my own legs.

Sure enough, I was also attached. And in that instant I could feel, as well as see, that intimate attachment. I could feel the animating energy flow into me, giving me form, existence, and conscious individuality.

With that, came a flood of extremely positive emotions. I felt vibrantly alive, safe, warm, connected with all that exists. All sense of astonishment, skepticism, or disbelief vanished and was replaced with a directly experienced knowledge that what I was being shown represented a more fundamental reality, and that my normal experience of separate beings was not wrong – just incomplete.

The joy and comfort of that realization was tremendous. For several minutes I could do nothing more than sit back in my chair and bask in that glow. While I did, I looked.

The vision had become as solid and as clear as my normal waking experience. This was no daydream or fantasy. The solid walls and floor of the auditorium had become somehow mildly transparent, allowing me to see everything there clearly, but at the same time being able to look “beyond” and “below” to see this great reptile – or, at least, parts of it. It’s size was so enormous that I could not see where it ended. It’s back seemed to stretch forever and the number of beings it extruded from itself was infinite – and they were infinitely varied. As they stretched away from me I could see them less clearly, and my attention seemed to stay focused more closely at hand.

The back of the beast was extremely intricate, with scales or plates that did not overlap, but were tiled like the shell of a turtle. The color was predominantly green, but with intricate patterns of tan, white, and various subtle patterns of iridescent, almost jewel-like, colors. It was inexpressibly beautiful, and shimmered as it subtly moved. It was somehow surrounded by a warm, comforting darkness, and what light there was seemed to come from within it.

I sat amazed and completely engrossed. I was so enthralled by the beauty I saw that I could think to do nothing else but stare in absolute awe. As I looked far “beyond” the walls of the room, over the back of the beast and into the distance, it made a sinuous, fluid-like movement, reared up its huge head, and looked back at me.

The head was enormous, flattened, and comprised of plate-like armor of a tan color. The eyes were protected by the overlap of these plates forming triangular recesses from which reptilian eyes of deep gold gleamed. In those eyes, to my astonishment, I saw tremendous compassion and – humor! I swear it smiled – at least with its eyes. I was filled with a sense of connection, attachment, or friendship with this enormous reptile. Although no words were exchanged in that brief eye-to-eye encounter, it seemed to me the message was clear:

“So, for a moment, you see. Relax. Don’t take yourself so seriously! All is well. We are forever one.”

After a moment or two of examining me with great amusement, it turned away. I was left with only a view of its back once again.

That view remained absolutely clear for a period of several more minutes. Then it slowly faded, and the room regained its “normal” appearance. I could no longer see the great beast, the warm darkness, or the connection all of us had to it. My vision was again blocked by mere walls and concrete. Altogether, I estimate the whole experience lasted between 5 and 10 minutes – really quite a long time.

I do not recall anything of what happened the rest of the day. I apparently showed no outward signs for I was not immediately hospitalized. It would be many years before I mentioned this experience to anyone.

I remember feeling somewhat dazed for several days after this event, and working furiously to understand it while performing my duties in a perfunctory manner. No further visions occurred, and I rapidly concluded I wasn’t experiencing a psychotic episode. As time went on I became more re-rooted in ordinary experience and basically decided to “let it be” – to accept the experience just as it was and to get on with life. I dimly recalled hearing that visions occasionally occurred during meditation or trance states and had no serious prognostic significance. I chalked it up to that.

In the 16 years since that time, I have had no further such experiences and have practiced traditional, conservative, medicine for the entire time.

Recently however, perhaps as a part of my own mid-life crisis, I have thought much more about the transpersonal aspects of medicine and of life. Quite recently I was struck by the realization that I had never once in all those years applied to my vision the word which I believe most people would use. What I had seen was not just an “enormous reptile” – it was a dragon. And all of us were on its back.

Within the last week I have read that “Zen provides dragon-riding lessons.” Perhaps I now have a faint inkling as to why such lessons are needed.

Contributor’s Comments on the Experience

Partially as a result of this experience, and partially due to more mundane factors, I am re-evaluating my career. I have applied to a post-doctoral fellowship in integrative medicine and plan to finish my PhD in transpersonal psychology. I hope to blend these disciplines into my practice and my teaching.

And, for the first time in my life, I have begun a regular meditative practice. To sit, perchance to see.