Reviewed February 2019:
I was going to tack this topic onto the end of the Stage Two chapter, but it deserves its own heading as this is a stand-alone movement on the journey.
I call the migration from Stage Two into a permanent Stage Three ‘The Transition‘ because that’s exactly what’s happening. As always, I can write with the authority of a retrospective view of what was happening but at the time (2013 – 2015) this period was also a challenge for me and not understood at all. It’s not an encouraging read so far, is it? Amy found it equally challenging:
Eventually as the months passed I found that the changes to the whole psyche, the inner silencing of thought patterns, the loss of the felt presence of the Guru (teacher), and the difficulty in relating to the inner emptiness must have subconsciously produced a state of anxiety which was diagnosed by the doctor as an anxiety complex. I found it very difficult to accept that the physical illness I now experienced was due to my mind.
Night-time was quite nightmarish and no amount of mantra repetition and prayers had any effect, and during the day my body just collapsed. If anything could reveal the power of the mind this episode of my life surely did. It took several months before slowly life returned to normal and routine was again established.
I will try a day/night analogy here for the Transition and see how that looks. Let’s say the end period of the Stage Two I have described is like a twilight. The reality, which used to be clear and vivid in the full sunlight of the self, starts to become blurry and dim as twilight envelopes our world. Our connection with perceived reality become weakening (the pane of glass in my case) because we can no longer clearly see or touch it. At the time my main fear was that this twilight would deepen and I’d eventually end up in the dark with no identity to hold on to, which is exactly what happened. This period ended as the Stage Three no-self reality I write about, although I didn’t know it at the time.
What I discovered during the Transition is that it wasn’t the dark I feared so much as losing the light! There was a period where I moved between the twilight and the darkness and I found that the latter was so much harder to accept because I still had a memory of what life was like with sunlight. The difference between someone born blind and someone who loses their sight later is that one has no sense of what they are missing, while the other person does through memories of an alternative.
The constant switch between twilight and darkness gave me a point of comparison and I realised I didn’t want to lose the light, even in a diluted form. The concept of being in total darkness, of being without a self resulted in moments of overwhelming fear and even anger at a loss of a me that I never asked for. Welcome to the Transition.
Bernadette writes of a fear along the same lines, although I am not sure if this relates directly to what I call the Transition, or to another stage beyond Stage Three, that I write about in my chapter called Where to Next?.
It was a time of utter terror as the self fell away: ‘Now I cannot convey what it is like to stare at some invisible horror when you don’t know what it is. Just knowing what it is maybe all the defence you need; but when you’ve gone through your list of name-calling and it does no good, you just have to resign yourself to not knowing and face it anyway. This thing I had to stare down was simply a composite of every connotation we have of ‘terror,’ ‘dread,’ ‘fear,’ ‘insanity,’ and things of this order.
I don’t think I need to elaborate much on my analogy. Substitute ‘self‘ for twilight and ‘no-self‘ for darkness and you’ve got the idea.
My transition took place towards what ended up being the winding-up of my life in Australia and the first couple of years of being settled as a resident of Thailand. The final months of my time in Australia were so stressful that it is hard to distinguish everyday uncertainties with anything deeper. My memories of that time are almost gone so I will move onto a period I do vaguely recall.
I began my Thai life in the beachside destination of Phuket, where I rented a pool villa to treat myself for the challenging achievement of actually getting there. I had seven months left of a twelve-month leave-without-pay break from my government job before returning to work in Canberra (I ended up taking early retirement and settling in Thailand). I had separated from my wife, sold my house and all options were on the table in a positive way.
Phuket is not the sort of place I’d want to live permanently, but it is a fun environment to spend an extended holiday and not stressful in any way, so I was amazed when I was hit by regular panic attacks. During these periods I lost touch with myself and everything around me; very similar to that experience I had thirty years ago and described earlier. It was an overwhelming isolation of great intensity and really worrying. Remember that at the time I had NO idea about most of what I write about here and so I associated these episodes on the big changes happening in my life and the uncertainties of the future. Having said that I was still puzzled because my ‘new‘ life was very positive and enjoyable, in such contrast to what I had been through, so I didn’t understand why I should be having intense panicky moments over and above the general disconnection I have written about in Stage Two.
I experienced several of these and for the first time in my life (I had been off all anti-depressant medication for six months) I went out and bought some Valium as an experiment to try and take the edge off the panic, which as a non-pill popper is an indication of how distressing these events were. In Thailand, no prescription is required for many medications that would require a doctor’s authorisation elsewhere. Therefore, when I was given some little blue pills in a small plastic bag, I hoped the pharmacist understood what I wanted and had given me Valium and not Viagra 🙂
After six weeks in Phuket, I moved to a beautiful rental property on five acres just outside Chiang Rai in the far north of Thailand, where I lived for three months. A further twelve months in Chiang Mai completed my nomadic existence before I settled permanently in the northeast of the country with my new wife, which is where I have been based for over four years. One of the consistent themes running through every one of these locations were the panic attacks, not related to difficulties with my new life but because I kept slipping into a ‘lost‘ space, a void where ‘I‘ disappeared. I mostly stayed off Valium (I still have a few pills left from Phuket I keep as a memento!) and as these events tended to happen at night (not always) my defence was to get up and DO something to distract myself and try and reconnect.
Writing about these panics now makes it all seem a bit ho-hum but it wasn’t at the time. They weren’t an everyday occurrence but the attacks were very unpleasant and the concern that one of them would totally overwhelm my reality was at the back of my mind especially at night. Do you remember that list of attributes I gave in the last chapter for loss of self, which read ‘………without memories, the emotions attached to them, separate body consciousness and no relationship with the person attached to your name or in the mirror?‘ Try that one at midnight and you might get a feeling for how frightening these events were.
I also wrote, ‘It isn’t the dark you fear it is the loss of light‘. Funnily (I can say that now) the cure for these events wasn’t extra illumination but more darkness! Over time I became more and more based in a no-self reality and memories of what a light-filled world looked like faded, which made the darkness an increasingly ordinary experience. With an increasing dilution of the mind’s ability to create an individual self a corresponding inability to compare one with the other happened. A now reality without self-awareness became dominant and fear dissipated as a result. My panic attacks stopped a couple of years ago.
In the next chapter Stage Three – Living with No-Self I share why this darkness needs to become permanent as an important staging post on this odd journey to Truth.
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