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A couple of years ago I was sitting on a beach with my brother. He looked at the ocean thoughtfully and said, “Do you know the feeling of being one with all that is?” I was irritated by his esoteric jargon, and we got in an argument about science and mysticism. I had been taking philosophy classes at the New School in New York and I wanted to show off some of my new ideas. So I told my brother that his feeling of complete oneness is a psychological regression. The psychiatrist Sigmund Freud had written about this before, and I had recently come across his writings during one of my classes.
Sigmund Freud had never experienced the feeling of complete oneness and believed that people who do experience it go back to a child-like state. Since Freud thought that the entire human psyche is just a process in the brain, he believed that the state of complete unity was a psychological condition. While I tried to explain this to my brother he smiled at me and said, “You have never experienced it, huh?” He was right, I had never experienced anything like that, and I had no reason to doubt the fundamental assumptions of materialistic psychology or materialism in general.
Materialism is the philosophical doctrine upon which western science was built. The underlying assumption is that nothing exists but matter and its interactions. This means that all psychological phenomena could also be reduced to the interactions of lifeless matter.
I told my brother that his mystical feelings were all in his head, that his epiphanies were nothing but electrons flying back and forth between his neurons.
My perspective changed a couple of years later when I signed up for a Vipassana meditation retreat. I decided to learn how to meditate to cope with the stress and anxiety that I had accumulated during my years in New York City.
Vipassana is an ancient Buddhists technique that got popularized by S.N. Goenka, a meditation teacher who preferred not to be called a guru, but looked and talked like one.
I tried my best to tolerate the spiritual atmosphere of the retreat center. I thought if meditation was actually going to teach me how to cope with stress, it was worth the effort. I had read some scientific studies conducted by Harvard scientists that proved that meditation can lower stress hormones and even help with chronic illnesses. So I thought: “Sure, let them sing some spiritual songs, and talk about past lives, I don't care as long as it works.” That was my attitude during the first day at the retreat center. However, after a few days of silent meditation, it flipped my world upside down.
I broke down crying in front of a tree because I felt that the same energy that went through me also went through the tree. I felt sorry that I had never seen this before. In this state, I experienced consciousness as an all-pervasive energy that manifested itself in various forms. I understood that my separate identity was an illusion and that I was one with all. Within this expanded state of consciousness, I experienced a transcendental intelligence that seemed to be beyond anything I had previously experienced. My rational brain was trying to come up with an explanation. I was telling myself that this was all in my head, but this other form of intelligence demanded to be recognized as an awareness far beyond my current level of understanding. If I had been religious, I would have thought that I had an encounter with God, but instead, I was shocked and utterly confused.
Mystics from all ages have long have had this type of experience. The descriptions vary, but the idea that something like God is beyond the illusion of the physical reality can be found in all spiritual traditions. Christians, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Muslims, and Shamans from around the world have said in one way or another that the supreme reality is beyond the illusion of the physical reality. You also find this idea expressed in Gnosticism and the thoughts of varies greek philosophers. However, what is most fascinating is that in the last couple of decades these ideas have reemerged in physics. But physicists reject the experiences of mystics and ancient philosophers as too subjective.
I think this is the case because many mystics are willing to step outside of reason and logic to explain what they experienced, while physicists use mathematics and experimental evidence to validate their findings. Mystical writings are often mixtures of vague terms and poetic phrases which aim to conceptualize the experience of oneness, or of a transcended realm, while scientific writings are rigorous and detailed theories addressing observable and verifiable modifications of material interactions.
It is easy for these two worlds to be blind to each other, but I don't believe that science and mysticism are mutually exclusive. In this book I am trying to reconcile different thought systems to provide us with modern explanations of ancient experiences.
Risks and challenges
I am planning to publish the book this summer, but it could take longer depending on how the editing process goes.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter