By Sally Hilton-Chalfen
When I was in college I had a transcendent experience which I want to share because it changed my perspective on life. I most deeply hope that writing about what I was shown can help the reader feel more joyful and confident about the meaningful course of life.
In October 1974 I was driving my car from Montreal to Amherst. A close friend was with me and we got into a discussion about our social and family roles and how our lives were driven by these expectations. The car was chilly, we were wide-awake, and there were no radio stations available so we occupied our time by talking. Over hours of uninterrupted conversation we started peeling away layers of our socially constructed reality: how we were repeating family patterns, how cultural myths were leading us down blind alleys. Our conversation was exhilarating. As we talked it seemed like our understanding and insights were building and accelerating and it became an almost automatic process. After layers of previously held assumptions were peeled away, I suddenly found myself far above the earth.
Looking down, I saw the subcontinent of India and the surrounding oceans and lands. There were tiny, golden lights going on – about 20 lights sprinkled around the top half of the land with a handful within the eastern and southern regions. I realized that each light was a person attaining enlightenment.
Someone was there with me, just behind my left shoulder. I never turned around to look, but I could “see” him. I didn’t seem to need eyes in this situation. He stayed with me and taught me through what I could see. It was like a giant panorama. First, I learned that time is not linear: it moves at different speeds and can go backward or forward. Linear time is simply a property of biological existence that helps us with survival tasks. Being outside of my body it was clear to me that I was a continuing, developing individual not limited by my physical life span. I saw that when I was born I had “died” from a previous state of being, and that when my life on Earth was finished I would be “born” into another stage of development.
Joyously I realized that everything in life makes sense – it is purposeful. Every moment and action gives us opportunities to learn important skills for a future beyond our current lifetime. I understood that the purpose of life is to learn as much as possible and to love as much as possible. Everything learned – through feelings, through intellect, through experience – is helpful in the continuation of life after this life. I also saw that every animal, plant, and rock has awareness and holds a spark of universal life energy. In my revelation/realization experience these truths were self-evident. They were obvious – “Oh, of course!”. It felt like blinders I hadn’t known I was wearing fell away, and I saw what had really been there all along.
Off to the right side of my field of vision I saw a dim figure moving across a field of deep accordion-like folds that looked something like scrunched fabric. The area was very dark, no stars, almost opaque. The figure moved a bit further to the right and although he was not moving quickly, it was clear that this being had traveled a vast distance. The figure was almost floating in the enormous expanses of space that were folded-up inside the “fabric”.
Next, I was observing, and in a sense I was with, a group on the top of a green, rounded mountain. Looking out I could see that there were more groups huddled near the tops of other mountains. It was raining hard and the areas between the mountains were filled with water. I knew that I was seeing the ending of human life on Earth. The groups gathered there, knew it too. But they felt no fear – they had reached a shared enlightenment. I was aware that the Earth is a conscious being and, like a mother who sacrifices to bring up her children, is all right with having given so very much to support humans. I also learned, after humans are no longer here, the Earth can recover.
Then, in the left part of my visual field, in the distance, I dimly saw a light blue planet with concentric bands of white clouds around it. I wondered if the planet was real or a representation of possible next “destinations” for humanity. Then it dawned on me that I was seeing and learning things that are not available to see or know during biological life, and that I was about to move on to post-physical life.
I said, “I’m not ready yet! ”. Suddenly I was back behind the wheel of my car driving at full speed toward some concrete barriers that were marked off by red warning lights due to construction on the highway. I was able to control my car, get into the right lane, and continue driving down the road.
Immediately after returning to my body, and for several weeks afterwards, I was ecstatic. Learning about how reality works and knowing that life continues after physical death was exhilarating. Seeing that life is meaningful, that its purpose is to learn as much as possible and to love as much as possible, addressed my existential anxiety. Experiencing consciousness while I was not in my body, not tied to biological processes, quelled my survival fears. Having been shown that life continues after physical life and exists before it, brought me joy that was deep and long lasting.
Another portion of the information I received was that people who keep trying to find security through accumulating more and more materially, are stuck. Each person has a share of the original, transcendent, limitless, universal, energy. That energy fuels a transcendent drive in each of us which seeks connection and development. We also have survival needs that can narrow our focus and possibilities: problems arise if a person tries to find meaning and security through increasing wealth and power. Then unlimited transcendent energy can become detoured into the limited and ultimately futile tasks of bodily survival.
I want to finish by saying that the revelation/realization experience was so real, straightforward, and powerful that it has been a touchstone for my life. It has given me continuing hope. Life is meaningful. Death is a transition to more life. Our species, our planet, and the universe are continuing to evolve. I hope I have been able to convey enough of what I saw and learned to share some joy, encouragement, and an expanded perspective on life.
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I know that my credibility is important for anyone to seriously consider what I have described. After that transcendent experience I pursued an ordinary career centered on understanding the human mind, emotions, and relationships. After college I became a research assistant at Harvard, and went on to graduate school at UCLA where I wrote my PhD thesis on research about psychological factors and coronary risk. My clinical career included working for and then directing student psychological services at three colleges and universities in Los Angeles. I went on to supervise doctoral students at the University of Colorado and developed a private practice focused on the problems of depression and anxiety. I recently retired from clinical work, but I continue to be fascinated by the sciences and by transcendent experiences.
FROM CELIA – If you would like to contact Sally Hilton-Chalfen, please write a comment at the end of this post on the web page.