By Sally Hilton-Chalfen
When I was in college, I had a transcendent experience which nearly resulted in my death. I want to share it because it changed my perspective on life and I deeply hope that writing about what I was shown will help you feel more joyful and confident about living and “dying.”
I was driving from Montreal to Amherst, in October 1974. My boyfriend was traveling with me and we got into a discussion about our families and social roles, and how our actions were driven by these internalized expectations. We were wide awake, the car was chilly, there were no radio stations, so we occupied our time talking. I should add that no drugs or alcohol were on board. Over hours of uninterrupted conversation, we started peeling away layers of our socially and psychologically constructed reality — how we were repeating family patterns, how cultural myths were leading us each down blind alleys, and in my case, keeping me in a self-imposed position of inferiority as a semi-conscious defensive strategy. The conversation was exhilarating, our insights accelerated and built quickly on each other. The process became so fast that it was no longer shared in complete sentences.
Suddenly, I was far above the earth. Looking down, I saw the subcontinent of India, and the surrounding oceans and lands. There were a number of tiny golden lights blinking on and I realized that each light was a person attaining enlightenment. Someone was there with me, just behind my left shoulder. He stayed with me and showed me a series of views. I learned by seeing scenes in a giant panorama. While gazing at the Earth, 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. By being outside of my body, but still being “me,” it was clear that my consciousness was not part of my physical being. I then realized that I was a continuing, developing individual, not limited by my physical life span. I understood that when I was born, I had “died” or passed from a previous state of being and that when my life on Earth was finished, I would be “born”, or pass 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 that extends beyond our current lifetime. I understood that the purpose of life is to learn as much as possible and 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 within. 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.
Most of my visual field was taken-up by the Earth. I did notice, off to the right side, a dim figure moving across deep accordion-like folds. The area was very dark, no stars, almost opaque. The figure moved a bit further to the right and although it was not moving quickly, it was clear that this being was traveling across an enormous volume of space that was folded, allowing the traveler to cross vast distances much more quickly than traveling at light speed.
Then the scene changed and I was observing a group of people 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. Those gathered there knew it too. They felt no fear and had reached a shared enlightenment. They knew that their lives continued and that the Earth’s life would continue as well. I became aware that the Earth is a conscious being and is OK with having given so very much to support humans, like a mother who sacrifices to bring up her children.
In the left part of my field of vision, in the distance, I saw a light blue planet that had concentric bands of white clouds. I wondered if the planet was real or a representation of other destinations for humanity. At this point in the experience 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 going to move on to post-bodily life.
I emphatically said, “I’m not ready yet!”. At once I was back in my body, driving full speed toward concrete barriers, marked off by red warning lights due to construction on the left lane of the highway. I was just barely able to correct my car and continue driving down the road. I could only have been “away” for 2 or 3 seconds. My boyfriend told me that he had also just had a revelatory experience “without the visuals”.
After returning to my body, I continued to feel ecstatic for weeks. Experiencing consciousness not tied to biological processes extinguished fear of death. Joy from being shown that life continues after physical life and existed before it, was deep and lasting. Learning something about how time and space work was exhilarating. Seeing that life is meaningful, and its purpose is to learn as much as possible and love as much as possible, gave me a better perspective on the challenges of my own life.
Each person has a share of the original, limitless, universal, energy. That energy fuels a transcendent drive to seek connection and development. We also each carry a bundle of survival needs that narrows our focus and possibilities. Problems arise if a person tries to find meaning and security through increasing power or wealth. Then, unlimited transcendent energy becomes detoured into the limited and ultimately futile tasks of bodily survival.
The revelation, realization experience was so real, straightforward, and powerful that it has been the touchstone for my life. It has given me continuing hope and a broader perspective. Life is meaningful. Death is a transition to more life. Our species, our planet, and our universe are continuing to evolve. Life beyond the body is joyful, expansive and free from the anxiety and pain of the struggle for survival. We are non-time-limited beings in a physical chapter of experience, having opportunities to love as deeply as we can, and learn as much as we can, in a challenging environment.
After I “returned,” I wanted to tell the world about what I learned, but I became reluctant after a psychologist I had told said he was concerned that I might have had a psychotic episode. So, I decided to gain the credibility that I hoped would open minds to what I wanted to share. I worked at a prestigious university, got a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from a prestigious program, etc. I hope my story adds another voice to the chorus of voices that speak about visionary experiences. I hope it is an invitation to trust that life is meaningful and that joy and astonishment await.
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Sally Chalfen is now a retired psychologist who is fascinated by science, spiritual traditions, and transcendent experiences.
Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
This post was originally published on December 7, 2018.