The following is a passage that was written by Terry Ray that appeared in Healing from Trauma, a Survivor's Guide to Understanding your Symptoms and Reclaiming your Life by Jasmin Lee Cori, MS, LPC.
Shadow and Light
I don’t know why I had this experience. It might have had something to do with genetics, or maybe I was chosen. You could call it a blessing or a curse, whichever way you want to look at it. It might have been karmic, or the chemicals in my brain, or luck. Or it might have simply been that there was so much pain in ordinary reality and the longing to be free of it was so great, that the longing caused it.
I was walking on a flat, hot sidewalk in Houston, looking down towards my feet and not really seeing anything. I was headed to the yoga school where I had just started taking classes. This was in the early 70s and yoga was virtually unknown in the US at that time. I was talking to God as I walked. This was not unusual for me. I had been talking to “Him” as long as I could remember.
I was about seven blocks away from the school, lost in a silent monologue, when I got fed up with our one-sided relationship. It was getting old. So I just put it out there with no apology and with a tone of annoyance and frustration: “Do you really exist, or am I making this up?” (I didn’t talk out loud of course.)
“Of course I exist!” I heard. It was not exactly spoken in words as we know them, but it was loud and clear. It seemed perfectly natural. So natural, in fact, that I continued in the same line of questioning. “But how can I know for sure?”
Whatever It was, the Voice, the Presence, just smiled. I couldn’t actually see the smile with my eyes, so it’s hard to explain how I knew that smiling was happening. This was the most gentle, loving, all-encompassing smile that I could imagine, and it was also in me and in everything all around me.
In that instant I got it. I realized I was being answered. In the same moment, It vanished. My mind stopped. What had happened was so startling that my mind could not begin to make sense of it. I had no context for an experience like this. I’d never heard of a "Presence" except what we called God in Sunday School. But that God was 'up there' and only spoke to Moses and a few other prophets. I didn’t think I was the kind of person that God would want to talk to.
Still, I felt like I had been seen or witnessed by something that knew everything there was to know about me, much deeper than I knew myself. I was not only seen, I was absolutely, one hundred percent accepted by a heart that was as vast as the world. My heart opened with joy. Life had felt flat gray and monotone before. After this, it was a three-dimensional symphony of brilliant colors. Everything was vibrant.
I suspect that in truth, everything was the same, but the way I had characteristically perceived my world had been replaced by a new way of perceiving. It was clear to me that this wakeful Presence was in everything: the trees, the breeze, and everyone—including me. I was awed by the exquisite beauty of the interconnectedness of everything. I was expansive, and complete in a way I would never have imagined possible. My heart was full to the point of bursting. I assumed this delight and joy would never leave me. I trusted this wholly because there was nothing to fear. I was trust.
Perhaps because I didn’t have any frame of reference to understand this, I didn’t tell anyone about my experience. In fact, I didn’t mention it to another soul for about 15 years. I knew that talking to God could be considered prayer, but God talking back could be considered fanatical. At least it was back then.
Besides, I didn’t need to talk. I was in a state of bliss. My lifelong struggle to do something and to get somewhere had stopped. I had arrived. I didn’t need anybody or anything; I was full and complete. I had finally risen above all pain and sorrow and there would be only pleasure from now on. I had made it to happily ever after. The world was only love and light and it was here to stay, forever.
And it did stay, for a long time. There were nine or ten months of love, beauty, mystery, and magic. A dream beyond what I could have hoped for; a love that couldn’t betray me. I was reunited with my essential nature, the Beloved.
When I crashed those months later, it was as unacceptable and devastating as it had previously been perfect and unshakable. I awoke from the dream into a hard, cruel world.
I was in a bookstore one afternoon when I suddenly became sick. Really sick. I couldn’t stand up. The pains made childbirth seem easy. I was taken to the hospital, where a nervous intern ordered me to stop screaming. When the pain in my stomach subsided several days later, I looked around and the unthinkable had happened. It had disappeared. I was alone again, and not at all happy about it. The light had gone as quickly and as thoroughly as it had come. And it stayed gone. And it was awful.
I blamed the sickness. I blamed the antibiotics. I blamed the doctor. I did everything I could think of to get my happiness and delight to come back. I went to the old places where joy had been singing in the gurgling streams, but the joy was now gone. I meditated on the same candles through which I had merged with boundless light, but the only thing that happened was that I fell asleep. I prayed, begging the Beloved to come back, but I knew no one was listening. I tried chanting. Sufi dancing. Fasting. I got high from the fasting, went into altered states of consciousness, but it wasn’t the same, and when I ate food again, I came crashing down. Nothing worked. Everything that had been so perfect was now all wrong. There was some mistake. I searched and searched for the error and tried to change it back.. I would have given both arms and legs to go back to the Light.
Years of frustration and anguish went by before I realized that I had to stop comparing my present experience with those past luminous months. It was tough. Acceptance was a slow process for me. Letting go only happened when I had exhausted myself, fighting tooth and nail. I wore out from trying.
I began a sensing practice, along with meditation, in an effort to get back to my precious Light, but what emerged was entirely different. With gentle guidance from teachers, I slowly began to feel the pain in my body. My first awareness was of contracting against sensation. I could feel my shoulders pressing forward and that my breath was shallow in my upper chest in an effort to protect myself from feeling the pain. I was squeezing against the truth in my belly and contracting in my legs in a way that made it impossible to feel the ground.
As I brought more awareness to my body, I felt the deep ache of despair and a desolate sense of loss. I could feel how much anger there was in me. I was angry at my boyfriend, at my mother, at life, at myself and at God. I believed if I was angry, I could never be a spiritual person, but finally I learned to accept the anger. With more guidance, I returned to sensing and I felt heat in my chest and pressure in my head and heard the words I had been repeating to myself: “It’s not right. It’s not fair.” This time I was conscious of my imprudent mantra.
I experienced loss and sadness. I felt sadness as a weight on my chest, like my lungs were pressing down. It was more than the loss of the exquisite states; it was of the loss of any hope that I would ever get them back. Feeling the loss of hope was a turning point. By continuing to hope, I had remained stuck in the future, denying reality. After that, I became willing to open to the possibility of not knowing and began to feel that, like it or not, here I am. Accepting felt better than holding on. A little curiosity peeked out.
I started to feel my body open. I began to sense my arms, legs, toes, belly, and head. It wasn’t great. I felt physical and emotional pain, and I realized the terrifying truth that darkness, disappointment, fear, and rage had not disappeared but were still alive and thriving in the world and in me. It was unpleasant but it was the truth, and I could finally accept it. It felt real.
I became interested in sensing subtle movements in my body and the experience of aliveness in my body. I began to be aware of the fullness of my weight on the earth, feeling the pull of gravity while sitting, standing, lying down, and walking—and it felt good.
I know now that the innocence that I felt during the time spent in this loving energy is lost and gone forever. The belief that I am immune to the pain of the world will never come back. I returned to my place on earth, but it was a different place and a different earth. It held more wisdom. I was in my body. The planet was holding me. I began to open in compassion to the suffering I was in. One summer, I cried almost every day. The tears felt good. With tears came room to breathe again. That was about 30 years ago.
Joy now comes back to visit. I walk in the mountains and disappeared into the trees and streams and flowers. I am graced with Presence, and my heart is feather light. I rest in open awareness that is fluid and caring. I feel a gentleness inside. I can be empty yet full of love. Yet joy is not the only visitor. Sadness, loneliness, fear, and anger, also make an appearance and I taste the terrible ache of loneliness.
In the beginning of my journey, there was no room for hate, irritation, or traffic jams. Others had the anger problem; I knew better. These days, I don’t know so much, but life flows through me more consciously and more easily. Both feelings that I like and those that I don’t like arise and pass. Hatred and despair arise in me, because I’m human. There’s more space now, a silent awareness that knows what is present and is simply here. It is like the empty space between these letters and words. I don’t always like what is in the space, but consciousness can hold it, if I allow it.
Would I trade how I am now for what I had before? There are days when I’m not sure. Sometimes I would like to be back in those golden times. Yet when I feel the solid earth beneath me, there is quiet simplicity. What arises, arises, and can be met with natural presence and awareness. I feel an intimacy with myself and the totality of my surroundings. In searching after the exquisite Light I distanced myself from my own real life. If someone had told me that the reality that includes darkness would be as desirable as one that is all light, I wouldn’t have believed them, yet I have found it to be true, because it is more whole. The happiness I feel now is not as dramatic as my earlier bliss states, yet it is more complete. It is big enough to include the hell realms as well as ecstatic states. Big enough for traffic jams. It is the happiness of freedom.