I came across an excerpt from Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book, Living with a Wild God, recently. (“Zapped by the Invisible World,” The Baffler, Vol. 25, 2014, pg. 13.) I’ve never read her any of her works but this segment spoke to my interest in mystical experiences. She was describing an event from her youth that occurred while she walking along the crest of a hill at sunrise. The incident was profound and life changing. “…the chunky old reality machine would never work the same again. I knew that the heavens had opened and poured into me, and I into them, but there was no way to describe it, even to myself.” (Ibid, pg 13)
Having faced a similar encounter in my mid 40’s, (Blog 11/28/13), I read Ehrenreich’s account a second time. When I did, my memories exploded like a sunburst. I felt no acute joy as before, but the recollection of that other dimension I had once entered was its own reward.
Like me, Ehrenreich has no religious inclinations. We are women of a similar age and both of us, I would guess, are skeptical by nature. Yet she describes an event very much like mine and like me she can give no account for it. She calls it a “cyclone of the brain” that creates a dissociative moment, yet one so real, it alters one’s view of reality. I agree. After such an experience, life — which formerly appeared solid as a concrete bridge — becomes an icy overpass strung between the soft edges of a crevasse. Nothing is ever certain again.
That Ehrenrich’s latest book has received mixed reviews is understandable. Someone who has never shared her experience will find her description too fanciful and too ripe with hysteria. But I and others like me who have touched the jello edges of reality will probably find ourselves left hungry by her account of that sunrise morning when she stood on the rim of a hill. Reviews, after all, are subjective and touch upon personal experience. Perhaps that’s why Friedrich Nietzsche observed reality is always a matter of interpretation.
(Originally published 8/11/2014)