My Ecstatic Visions

The Ecstatic Vision is a real phenomenon, known through history mostly in a religious context, that challenges reason. I have experienced these visions three times in my life, and another unusual but related experience, without ever taking psychedelic substances.

There is a famous passage in Emerson’s book Nature in its first chapter:

“Standing on the bare ground, – my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space – all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and parcel of God.”

Many scholars find ecstatic visions expressed in the writings of the American Transcendentalists. Without any further analysis, I will describe my own ecstatic experiences.

1. The first was not a vision like the other three, but related. I was very young, probably three years old or younger, and I was outside the house toddling around in the grass in the sunlight. I fell down and entered what seemed like a dream state. In this condition my consciousness rose into the air and I looked down from some height at my little body, the grass, nearby trees and patio, calmly surveying everything as if this condition was natural. My consciousness then returned to my body leaving me somewhat confused about what had happened. This must have been what has been called an out-of-body experience.

2. In 1970 my wife and I were living in Santa Monica, and we decided to drive up a hill in nearby Pacific Palisades to see the Will Rogers house, which is now a historic site open to the public. After a tour of the house it was late afternoon, the wind was blowing from the ocean, and I asked my wife to drive down the hill to a lower level while I walked down the driveway. With the wind in my face, the huge ocean in front of me with crashing waves and the setting sun in the sky, I had an experience of ecstatic unity with the clouds, the sun, the winds, the ocean. This lasted until I reached the car.

3. In the 1990s I was a supporter of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) which has the mission of bringing the scientific method to study ways of knowing that are experienced intuitively. Through IONS I obtained the book titled The Life We Are Given by George Leonard and Michael Murphy. The book describes techniques for meditation as adapted for Western people, based empirically on a series of yoga and meditation sessions with groups of volunteers.

I worked through the exercises in my living room and eventually was able to stop thinking altogether, the goal of meditation. Into the emptiness came a sense that I was supported by a warm bath in the great spirit all around me.

I never tried that again, but feel I don’t need to because I can stop thinking for brief periods of time when I want to reset everything.

4. During the early 2000s I went on several Thoreau Society trips to Baxter State Park, with group camping. On one trip in 2006 three friends and I climbed a path next to a stream. We reached a waterfall, changed into our bathing suits, and took refreshing very cold baths in the pool just downstream from the waterfall. Afterwards we went separately to rocks and ate our lunches. Then I lay down on a flat rock in the sun and the feeling came over me of oneness with everything, along with a total sense of peace.

After perhaps a half hour we all by silent agreement changed back into our clothes after drying off with towels and walked back down to where we had started. 

I haven’t experienced anything like these episodes since. It could happen any time or might not unless I try another deliberate meditation.