Jane Goodall: Lost in awe at the beauty around me

 

Lost in awe at the beauty around me, I must have slipped into a state of heightened awareness. It is hard – impossible really – to put into words the moment of truth that suddenly came upon me then. […]

It seemed to me, as I struggled afterward to recall the experience, the self was utterly absent: I and the chimpanzees, the earth and trees and air, seemed to merge, to become one with the spirit power of life itself. [….]

And I knew that the revelation would be with me for the rest of my life, imperfectly remembered yet always within. A source of strength on which I could draw when life seemed harsh or cruel or desperate.

– Jane Goodall in Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey

Jane Goodall describes a mystical experience. I imagine many have had similar experiences at some point in their lives, whether spontaneous or induced by psychoactive plants or something else.

It’s a taste of oneness, and a sense of self can still be present or apparently gone as she describes.

Often, it seems more vivid and real than our apparently more mundane everyday experience. It seems more real because, in a sense, it is. This is what we are and the trance of being caught in our stories and thoughts temporarily obscures it.

It’s also very common that these experiences stay with us and feed us for the rest of our life. It may also inform how we are in the world, and I assume it has fueled her passion for preserving and protecting the natural world.

Where does the sense of oneness and absence of self come from?

We can say it’s just a noticing of what we already are.

To ourselves, we are consciousness and all our experiences – of ourselves and the wider world – happen within and as this consciousness. Any sense of being something particular within the content of experience – a separate self – is created through a combination of thoughts and sensations.

Thoughts tell us that’s what we are and the mind associates these thoughts with particular sensations in the body, often from a slight and mostly chronic muscle contraction, and these sensations lend a sense of solidity and truth to these thoughts.

When we have these type of mystical experiences, the trance is temporarily lifted and we notice what we are and that all our experiences happen within and as what we are. There is a taste or experience of oneness.

Sometimes, the trance returns and what remains is a memory. It’s an experience that came and went and becomes something to remember.

Other times, this lifting of the trance is more stable. It lasts and clarifies over time, often through an apparently messy process. It’s revealed as what we are and what all our experiences happen within and as.