Close to summer solstice 2022, I found myself with sepsis and in acute septic shock and rushed to the hospital.
I was in Ski, having just returned from the Andes mountains. A tooth broke followed by a strong infection in my jaw and face. I received antibiotics from the emergency dentist. (This happened on a weekend.) It didn’t seem to do anything. That Monday, I went back to the dentist for more work on the tooth, and on my way back to the house, I blacked out.
Somehow I was able to walk the ten minutes back to the house, but I cannot remember anything about it.
I came back to consciousness naked on the couch in the basement of my parents house, sweating profusely, ice cold, and shaking so strongly it was close to impossible to use my phone to contact anyone. With a lot of struggle, I was able to leave a message for my wife (who was sick with covid in the guesthouse) and my brother.
My brother eventually came, didn’t seem to take it very seriously (he disappeared into the bathroom for what seemed an eternity and didn’t tell me where he was), and eventually took me to the emergency room.
They relatively quickly suspected septic shock, called an ambulance, and I was rushed to A-Hus in Oslo. They put ten or fifteen tubes and cables in me, informed me that my kidneys had collapsed, and put me under observation for 24 hours. After that, I stayed in a corridor in the infection section of the hospital for a week. (With people screaming and dying in the rooms I was outside of.) It was quite an experience.
Between regaining consciousness in my parents’ basement and receiving the diagnosis, fear came up. I realized something serious was happening. I had no idea what it was. I had fear of something seriously happening to me that would affect me for the rest of my life. And I also noticed that a fear of dying did not come up, that seemed OK.
I also had a profound gratitude to the nurses and doctors and the healthcare system in Norway. I could not have had a better experience. (Apart from the infection wing of the hospital being full due to a surge in covid, which has more to do with the priorities of politicians and voters than anything else.)
It seems that the safety valve for my system is to shift the center of gravity more strongly into my nature.
During this whole process, I found myself strongly in and as consciousness. Consciousness was strongly in the foreground and whatever happened within and as consciousness – the symptoms, the events, the people, this human self, sensations, thoughts, and emotions – was all much more in the background. It was happening, but what it happened within and as was much more clear and strong.
That also happened when I had a heat stroke in Oregon several years ago. (Likely because my doctor told me to eat less salt, I was already eating very little salt, and it was a very hot summer.)
I also suspect it’s how the initial oneness shift happened when I was sixteen. My human self was under a lot of stress at the time (to an extreme and overwhelming level), and I suspect my system dealt with it by shifting the center of gravity into consciousness itself.
Initially, when I was fifteen, there was a shift into an observer-observed duality where I found myself as consciousness (without having those words for it) and the whole world – this human self, others, thoughts, feelings, and so on – seemed very far away.
A year later, there was a shift into all – without exception – as God. This human self, thoughts, feelings, ideas of being this human self, ideas of separation, and so on, was all recognized as the play of God, as God taking all those forms. That was the language and interpretation of this human self at the time. These days, I would say it in a slightly different way. There was a shift of the center of gravity into consciousness, into the consciousness I am, and all content of consciousness was recognized as that, as happening within and as the consciousness I am.
SHIFTS IN CENTER OF GRAVITY AND ATTENTION
That initial oneness shift stayed. The shifts have more been in how much in the foreground or background my nature is. I have gone through phases where it has been very much in the foreground – the first ten years or so, during a period when the no-self aspect was in the foreground, and I would also say now. And in daily life, it also depends on where attention goes – to my nature or specific content of experience.
In my case, the shift into my nature recognizing itself did definitely not happen because I was especially noble or into spiritual practice or had prayed for it or anything of that kind. It happened because my human self was so messed up and needed a safety valve, and – for whatever reason – shifting the center of gravity into my nature turned out to be that safety valve.
My human self had absolutely no interest in spirituality at the time, and even now, I prefer to avoid language related to spirituality as much as possible.
Image by me and Midjourney
I realize I got into a kind of life story here so decided to put it here since it’s tangential to the topic of this article:
For about ten years following the initial oneness shift, my system was in a kind of honeymoon phase. Everything seemed to fall into place in amazing ways. The bliss inherent in my nature was in the foreground. Many of the hangups and traumas of my human self were in the background and apparently dormant. And so on. I also engaged in a lot of practices these years, often for hours a day – basic meditation, Christian meditation and prayer (Heart/Jesus prayer), training a more stable attention (Shamata), preliminary Tibetan Buddhist practices, Zen practice and koans, tai chi and chigong, yoga, and much more.
Then, following my initial marriage, there was more of a focus on my life in the world and engagement in social and cultural changes. My nature was still here and easily noticed, but there was less active focus on it. This was also the beginning of a long dark night phase, initiated by feeling I got profoundly off track when I left most of what was most important to me – the Zen center, my community and practice there, my graduate studies that I deeply loved, and so on – in order to support my wife.
After some years, this human self got back into meditation and inquiry. This led to further shifts, including six months where the “no self” aspect of my nature was very strongly in the foreground.
And after that, the dark night got into a much more intense phase. My chronic illness (CFS) returned very strongly. I missed out on my dream job because of it. I got divorced and literally lost all I owned in the process (house, belongings, and so on). I found myself back in Norway. I asked the divine to “show me what’s left” and a week later, a huge amount of trauma came to the surface, including a profound and overwhelming survival fear. Since then, it’s been a kind of reversal of the initial honeymoon phase. Everything seems to fall apart in amazing ways. There have been innumerable false starts in many areas of life where something amazing and good is happening, only to fall apart within a relatively short time.
At a human and psychological level, I have been shattered. And my life is repeatedly being shattered.
(Perhaps it says something about my life these days that apart from my immediate family, I had no visitors. When I mentioned the episode – the septic shock and going to the hospital – to friends, it was mostly met with a shrug and not really acknowledged, which is perhaps because most don’t know how to respond to such a thing.)