I was eight years old, and had just returned from the Catholic Youth Organization summer camp. When I stepped off the bus back in San Francisco, after 2 wonderful weeks of being on my own for the first time, I was so overwhelmed with joy to see my family again that I fell into a kind of swoon. In the process, the world which I had known up to this point, and which I had naturally taken to be all that is, was suddenly dissolved before me, as if it had all been a long day-dream, and now I was startled awake.
I do not know exactly what happened next, but when I opened my eyes, I was lying on a couch in my parent’s house. I realized that these people – my family — were not real, but more like dream characters. Yes, it was as if I had awoken from a dream, but I was somehow still within it, and I became fearful that I had somehow lost my mind. I wanted my family back!
I had no frame of reference for any of this, but then I became oddly detached from the fear, and began adapting to these strange new circumstances. I wanted things to be like they were before, but something told me that they never could be again – I had seen too much, and I could never go back to the reality I had once taken for granted. Now I had recognized it for its essential impermanence. It had no real substance. I now knew first-hand that whatever appears can just as easily disappear, that there is nothing solid to count on, nowhere to find certainty or security.
A man leaned over me. I recognized the family doctor, feeling my pulse, listening to my heartbeat through his stethoscope, and taking my temperature. All the while, there was only this “internal” sense of an I-presence, though not so much as an individual person, but more as a focus of awareness in the midst of an unfolding dreamscape. There seemed a very thin boundary separating inner and outer — an arbitrary one that depended on attention to hold it in place.
After some time, the doctor apparently could find nothing wrong, and we had a “welcome home” dinner later, while I attempted to adjust to a dramatically transformed perspective. I felt a strange mixture of familiarity and affection, combined with a new-found detachment, as I sat with my dream family. I had nothing to say, and I remained very quiet for a long time afterwards.
For the rest of the summer, I lay out on the backyard lawn, watching the clouds trailing through sky, and inhaling the fresh earth, redolent with the fragrance of growing things. If I allowed my attention to go there, I could enter into the tiny shoots of tubers and experience their sensations as they reached through the soil into the light – it was amazing!
At school in the fall, I lost all interest in the lessons, falling into the swoon more often than not. I would suddenly find myself in a room with other children, then I was somehow lying down in my backyard; it was night, it was day, none of it had any substantiality, everything was one piece, just like a piece of smoke. I was in love with this, but I didn’t know what any of it was, nor did it even matter – everything simply was what it was, empty and full, without need for naming or grasping.
People seemed familiar, but were weirdly interchangeable with trees, bicycles . . . it was all breathing, vanishing, appearing, changing; it was all transparent, it was me, but I didn’t know what that was — it didn’t even occur to me. It was already gone before it could solidify enough to be grasped, like river water flowing through one’s fingers.
Sometimes I would find that I had wandered 8 blocks or so down to the Pacific Ocean, through Golden Gate Park, and I was standing at the edge of the surf, but didn’t remember how I got there, so what — just the feel of the water lapping at my toes thrilled me with an indescribable ecstasy, there was no other day than this one.
Sometimes when I was asleep, I found myself practicing flying, and I was able to fly all over the neighborhood, swooping and diving and soaring at great speeds. At other times, I found myself in a kind of school environment, with a lot of other folks that I knew somehow, as if we were an old familiar group, and we weren’t children at all.
I also realized I had this huge love in my heart which felt like an intense hopeless ache — a kind of subtle wound which, if given attention, would prompt spontaneous tears, not of sadness, but a kind of ecstatic longing or divine homesickness. I really had/have no words that can describe it any better.
Anyway, I eventually began assuming the conventions of my young peers — joining in the sports games, laughing at the jokes, collecting baseball cards, and listening to the ingenious little portable transistor radios that had just come on the market. It was all a kind of game, like “Let’s Pretend”, although they all seemed to take everything so seriously, as if it was all real. At any rate, I went along. There was no resistance. It was “no big deal.” In time, it became second nature – just going along, pretending.