Thursday, 12 November 2009

Things That Happen (2)

From the age of seven, I began to have spells of what I would describe as moments of physical remoteness. My instinct tells me that somehow my experience of the old woman appearing in my house unlocked and opened a doorway. When the doorway opened, I was at once introduced to a different and altered form of consciousness. It started as a thin thread of connection to a world of spiritual existence. I believe my early experiences of these moments of physical remoteness are not exclusive to me and many other people experience something of a kind at some point in their lives. Certainly the mind of a child is more open but not exclusive to an altered experience or embracing the unknown. When you are a child, much is unknown. How a person relates to these experiences and positively uses them is an entirely different matter. The world of spiritual existence is as much inside me as it is outside of me in the physical world. As much as I took the first tentative steps to connect with this spiritual existence—I knew it did not normally belong in the physical realm. It was only many, many years later in life that I realised I had also taken the first steps towards my own soul.

The first spells of physical remoteness were extremely brief and were often over before I was fully aware the episodes had happened. Sometimes it could be as brief as a few seconds or half a minute. Over the next few years, right up till the age of about fifteen, the duration of physical remoteness grew longer. I usually sensed it start with my eyes. The best way of describing it is when someone stares ahead at a fixed point of interest, and for some unknown reason, they continue to stare beyond a period of time that is necessary or natural. But unlike someone simply staring blankly at something random when their mind drifts off on a deep train of thought—the moments of physical remoteness were incredibly intense and all my senses seemed heightened. Sounds, even distant ones, were clear and distinct. I started to learn that I could filter one sound out against another, no matter how distant it was. Likewise, visually, colours and shapes took on an extraordinary vivid definition and sharpness. More oddly, I noticed without turning my head, I could see definable objects at the extreme edges of my peripheral vision. I saw these objects as if they were straight in front of me. In spite of my heightened senses, paradoxically, the whole experience generated an intense feeling of disconnection from the world around me and even my own body. Outwardly, I appeared to be functioning normally when these moments of physical remoteness occurred. I might appear fixed or concentrated, but still able to carry out a task; getting dressed, walking to school, cycling a bicycle, and more often I started to realised they tended to occur when I was doing something automated or requiring little deliberate thought.

Between the ages of twelve to sixteen, the spells of physical remoteness became far more regular, sometimes two to three times a day, and they could last anything from a couple of minutes to fifteen minutes. I didn’t have to walk across a room to see if a magazine or book was on a shelf or behind the sofa. I knew it was there because I could see it from where I was. The novelty value of this experience long wore off by twelve years of age and I began to become depressed and troubled because I didn’t feel in control of it any more. I became more aware of an internal struggle as my conscious mind wrestled to take back control of what appeared to be subconscious and out of my control and choice. I stopped hanging around with my friends and remained close with just one. I feared the spells would continue to get even longer and I might one day never snap out of one. I feared walking under a bus on the way home from school or loosing time on school study. In June 1984, things came to an abrupt head.

My parents and I were spending two weeks holidaying in New York and Florida. The evening before we travelled to the USA, I was over at my friend’s house. He sensed I was anxious about the flight and he gave me a single white tablet he said he found in the house that would help ease my nerves. To this day, I have no idea what the tablet was, whether it was a prescribed drug or entirely illegal. The following morning, before we travelled to the airport, I stupidly swallowed the table with some milk. What followed were the most terrifying two days I have ever experienced.

At the airport check-in desk I was already feeling weak, but not sick. The weaker I became, the more aware I was becoming of a spell of physical remoteness. I had over some months come up with various ways of staving off a spell. I would engage in deliberate conversations with anyone or recite poems to myself that I had learned at school. I discovered the best method to avoid a sudden and prolonged spell was to look at numbers on signs, numbers on the clock, numbers on the chalkboard at school, numbers on car registration plates, and try, by a series of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, to make answer be my favourite number – seven. It worked for a while with the flight numbers on the overhead monitors for a while until we boarded the flight to New York.

I finally succumbed to it shortly after take-off, and so began five and a half horrifying hours on that plane. My parents presumed I was just nervous and particularly quiet. I just couldn’t force my eyes to close and break the initial stare. Once in, I thought I would never ever come out of it. It was the first time the physical remoteness resulted in an entire out-of-the-body experience. I could see myself sitting in the seat of the aircraft as if I were looking at myself in a mirror. I moved uncontrollably around the plane as if I were caught in the violent current of a wild river. I remember seeing myself taking the passenger flight program leaflet out of the seat pocket in front of me. I must have held that program in my hands for more than two hours, in the same position, on the same page, just staring blankly ahead. Wherever I was, my feelings of my panic and upset seemed to show no outward signs of distress on the face of my body. I just sat there in my seat – almost appearing not to care that the most important part of me – my soul and my spirit – were somewhere else on that plane and I had no way of getting back. Years later, my mother has no recollection of me speaking much on the flight or at any time sleeping. I had long fallen out at fourteen years of age with mainstream Catholicism, but I prayed to God that day to help me try and get back to my own body. I felt helpless, vulnerable and exposed to anything happening to my spirit and soul. I felt I couldn’t protect them and they were exposed to elements and influences they should not be open to.

I have no recollection of how I got back to my body before we landed. I was terrified I would get lost and be left behind. I can only say that something guided me back. Some power beyond me. Whether my body simply became so weak and I managed to close my eyes, I will never know fully. But somehow I got back and I knew I was utterly shattered. The intense heat of that New York summer day pushed the temperature into the high nineties even at five in the late afternoon. I remember my Dad arguing with cab drivers as he insisted he wanted one with air conditioning. He thought he got one, but the driver’s idea of air conditioning was rolling down the windows. I think I went unconscious three or four times in the cab as my parents tried everything from slapping me on the face, dowsing me with water, and sticking small bottles of aftershave under my nose to rouse me. The traffic across New York City was particularly bad that day and the driver just wanted to get the crazy sick kid out of his cab for good. We stopped outside a hospital for about ten minutes with my parents debating whether they should take me in. I couldn’t even stand up under my own weight and sat on the sidewalk. My mind and my body were numb and lifeless. They put me back in the cab and gave me a whole lemon to bite on. I gnawed at it for a while until my stomach heaved and I shoved the lemon back into my mother’s hand.

I remember little more of the next thirty-six hours of our stay at the Milton Plaza Hotel in New York. I slept through those hours, but most of them were still filled with the most appalling nightmares I have ever had. I think I experienced every fear a child could have in those thirty-six hours of nightmares. When I awoke finally and properly, I was glad to be whole again. Though the spells of physical remoteness did continue for about another year, they dramatically declined in frequency and intensity. I had no real idea what I had experienced, or its greater meaning back then, but I learned there is meaning, purpose and reason in all our lives. I was simply growing older and moving on to another stage of experience and awakening on my journey towards my own soul.

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