It was an autumn afternoon at Vassar College. I had stayed up the previous night writing a paper. I turned the paper in at an office across campus and began walking back to my dorm room, eager to rest. Soon, it would be nightfall. The cold wind blew across my face. Leaves fell along my path. Gothic architecture merged into the shadows. Tombstones in the nearby cemetery reflected the last vestiges of sunlight.
It was the fall semester of my junior year. The summer before I had backpacked through Europe, racing through seven countries in four weeks. The trip had opened up something inside me. The dam clogging the river of my emotions had burst, and when I returned to school that fall, I knew something big was happening. I changed dorms, moving from a busy one in the center of the quad to a quieter one on the far side of campus. Whereas I had spent my first two years at Vassar constantly socially engaged, I kept more to myself that fall. And things were shifting. From deep within the center of my chest, new life was gushing forth, some of it painful, some of it ecstatic. I felt in many ways, that a part of me was dying, that I was simultaneously witnessing and enacting my own death and rebirth. At times, sheer dread overtook me, and I feared the worst. At other times, I welcomed the haunting transformation with open arms. Either way, that whole fall still remains in my memory as the most enchanting season of my life. There, in an old and dignified campus where generations of the nation’s brightest minds had walked before me, I was going mad.
(This blog entry is an excerpt from Preparation For Great Light: Recollections Of A Christian Mystic by Clint Sabom)
On this particular day, though, I only felt a pleasant sigh of relief walking back to my room. It was time to rest, to sleep. I met my friend Elsie for a quick chat and a few cigarettes, and then I walked to my room. I suppose I wasn’t quite ready to go to sleep just yet, so I decided to lie down on my bed and listen to some music. The piece I chose was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. In retrospect, that seems like a typically cliché album for a college student to mellow out to – but at the time – such a thought did not even enter my mind. I had always found the album soothingly beautiful, but I had never given it a close listen…until that afternoon.
I only had Dark Side in its cassette form, so I put in the first side, starting at the beginning. I had blue Christmas lights in my room that hung around the edges of the ceiling. I turned them on and turned the overhead lights off, and then I lied down on the bed, the tape beginning to play. I relaxed, flat on my back, arms outstretched, letting go of any stress I still carried from writing the paper. As the music reverberated against the walls, I heard the album more pointedly than I had in the past. The theme of death was everywhere. Every chord, every lyric, every tempo change and loop – all angled towards death itself. Wooing death, avoiding death, loving death, fearing death – the whole crescendo building towards death. Waves of fear began to wash through me. But rather than weakening me, the fear was tremendously empowering. I was confronting my own death, at a psychological depth that I had not known existed. The music played on, and I saw my whole life in review – all the events leading up to the present moment. And as if for the first time, it truly sank in that it would all end at some point. I would die. The more I embraced the terror of dying, the deeper I began to sink inside myself. It was as if the music was gently guiding me from my conscious, everyday mode down to the depths of my own soul. And I sensed a chord running from the center of my heart up to the ceiling. And I was riding the chord downward, deeper into my body. But if I focused on the sinking, or even the process, then the experience would disconnect from itself. I had to focus on death. And the more I did, the deeper down I went.
The music droned on melodiously. Death consumed me. Waves of terror flooded me. But I did not have to control anything. I simply had to let the music move me, to be an open vessel devoid of any will of my own. I sank down, deeper and deeper inside myself. I was coming closer and closer to the center of my own heart. And I was terrified to die, absolutely horrified of it, and I knew that I had always been scared of death like this – this fear had always been here. I just hadn’t fully confronted it.
Eventually, the music came to the Great Gig in the Sky, which is the solitary voice of a woman wailing angelic, wordless sighs. Perhaps the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard. From the depths, I lay in terror on the bed, hearing her hypnotic overtures, and I realized she was the angel of death. And she was telling me it was all okay. Yes, I would die someday. Humming me gently into the abyss of death. Her vision appeared before me at the edge of my bed, wispy and phantom-like, singing, Yes, you are going to die, and it’s okay. And from the center of my heart, from the bottom of the cord running up to the ceiling, the chord I had followed downward to my spinal column, my heart opened, eager to meet death boldly. The chord transformed into a string of white light, and the string pulled me upwards. My whole body shook in ecstatic spasms, as if pulled upwards by the light. Tears flowed out of my eyes uncontrollably. Every pore in my body vibrated; I couldn’t have stopped the process if I tried. I managed to look at the angel on the edge of the bed. Am I being saved? Yes, you are being saved, she sang. I let it all just happen – crying, releasing, shaking, until the music was over, the angel disappeared, and the tape clicked off.
I lay on the bed in the most blissful state I had ever known. I rested as a vessel of pure electricity, having just been brought to a state of perfect equilibrium. My spine vibrated – warm, tingly, yet solid. I felt seven energy centers pulsing from different spots along my spinal column, reminding me of something I had recently read in a book from my Eastern Religions class. But I didn’t completely understand. In fact, I had no tangible categories for mysticism in my awareness until that day. I had been neither an atheist nor a devoutly religious person. New Age and Eastern concepts had seemed interesting, but a bit unreal and fantastical. I lay on the bed that day, 21 years old, knowing then and there that something life-changing had occurred, something that would forever alter the way I looked out of my own eyes.