I was 20. We were just settling in to a house that Jeno and I were in the process of buying from his parents. Jeno had just received a significant compensation pay out (for the time) for injuries sustained in a motor bike accident (he was a little accident prone).
I remember thinking, “well, life is easy street from here on in”. We would own this home outright, I had my dream job, there was a green Porsche 911 with “Freddo” number plates parked in the driveway, two other cars, a great network of friends, life was fun, simple and easy.
It was a November afternoon and rain had been ‘bucketing’ down for a week or more. I was at home waiting for delivery of a new waterbed that Jeno and I had chosen. Jeno had gone to Penrith to get some new tyres for the Porsche. The delivery man was late, and very apologetic. There’d been an accident on Bodington Hill involving some ‘foreign job’ and he’d been delayed.
That afternoon I’d been at work and Jeno dropped in to pick up some money. We kissed and said “see you later”. I remember that day I’d just finished reading Erich Segal’s Love Story.
Life ‘turns on a dime’
When the waterbed man finally finished, my dear friend Lisa came in to the house, took me to the kitchen, and told me.
There had been a head on collision on Bodington Hill. Jeno’s car had aquaplaned in the wet and collided with an oncoming car. As the petrol tank was at the front of the Porsche, it had ruptured, ignited and exploded. The Porsche was incinerated, along with Jeno. His friend Derek, probably in shock, had somehow managed to run clear, albeit with a significant injury to his ankle.
In that moment, everything changed. I fell to the floor. That’s how quickly life can change from fun, simple and easy to my own personal version of hell.
I was 20. I was not at all resourced to deal with this. Life had never dealt me a bad card. Suddenly, I was holding a handful of rubbish.
Dark night of the soul
What followed was a period of shock and intense darkness. I left my job. Lay in bed. All day. Every day. For months. Dear Lisa moved in to look after me. I didn’t want to experience any of this. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to slip, silently away, and not exist.
I withdrew more and more. I was clinically depressed. Life became darker and darker. I was suicidal. I made several attempts to over-dose on over the counter medications.
The light within
On one of these occasions, in intense concentration, willing myself to not exist, I suddenly dropped into a different state of consciousness. I wasn’t my body. I was somehow in my body, but in a different dimension. Formless, timeless, a beautiful sensation of peace, love and oneness. I felt connected to everything.
I wanted to stay here more than anything else. And yet, I somehow knew that if I let go that I would slip into darkness. An internal dialogue began:
“I want to stay here”
“what have you done in your life that wasn’t for your self?”
This wasn’t a punitive voice, just the insistence that the requirement of this state was a level of selflessness that I had yet to understand.
I scanned and scanned. Nope, there was nothing that I’d done that wasn’t out of complete self-interest. I had to go back, damn it. To do the ‘hard yards’ to find my way back to this way of being. But, the incredible gift of this experience was that I knew it existed.
I was so excited. I’d found God! Of course, I had to go and tell all of my friends. They all looked at me like I was completely mad. The kindest amongst them humoured me, but, it was becoming clear to me that this was a quiet, personal, inner journey. A quest that I would be taking on my own. My spiritual journey had begun.
An unresolved riddle
That was 35 years ago. I am so grateful for that original ‘vision’. That moment of dropping out of time, to taste the timeless, so that I could come back and use my time to find my way back to it once and for all.
Am I there yet? Nope! But, it feels much closer, its light is beginning to shine through.
From that moment on, I have known that the greatest wisdom I could come into contact with was within me. And, so my journey to the inside began.
Life has a funny way though, of giving you a gift along with some accompanying baggage to be unpacked. What also followed me from that point on, was that I knew tragedy could strike at any moment. And, possibly worse, I carried the underlying fear that I wouldn’t be able to cope with it when it did. Because I hadn’t.
Depression, trauma, mental illness, a dysregulated nervous system – whichever label you use, all pointed to the underlying sense of disharmony that now plagued my life. Not always completely debilitating, but like I was carrying an unresolved riddle within me.
The bread crumbs started to appear. Thinkers and mystics that had already covered this ground. That pointed to an understanding of our world as a beautiful Mystery that could never be fully understood, just accepted, and ultimately relished.
Despite my fear and fragility I’ve always been quite brave and courageous (these qualities usually travel in pairs). I gathered myself up and garnered my efforts to become – someone. I studied, I practised, I worked, I played. Always striving for some promised future state when I would be complete. Finally, when all of these efforts fell short and I tired of the straining and striving I was left with no choice other than to meet the fear that so far, I had outrun.
I realised there was nowhere else to seek my peace than within. The fear of not being good enough, not being able to cope, not being adequate, was asking to be welcomed and integrated.
A regular practice of looking within (we could call it mindfulness or meditation but the terms are so loaded) had acquainted me with the landscape of my inner territory. I had become familiar with a little ledge that I could settle myself on and watch from. Just observe and melt into being observing presence. I could observe the peaks and troughs (not always without getting caught in them but at least from some distance so that I wasn’t completely identified). I was becoming able to be with these fears rather than having to endlessly flee from them.
Without the need to prove to the world that I wasn’t the parts I’d prefer to disown, I’d have to do something else with these aspects of self. I realised that that wasn’t conceptual. Thinking wasn’t going to bring about my integration. The perfect idea would not re-acquaint me with peace.
I started to ‘see’ the beliefs and attitudes that caused my suffering. They felt very real: “there was something wrong with me”, “I wasn’t good enough”, “I was incompetent”. And, at times, that old defensive arrogance would re-assert itself. This was usually in the form of comparison. That was futile too. There were always those better and worse than me, that approach no longer paid any dividends.
I needed a new way of being, a new way of existing. A new way of living with these fears within me.
The second half of life
Life continued its trajectory, but the second half of life has proven more difficult to be constantly putting things off to some point in the future. Those hitherto unacknowledged drivers have demanded to be encountered and brought into the open.
These days I ride the waves. At times being transparently close to that peace, love and oneness and at other times feeling very far removed from it. The ride continues, but sometimes I can dive into that fear and touch the other side, the place that was never touched, that showed itself to me all those years ago. Time is useful for that. As Eckhart Tolle says: “You don’t need time to be enlightened, but you may need time to realise that you don’t need time to be enlightened”.