Can you recall the single most terrifying moment of your life?
If you’re like me there are plenty of those heart-stopping instants. The day your car skidded off the road, the first time you stepped in front of a crowd to deliver a speech. To utter the words, “I Love You,” to someone for first time, to know you must say, “it’s over.”
If I was to pinpoint the single most terrifying moment though, I’d say it was the night I watched my body start to disappear.
Well, you’re right – drugs were involved. Like many of my generation I experimented with mind-altering substances at far too young an age.
On this particular evening , I was sixteen, excited because my parents were gone for the evening and I’d planned a co-ed slumber party in our basement rec room. Someone had scored some tiny purple pills billed as ‘microdot, (supposedly a form of mescaline) down in the Bronx, and my basement was the perfect place to take our psychedelic journey.
The party got off to a roaring start, we’d smoked a couple of joints, swallowed the microscopic ‘dots’ and were perched on sofas and easy chairs in a loose circle while Lynrd Skynrd’s Freedbird (one of my favorite tunes at the time) blasted through the speakers.
Swaying to the music I glanced down at my hands. Wait! They were shrinking. Panicked I leapt up.
I can’t begin to describe the horror and fear I felt in that moment. I bounded up the stairs and into the bathroom, tears streaming down my face. I had to look in the mirror to see if I was there. I was, but I was fading fast. Soon I’d be nothing.
I was dissolving.
A couple of close friends cradled me as I sobbed and wailed.
Okay, trite I know. The quintessential bad trip. “I’m me-e-elting….”
And so what?
I mean besides warning me off psychedelics for a good long while, what’s the point of this experience?
Decades passed and I didn’t get it.
Yet, the experience sometimes haunted me, I’d wake up with a mini-anxiety attack, wondering if I was disappearing. And if I disappeared … then what? There’s no me.
I ‘knew’ this wasn’t the case really. Although I’d eschewed the Catholic teachings of my childhood, my explorations of other spiritual traditions continued to convince me ‘I’ was much more than my body.
Occasionally, very occasionally, I even felt briefly connected to the divine, to the great One, the Goddess herself.
Mostly though I felt very stuck in this body I disliked, yet was completely terrified of losing.
A lesson had been offered to me that evening. About ego and form and opening to the great mystery. And I couldn’t or wouldn’t accept it. At 16, already I’d started on my trajectory of rejecting the discomfort of the great unknown.
That ‘disappearing’ terror came and went through my 20s and 30s, but mostly I stayed too busy to have time to even feel it.
Busy, busy, busy.
Go. go .go.
Because if I stopped I might slow down enough to notice myself disappearing. And I couldn’t get that 16-year-old terrified teenager out of my brain. To her mind there’s nothing worse than that nothingness.
Lately, though, (it took long enough!) I’ve come to a new understanding of what the disappearing might have been about. Perhaps my daily meditation habit is building my tolerance for the sensation of dissolution.
Maybe, just maybe, if I hadn’t been subconsciously stressed about hosting a party in my parents’ home, worried about what the other kids thought of me, and consumed by the myriad teenage angsty thoughts that haunt all 16-year-olds, maybe that experience could have constituted a ‘good trip.’
Maybe I was dissolving into the that great Oneness, rather than a black void of nothingness, maybe I could have experienced it as the arms of the Beloved. The big Love. Not the ‘my heart’s racing and I can’t get enough of you’ love, and not even the unconditional love that a mother experiences. But the Great Love. The Love we all long for.
We long for it and yet we chase it away.
Because, yes, it is terrifying to open the heart that much. And terrifying to lose this ego in service of the One.
I’ve been complimented as being ‘solid’ many times. A solid person. Dependable. There.
And solid is good.
Except when it’s not.
Lately, well, I’m not so solid. In fact I think I’m dissolving. Everything I once thought immutable is now up for reassessment.
And what’s the opposite of solid? Maybe it’s flow. Maybe it’s surrender. Maybe it’s that allowing self to dissolve into One.
That’s menopause. This is the gift that midlife brings us….if we pay attention and open to it.
We dissolve, and then we are reassembled.
Fresh. New. Radiant.