What do you, or can you, bring back from those in between moments? That space between life and death. That moment you know an ideal you held has been broken, at least momentarily you realize it, and then life never seems to be the same.
A series of shocks over my lifetime grants an interesting perspective here. There’s a lighthouse in these moments that allow a view down dark alleys and into our sacred cows, our shadows, rituals and dogmas.
The first shock that comes to mind for me is when a ball bent my little finger sideways. I was 11 years old. I quickly pressed it back in place and wanted to pretend nothing happened. Tough guy, right? Huh? No, I just didn’t care to change or deal with the inconvenience an injury, like a broken finger would require. I had a fury to my life to hold the rage of earlier trauma’s down. The ugliness and visibility of that injury drew enough attention to demand the traditional approach to deal with a fracture. A few years later I was able to play two weeks of high school football with a broken ankle before the color and swelling became so profound it posed a liability to the powers to be to allow me to continue without shutting down. I grimaced and drank.
But there was a moment in those moments encountering those fractures I can now see back into with deep wonder. We hear medical science explain in alarming moments our body and mind do amazing things. They shift from normal into a heightened function – almost like how I fumble with settings on my iPhone camera from one shutter speed to another. Or worse, where rather than capture one simple picture, I get 20 back-to-back frames because of some fancy camera setting.
Our experience in these heightened altered states do (may or can) give us a stream of life at a different speed. A series of sensory flashes with more granularity, deeper color, saturation, and contrast.
If we are living a conforming life these will be especially alarming. We won’t immediately see the opportunity, the “beauty in the lightening strike”. What most see is a delay, just as I in childhood and early adulthood saw the fractures as obstacles to a higher imperative: aka, my plan!
I’m not alone. Most people I encounter also remark how these “bumps” in the road seem to threaten their plan. Injury, sickness, and such circumstances get labeled as adversity, temptation, and in some cases as an excuse they couldn’t complete what looked to be a “cookie-cutter” plan to perfections. You know the formulaic life that just looks and feels to good or perfect to be true (because it usually is not … not true). There’s a body in the closet if you look deep and far enough into a superficial perfection. But we don’t stop noticing how Michael Jordan played sick during a championship basketball game to earn a “place in history”. But the point here is not about the plan, it’s about the moment – a unique moment with yourself and the universe.
The first time such a shock is encountered, it would be odd to know how to unpack it like a master. For most, it would seem quite natural to see it from a perspective of how an intended life path is being threatened or compromised, how one is being veered from the life being lived, “the” or “a” pattern is being interrupted, the accomplishments we were in process of achieving or completing are being challenged. Are we going to have to alter our plan? Countless phrases can spring into our head. How am I going to tell my father? What am I going to say to my wife? What is my son going to think of me now? The legacy we planned is being re-written.
So there was a darkness to the return I experienced after drowning. The return was quiet and restrained. Very surreal. Looking back there was a sense of invincibility. My grandmother passed. My father passed. Dear friends passed. Now I realize in my own way, my ease of accepting death and realizing these people, some semblance of them be it spiritual or otherwise, was still with me. Sure I felt the losses and honored their lives. But something in retrospect to that encounter with death shifted, transformed me. I’m still unpacking that nothingness and am recalling more and more from that in-between state. But that’s not the real point here, as I’m just using this NDE to illustrate how looking into the cracks of the consciousness through our traumas are potentially the greatest of gifts of the universe.
The first time I began unpacking a trauma incident as I encountered it was with my discovery of a betrayal by my wife (at the time – yes, I was once married). I stumbled upon such hard evidence I could no longer lie to myself of the relationship and life I had envisioned for myself. In shock, finding myself at home and alone this afternoon, I made my way to lie down on the pavement of our drive that led into the privacy of our back yard. I lay down in the sunlight and allowed myself to shake and vibrate, cry and moan. It felt like the abyss I’d envisioned. It certainly lived up to its billing! But that sensationalism isn’t really the point either – it’s more that I survived and maintained connection with myself in spite of the circumstance. I watched the slow-motion frames that were offered me and made note of all the sensations. Those were the glimpses given me into an enhanced view into my own life – past, present, and future.
A few years later part of my identity as a man was broken from another angle. I’d always been a standout athlete. I was playing in a highly competitive amateur basketball league in Houston with several ex-college and NBA players. I was still holding my own in my early 40’s. But I tripped leading a fast break and couldn’t brace my fall coming down directly on my left patellar tendon. My kneecap slid up to my mid-thigh. I was euphoric. Other guys were hurling when they looked at me laying mid-court in a fetal position with my kneecap on my quadricep. The beautiful trainer at this high-end gentlemen’s gymnasium came to my service as we waited for an ambulance. She asked me if there was anything she could get me. With a flirt and confident grin, the words “my mommy” came out of my mouth – and they worked well to their own purposes. But that’s not the point here either. It’s more about the call I made to my therapist in the ambulance. I was calling to cancel my appointment with him the next day, given my compromised position. I also shared how free I felt of an old, actually lifelong burden, of being – or rather carrying a false sense of needing to be a standout athlete. In the crevice of this trauma, my identity was given a new glimpse less influenced by a role, a powerful view of myself, that had certainly been useful at one time, but may have needed to go to make room for another. Not really intending to rationalize or explain here. Who am I to say? Who am I to put the narrative or story requiring a conclusion to such a matter? I decided to let it go. To try to let it go. My body and life let it go slowly.
Of course there was the actual lightning strike. Like the drowning, it was surreal. It was calm and peaceful. The drowning occurred in my leisure with family and personal relationships in focus. The lightning struck in my corporate act during a period of deep reckoning with my deeper self-expressive calling. But again, unpacking the intense moments of my drowning and lightning strikes are not the real point here. Those are uncommon and un-ordinary, of little practical use to the common person – but rare enough to have made this deep into this line of thought!
The real point is to look deeply into the glimpses given you by the universe. A relatable encounter may be when I drove up to my home I’d been sharing with my fiancée and her three daughters for several years. I opened the garage door to find most of my clothing and a few personal items in piles and a note for me. The note indicated the relationship was over, please don’t enter the home, they’d figure out how to deal with the phones and vehicles and other property that was technically mine (or ours), and that the rest of my stuff would be placed in a pod and delivered to me.
Upon encountering this I was in deep shock. I sat there in my vehicle for six hours unpacking what was going on. She’d blocked my calls. I sent her a text. All I could make out is that she was upset and believed I was having an affair. To be fair, I’d been watching the lady be picked apart by her own life the past few months. She’s been sexually molested at work, both parents had fallen to addictive prescription drugs and some old familiar family patterns were pulling her down. I sure wish I had been have an affair as she’d fantasized – at least I’d had somewhere to go! I had no one. I’d invested everything with this lady – with the exception of holding out some part of me that was work in progress. And that was what this six-hour glimpse into trauma was about. It was about looking into my life and how I’d invested in these relationships and into this “doing” for others and family and conforming or trying to conform to some of the norms of society at the time to the best of my ability. It was unsupported (by nature, the universe, the program, or some dogmatic practice running through) or I’d have found a different, more “cookie-cutter” step forward on this path. But again, there was the abyss.
There wouldn’t have been some strange man parked across the street watching my every move. There wouldn’t have been a few nights sleeping in my car before I figured out my next move. There wouldn’t have been a call to my therapist in these six hours as I was parked in the driveway getting my therapist’s boiler plate checklist of what to do when tragedy hits to keep from killing yourself or someone else – his professional duty. I even called my daughter who had hinted she’d heard from one of my stepdaughters of some potential problems with the mother. As I mentioned to my daughter, I felt paralyzed. She offered to drive three hours to come and get me. I knew that wasn’t necessary.
So that plan that had been operating through me slowly died. This sudden notice to my surprise and shock was the beginning of its demise. It wasn’t that family, a traditional relationship and business were this or that – like good or bad or whatever spectrum of measure of support or system of life you want to feed into the circumstance I encountered to measure performance. Nobody really needs to be right or wrong. It’s just clear this wasn’t meant to be – not that delusions should or should not be the decider in life … but I certainly gave the better part have their time to come to their senses and come to my senses to look for better foundations in which to invest. Wouldn’t it seem with such a painful outcome there’d be a lesson in there somewhere?
Now this experiment spoke to me in harsh life terms. My adult children even watched it unfold and felt the loss. I had operated with confidence that sacred cows exist. What once seemed untouchable or “holy” was without doubt without doubt NOT. But again, that’s not the point here.
I tell myself to keep examining and looking within. I get lots of questions from professionals, alternative minded folks as well as well coifed lifetime seekers with years at ashrams and workshops, safe places to contemplate such crevices that have pulled on my lifeline. For me, it’s clear the messages, perhaps lessons or insights in some vernacular, that I’ve harvested from multiple traumas have enriched my life, although sometimes it just seems like it’s been extended for some unknown or unrecognized calling as of yet. As I live it, I do look for the opportunity to share those glimpses. They soften hardened spots in one’s outlook.
Honestly (and I love to begin a sentence with that word, but that’s another story…), it is these quiet places where deeper, inner meaning feeds into one’s being. There’s no book. No narrative. No movie. No role. And then all of a sudden you find others coming around and if you pay attention, you see subtle new ways to give and receive, how to operate with deeper dignity. But at times it seems others are being called to interact in my life. There just couldn’t be so many coincidences … or that may just be my old cause and effect narrative running in the background.
Finding myself a bit lost by most people’s standard seems a luxury.
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