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"An upwelling sense of joy . . .”

Alan is thirty-four and single. He runs a start-up company in the communications industry. Alan describes himself as serious and witty. As we talked over breakfast in a cafe, his witty side revealed itself more and more during the couple of hours we spent together.

For fun Alan keeps up with current events, reads, relaxes around the house and goes walking. (Interview: late ‘80s)

Alan’s inner life:

I remember having a dream when I was nine or ten that a friend who lived down the street and I had a magic fence post. We could pick it up, one on each end, run down the street carrying it, and fly. The dream was very vivid. After that first one I had other flying dreams. They were tremendous fun and I felt expanded and free. There was great joy looking down and seeing grassy hillsides and green trees.

Before we moved from the old house I would go over to the playground and some self-reflection would come over me in the solitude. An inner feeling would well up that there was a greatness, a hugeness to life, a feeling that there was something more than myself which existed, something intangible.

I never thought in terms of the Catholic Church with which my family had a tenuous affiliation in terms of birth and death. I don't think I was baptized although I know my father was.

Yet I felt there was something I had to find, but I didn't know where—either within myself or outside. There was no framework within which I could understand it. I associate this with an upwelling sense of joy to the point of tears. This has been a recurring theme in my life until today. Sometimes now I have too much intellect which cuts me off from beauty, but then art or music will be a catalyst and that appreciation wells up again.

I spent a lot of time alone in nature in childhood. I'd go to the playground on Sunday when nobody was there, on misty fall and winter gray-feeling days. The experience of joy might last for less than half an hour but it would affect me for hours thereafter. I would have to go home and lie down. In thinking about this experience I felt I was destined for greatness and dreamed of leading other people to this experience. I felt special because I had this experience but didn't exclude anyone. I felt everyone should have it. It gave me a goal, a purpose.

I went out seeking this experience. I'd walk through the woods and also take any opportunity to see rousing political speeches on television. I remember the first time I heard the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King and also the speeches of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. My family were strong Democrats who admired, respected and loved John Kennedy. Even today I am moved listening to their speeches.

I felt great love flowing out to the universe and wonder in connection with the world, the stars, the universe as a whole. I often thought, "I'm here for a reason," and wondered what that reason was. I wanted to know what the secret was. I knew what I was seeing, feeling, and experiencing was only a small part of reality.

When I was twelve or thirteen, after we moved to the new house, I had a paper route. I met two brothers and one day we went up in their attic to look at the older brother's Peanuts’ cartoons. Suddenly I felt very strange, separate from myself. It was a strong experience and it frightened me and exhilarated me at the same time. I could hear myself speak but I was not the speaker; I could see myself act but I was not the actor. Things were going on by themselves without my being involved.

I thought, "What is this? I like it, it's different. Am I losing it? Will I be able to get it back?" It was powerful, new, foreign. It lasted ten or fifteen minutes. After I came downstairs, went out in the fresh air, and started to ride my bike home, it faded.

About a year later my sister and I were watching television at night and I went into the kitchen to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was standing at the counter and clearly experienced being separate again. As I got the bread out I was looking down on my body from five feet over my head. There was the bread, buttering itself. I thought, "I'm standing here not doing this, but yet it's being done." It was a very enjoyable experience. I told my sister about it and we got into a discussion about infinity.

When I was seventeen I started getting interested in the concept of spirituality. I read books by Edgar Cayce, Kahlil Gibran, and others. I remember lying on my bed on the Fourth of July, 1973. I started to not fall asleep, it was a feeling of falling within myself, like taking an elevator down. As I fell down the different floors, I became extremely light in my body. I got up and walked across the room. I wasn't really walking, but floating. I made the motions of walking but I moved along through thought.

A beautiful celestial woman was sitting on the chair in my room wearing sublime garb. She had a flowing veil over her made of dazzling, sparkling light. She was holding a beautiful baby with a star or moon on its forehead like the universe. When I looked at them I felt incredible love, attraction, association, familiarity, closeness. I looked into the woman's eyes and the baby's face and felt that this was the most beautiful experience I'd ever had.

I wondered, "Who are you?" and thought, "Yes, I know who you are."

I turned around and looked back at the bed on which my body still lay and became panicky. I went to turn the light on, made the motions of walking without touching the floor, and then ZOOM, I was back in the body with a jolt. I came up through all the levels nearly instantaneously. Then I was able to reach over and put the light on. I jumped out of bed, ran upstairs with a scream welling up in my throat. I was frightened yet I was not. The experience was awe-inspiring and I felt a mix of amazement and fear. I knew this had been real, more real than physical reality. I didn't doubt it.

Soon after this experience I hitchhiked to Colorado and there read a pamphlet on meditation written by a Buddhist monk. It involved staring at a candle and imagining the self get farther away until I would be looking down on the earth. It was hard and didn't work for me. When I got back home I tried hypnosis and telepathy with a friend. We were sitting on a park bench in Kalamazoo, Michigan when two Asian monks wearing white or saffron robes came walking down the other side of the street.

They turned into a laundromat, my friend nudged me and said, "Hey, there're your monks."

I went across to see if I could talk to them, but when I went into the laundromat they were nowhere to be found nor in the alley behind. At the time I felt they had come for me and viewed this as a spiritual experience. Soon after, I learned a meditation technique which did work and took a spiritual direction with my life.

I was away on a retreat where I was meditating a lot and fasting. One night I lay in bed and experienced falling and feeling light within. I remember rolling over, but my physical body wasn't rolling. It was like I was on a rotisserie. The door opened and a being looked in at me as though he were going to stab me. I didn't see a knife but he had the concept of a knife. I had a feeling of mortal peril. He was dark blue, in a non-physical body, but not a light body. He stepped back and closed the door. The next time I opened the door I saw with my physical eyes, and no one was there. I felt lingering fear.

Another night soon thereafter a big knot of tension released in my back and my perception changed. I saw only light and the void. I ceased to exist for a second.

Later I became ill from fasting and became disoriented, separate from and ungrounded by my body. After I got well I continued to meditate and the experiences continued. One night I became awake inside on a spiritual level. Angels visited me. I can't draw a picture. It was a feeling, a communication, a different dimension. I was going around on a rotisserie spit slowly. Angels' hands were going over me above my body healing me. It was a wonderful feeling of love, comfort, compassion, security and bliss. After that I rose up and went flying with the angels. We flew all around. I could feel that although this was happening on a spiritual level there was a physical orientation toward Kalamazoo which was where love was coming from.

Just before waking at about six a.m. I returned to my body but my awareness hovered above it. I was still asleep but the inner wakefulness continued. I was surprised to realize I was back in bed and thought, "Oh, yes, here I am back in bed." Although I was asleep, I saw my mother come into my room to get something. She was being very quiet not to disturb me. Later, when I woke up I asked her whether she had come in and she said yes, she had.

The next night I hoped and prayed the experience would happen again. It didn't, and yet everything had changed. My awareness was noticeably different and there was a sense of irreversibility to it. The old state had fallen away and I felt welcomed with love by people I met. I was simple. I said this to myself: “This is what it is.”

My spiritual life is still very important to me. As an adult I see an integration. I know worlds not visible to ordinary eyes. It gives me love, nurturing, continuity, family. It gives me a greater glimpse of a more universal identity. For fifteen years I made my spiritual life the most important thing, and I still do a daily spiritual practice; however, now I am balancing my life and shifting the emphasis to include work and relationships.

More about Alan’s childhood:

I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the youngest of four children. My brothers were eleven and sixteen years older; my sister, five. My dad was a meat cutter and my mother stayed home.

I picture myself at seven or eight wearing a white and green striped button-up shirt. I was short, flabby, a bit overweight. I had blue eyes and brown hair which I wore long from the time I was ten or twelve through teenage years because of the Beatles. My sister had Beatles' pictures all over her room and I acted older than my age to try to keep up with her.

I was a bright kid but a slow starter with trouble learning to read and a stuttering problem. I didn't want to stand out as sub-average and resisted going to speech therapy because I was embarrassed. The speech therapist was a nice old lady who herself had had a stuttering problem, perhaps from a stroke, and had solved it. We would play games together to take my mind off my speech problem and integrate mind and body at the same time. I'd toss a bean bag into a big open mouth on a clown face while saying what she told me to. I spent third grade in speech therapy and, within that year, my stuttering was completely gone.

In fourth grade I had a fantastic teacher, Mrs. Smythe, who saw my ability and intelligence beneath the surface and brought them out. Other teachers saw me as a slow reader, but Mrs. Smythe had had my brothers and sister and saw particularly the similarity between me and my brother, Richard, who is brilliant. She had such love that she didn't give up on me. I wanted to work harder for her and therefore actually for myself. In her class I moved from the last to the first reading level. By sixth grade I was doing so well in school they put me in a program for gifted kids.

My parents were supportive. I was closer to my mother who has a heart as big as the universe. She'd make cookies for me after school and when I'd have friends over she'd always have treats for us. She was generous but a bit over-protective. My father balanced that out. He'd say, "Let him do it. He has to learn and it'll be a good experience for him."

I got in trouble for riding my bike too far away. I'd ride to the other side of town just because I wanted to know what was there. I also got in trouble for repeatedly climbing on the roof of the elementary school on weekends and after school. A tree grew up next to the school and as a kid you never get to see what roofs look like, so my friends and I would climb up there to see. It was a flat gravel roof with skylights. We'd throw stones down. Eventually the principal called my parents in to meet with him.

Once I broke a garage window throwing rocks. That was a dark day. The garage belonged to the man who developed the subdivision we lived in and had sold my parents our lot. He knocked on our door and told my mother I'd broken his windows. I had been fearless and didn't stop to think. The way I saw it was that I was just doing a little target practice with friends. My father said, "We're very disappointed in you. This is something we didn't expect of you. It won't happen again, will it?" I was more careful after that.

From about age ten, I often went camping with a couple of friends in an empty lot near home. We'd sleep in an old World War II Army surplus tent my brothers had and stay up very late. It was fun to get up in the dead of night, around two o'clock, and walk around the neighborhoods. It was so quiet it was like another world. It was eerie and scary because there was always the danger of getting caught. We also played Army with snowballs or dirt clods and play guns. I had an Army surplus helmet, a knapsack and a canteen.

I was the family comedian. I was spontaneous, witty and kept my family laughing. Did I do it for attention? I was just happy and enthusiastic.

In school, after the slow beginning, I was always near the top of my class. Whenever there was a group project I'd jump in and be the leader. I thought my ideas were the best and tried to convince the others. In second grade we built model rockets out of cardboard and launched them. My rocket actually looked like a rocket. Not all my projects turned out as well. I built an Indian fort with walls and cabins out of wooden skewers. I enjoyed working on it but tended to procrastinate and felt dissatisfied with the final results because I knew I could have done a better job.

I didn't have many good friends and felt lonely. I thought something was wrong with me that made people not like me, and then I decided they were too stupid to realize my worth. I was thought of as a very smart kid, not an athletic kid. I was short and was pushed around on the playground and beaten up. I'd look at the "in" crowd smoking cigarettes down at the cemetery when we were ten and I envied them. I didn't identify with the intelligent but square kids and would hang out with the hell-raisers. I tried to belong yet at the same time I looked down on them because my family warned me about them. I listened to my family and that created the feeling I had to be careful not to go too far following those kids.

We lived in an older part of town until I was in sixth grade. Then we moved to a new house because my father wanted me to have better friends and not get in trouble.

I generally saw the world as a friendly place. There were things I was afraid of. I was afraid of drowning and finally learned to swim when I was twelve or thirteen. I was friendly and always talked to people. My world was limited when I was young due to my family. My father had a drinking problem and was often angry. He would say things he thought were funny but which infuriated my mother.

If I really wanted something I knew I'd get it. My parents always found a way to help me fulfill my heart's desires. When I was a teenager I wanted a motorbike, and my dad paid me very well for mowing the lawn at the apartment house he owned so I could buy it.

I was generally happy as a kid but there was some conflict even when I was small. I remember being three years old, on the beach in the evening in Florida with my family. I was pretending to fish standing at the water's edge with a stick. My sister climbed a tree with my older cousins. I wanted to go up the tree, but I was too small. She taunted me and wouldn't help me. I hated her for that and felt utter frustration and powerlessness. My dad shot the whole thing in sixteen millimeter pictures. My experience felt intensely personal, unique to me, and private, yet there it was on film.

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