I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was a Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
-- Jelaluddin Rumi, 13th Century Sufi Poet

At the age of 20 I lost my fear of death. This essential human fear was obliterated an experience by a feeling of being connected to every part of the Universe. It gave me a larger, more expansive sense of self.

During my Christmas break from college I got completely absorbed in reading a series of philosophical books. For four days, I focused intensely on The Phenomenon of Man by the paleontologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin. Ironically, it was my Jesuit teachers at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City recommended this book, which the Vicar-General of the Jesuits in Rome initially had censored.

After being captivated by de Chardin’s concept of an ongoing evolution of the human mind and soul, I turned to reading J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey and most of his short stories. Salinger and his characters Seymour and Buddy Glass pointed me toward D. T. Suzuki’s Introduction to Zen Buddhism and Alan Watts’ The Way of Zen.

In the midst of these otherworldly thoughts I became aware of a very mundane urge to make myself a salami sandwich. This meant I had to interrupt my reading to walk from the back bedroom of our home in Jersey City toward the kitchen. [Over the last forty years I’ve learned to listen to these “salami messages” as coming from––not my stomach, but rather––my unconscious mind or intuitive self, tapping me on the shoulder saying, “Hey, I want to show you something. I have a surprise for you.”]

I entered the kitchen, barely aware of the window from which, looking left, you could see the New York skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and the Empire State Building. Brooklyn was to the right. Straight ahead was a view of the Atlantic Ocean, ships, and the horizon. In the foreground were trees and open fields belonging to the Greenview Cemetery. On that crisp December morning, there was a clear view of open sky, green scrubs, trees, sparrows, water, and the curve of the earth on the distant horizon.

Lost in thought, I headed toward the refrigerator and the salami but never got there. When I looked up, I could see a 180-degree view, the entire panorama: Manhattan, the Atlantic beyond the trees, and Brooklyn, but not the window or the walls. They had disappeared.

Before I could register what was happening, something inside my chest began to expand and spread out to the sky, the ocean, the trees, and the birds. My body couldn’t contain this enormous force. I felt as if I were going to explode into a million molecules and atoms, destroying my body, my consciousness, and myself.

For a brief instant, I was afraid of dying. Then the thought of being with, and in, the Universe seemed much more real and essential than my small consciousness. I heard myself say, “Yes, I’m ready to go.” as I surrendered to whatever force was calling me back home to where I, and all the atomic parts of me had come from.

For a few seconds, or maybe minutes––I couldn’t tell which––I was free of what Einstein called the “delusion of separateness” and felt connected to the entire Universe. A brief second after that moment of surrender, all the parts of me returned from the sky and the ocean and hit my chest like thousands of meteorites traveling from the edges of the Universe toward a single target.

The walls of the kitchen were back in place and I was standing at least ten feet from the window shaken, with tears running down my face. From that moment, I have not feared death nor worried about my consciousness living on after my death. I found inner peace and freedom from the fear of dying. I felt connected––or rather, re-connected ––to my real home, the Universe. My old, limited sense of self had expanded to become a much larger Self. Since that time, I have felt that we all are part of something eternal and much larger than our thoughts, emotions, stories, or personality.

On that day I saw that who I truly am goes far beyond my conscious intellect, age, and or everyday identity. That’s when I first felt that we all carry within us the history and wisdom of the planet, the stars, and the outer reaches of the cosmos.

All this recalled with the inspiration of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor [ My Stroke of Insight and www.drjilltaylor.com] and http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_o...
www.ted.com video of Dr. Taylor explaining, with the expertise of a neuroanatomist, her experience of a left hemisphere brain hemorrhage and the discovery of her unencumbered right brain.

Permission to reprint is granted when you include the following copyright and contact information: © 2009, Neil A. Fiore, PhD www.neilfiore.com 510 525 2673

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Neil Fiore is a psychologist, a coach, a speaker, and the author of 4 books, the latest from McGraw-Hill is: Awaken Your Strongest Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict, and Self-Sabotage.

Neil was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division, a manager for Johnson & Johnson, and is a cancer survivor. He has published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Working Woman, Boardroom Reports, and The San Francisco Chronicle; and been cited in the Wall St. Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Elle, Self, and Psychology Today.

He is the recipient of the University of California’s Distinguished Achievement Award and was selected by Boardroom Reports as one of their Top-10 Self-Help Gurus.
Neil has presented keynotes and training to Amgen Pharmaceuticals, AT&T, Levi Strauss, Stanford Hospital, UC Berkeley Extension, and The Smithsonian. He has conducted seminars to audiences in Spain, Mexico, Germany, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Ireland, and Prague.

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website: neilfiore.com