“The hour I have long wished for has now come.”
-- Saint Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582)

I had reclined on the living room couch, picked up the remote, and began surfing the plethora of television programs, most of which are repetitive and useless. I paused from channel-surfing just long enough to listen to the opening remarks of a popular psychologist on a PBS special. His name? Wayne W. Dyer. Though I knew of him only vaguely, I remembered he was the author of several bestselling books and one in particular that had propelled him to a level of notoriety few authors ever attain. You might recall the book was Your Erroneous Zones.

I can remember when it was first released back in the late seventies. Though it got a lot of press then, I refused to read it. As a young theologian doing graduate work at what was once a highly regarded seminary, I had judged Dyer’s book, as had many others I think, as a sleazy book on sex. The title was a dead give-away. Not until several years later did I realized I had misjudged the book entirely. It was not a book about sex at all.

The first time I saw the book up-close-and-personal, my family and I were having lunch after church one Sunday in the home of a prominent church member. On her living room coffee table was a copy of Dyer’s book. I thought to myself, “Why would our luncheon host be reading a book about sex? Surely, she’s more spiritual than that.” The irony in all of this that the real subject matter of the book is how to overcome some of the more common hang-ups we have in life—like that of judging people and situations, and both too quickly, before having all the facts.

On the Sunday afternoon PBS special, Dyer’s subject matter seemed benign enough. So, I decided to give him half a chance. I listened intently for several minutes. Many of the things he said seemed sensible, even applicable to one’s life. But, that’s about all I can say, because the funny part to me is this: Now, I can’t recall a single thing he said. That’s not saying anything about his subject matter, but it’s saying everything about my readiness for what transpired next.

Sometime during the special, although I don’t remember when, an intense peace invaded my consciousness. I’ve carefully chosen each of these descriptive words. “Intense” peace may sound like a contradiction. But, what I mean is, the unfathomable and profound calmness that swept over me was like nothing I had ever felt before. The living room itself took on a kind of surreal sense, too. It was as if I was in the room but not in the room at the same time. What’s more, this peace pervaded my consciousness. By that I mean, it was sudden, unanticipated and, therefore, outright surprising. I had not been praying for peace. I had not been searching for some assurance that my life mattered, either. In fact, I think I had resigned to living with a pretty cynical view of my own life as well as this world. But, instantly, the awareness of peace and purpose filled my consciousness. Nothing seemed negative, accidental, or wrong with either with me or with this world.

I have said it was joy I felt most profoundly but maybe it was gratitude I was feeling or a blend of the two. It’s really hard to explain. I do know it was not the laughter kind of joy, the kind you have after somebody’s told you a really funny joke or after you’ve had one too many drinks. It was just extreme joy and appreciation, not for anything in particular but everything in general. I don’t know how else to say it.
With the joy and peace came an inexplicable awareness of Life itself. This part is most difficult to explain. Whatever I say seems only to diminish some of the profundity of the experience. The few times I have tried to describe to others what happened to me, I get this feeling people are looking at me as if I’m Rod Sterling on a return trip from The Twilight Zone.

But, here goes it, anyway.

It lasted only a minute or two, perhaps a little longer. I can’t be sure. No matter how long it was, however, it was as if I entered a no-time zone, a kind of time warp or something. I became immediately aware of two dimensions of reality, the world I could see and the world I could not see. There was an awareness of the room around me and the objects in the room. But, I was also aware of another dimension, a kind of emptiness. That is to say, I became aware of nothing. There were no objects in this awareness but it felt to me just as real, maybe more so, than the material dimension or the room around me with walls and furniture and so forth.

Call it a glimpse of the spiritual world, if you will. That would be as good as anything I could come up with. But, I really don’t know what to call it. I just became aware, not only of the objects I could see around me, but of the emptiness out of which those objects appeared. In that awareness, I felt all of the things I’ve described already—intense joy, peace, love, security, and so on. But, even more significant this, I felt Presence in this emptiness. I know that makes no sense, but I have no other way of saying it.

Have you ever looked up into the heavens on a clear night and tried counting the stars or identifying the constellations? It has always been one of my favorite pastimes. So, while this may sound strange to you, ever since the transformation, I have found myself more attracted, even connected, to the nothingness that is our heavens. That infinite vastness of space without which no objects would appear.

For years, for example, I could look up into the heavens, and did so often, but all I would ever see was the stuff scattered throughout the heavens—the stars, the planets, the constellations, and so on. To do so was amazing to be sure. But, as awesome as it was and still is, it pales in comparison to what I now see. Since the transformation, whenever I look into the heavens, I see infinity of Emptiness, Nothingness, or one could call it, Stillness. It’s as if, on that Sunday afternoon, I was given the gift of seeing everything in nothing.
The psalmist said, “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

With all due respect to the psalmist, the heavens declare very little about God. You cannot look into the heavens and see God or every disbeliever in Divine Intelligence would become a believer. In fact, the opposite is most often the case. Those who seriously study the universe often become atheists or agnostics. In a recent report of The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, only a third of all scientists today even believe in God.

Furthermore, if the heavens actually declared God’s glory, then everyone who believes in God would actually know God and be conscious of the Divine Presence. But, as it was with me, most believing people who say they believe in God only rarely ever feel connected or close to God. For me, the remarkable discovery I made was this: it was only I could see seeing nothing that Everything seemed to emerge.
This is why I find it bizarre whenever a person attempts to prove God exists, as do Christian apologists, as they are known. To me, it is just as futile to argue for God’s existance as it is to argue for the non-existence of God. On one hand, it is the admission by the Christian apologist that he’s unaware of the Reality he seeks to prove. It is an admission by the atheist, on the other hand, he is unaware of the Reality he seeks to disprove. You only try to prove or disprove that which, in either case, you do not know. Christian apologists, as they are known, have done more to damage the cause of

Christianity than they’ve ever done to advance the cause.

Here is the real truth:
• It is only after looking into the heavens and seeing Nothing that No-Thing becomes Everything to you;

• It is only after looking into the eyes of somebody whom the world says is a nobody that you see and know the Everybody in all living things; and,

• It is only after you can sit in a room, as it were, surrounded by walls and furniture, carpet and curtains—or, objects in awareness—and, simultaneously be aware of the space around them, that the Empty Space itself becomes the Eternal Source to you.

When this is what you see, then you will understand and know for yourself what happened to me on that Sunday afternoon.
Buddhists would call my experience a satori. Well, if that’s what this was, then maybe I haven’t lost my mind. But, even if I have, I’ll take this insanity any day over the kind I lived in for nearly three decades. This has been, and continues to be, infinitely more wonderful than anything I’ve ever known before. I woke up to Life and have remained so ever since. This is why the word awakening seems to come closer than any other in capturing the essence of what happened to me. It was sacred experience, too, an unexpected instant of profound insight and awareness, and more hallowed than any I had ever known in church.

Yet, the whole thing is a bit comical, too. Right after it happened, for example, the first thought I had was, “How will I tell anybody about this?”
I wanted to tell someone. It was too splendid to keep to myself. Yet, it was too ordinary in the way it transpired, too.
“Why couldn’t this have been more spectacular?” I thought to myself.

Most of the really great religious leaders, Divine avatars, spiritual masters and teachers had their satori in the midst of a great crisis of suffering or during some horrific tragedy or drama.

Take Saint Paul, for example. His satori came with blinding lights and strange voices on his way to Damascus where he had planned to make more trouble
for early followers of Christ.

It was during the Hindu-Muslim conflict in Calcutta, India, 1946, a conflict that brought unprecedented bloodshed, starvation, and death that Mother Teresa had “her call within the call,” as she later described it. That moment of intense suffering transformed not only her life but its direction, its focus. The rest of her story is a history known by virtually everyone.

In his quest to find the meaning of life, and freedom from suffering, The Buddha himself left his royal life and became a mendicant instead. For years, he lived on the edge of society, nearly starving on several occasions as he fed off the scraps of kindness people tossed his way. Only after six rigorous years as an ascetic did he finally attain Enlightenment.

And, who doesn’t know the story of Jesus’ own wilderness struggles for forty days and forty nights?
So, against this backdrop of dramatic spiritual awakenings, I sat on a living room couch, holding a remote in one hand, a drink in the other, and half asleep during a PBS special on television. Hardly a hallowed setting for a holy satori!

I saw no bright lights. The earth beneath me did not shake. And, I heard no strange or loud voices, either. Instead, a quiet stillness slipped into the room like a cat without notice. But, as it did, I woke up. In an instant, I was more aware of my surroundings than I had ever been before. What’s more, the space or emptiness within the room was just as alive to me as the objects in it. Out of that space of awareness, I sensed a Presence nearer than the air itself. In fact, it was as if, when I breathed, I was absorbing the very Emptiness that surrounded me.

I admit it was strange, but it’s even stranger to try and explain to someone else. In that moment, I knew that, no matter what happened in this world, or what happened to me, everything would be O.K. That my life, my family, indeed, everything in this world was just as it was supposed to be. Nothing was missing and everything would be provided at just the right time. Since then, this knowing has fluctuated with intensity but it has always been with me.
This was a new way of thinking for me because, for much of my life, I had felt as if nothing was right in this world and that nothing was right about my life, either. I had not only made many mistakes but, sometimes, I felt as if I was the mistake. And, as far as the world goes...well...I thought it sucked, was capricious and unfair, and that there was very little anybody could do to change any of it.

Whatever happened to me, I knew that life from that day onward would be wonderful to me. I sensed a shift in my mind and I knew I would no longer look or think about anything in the same way as before. That is perhaps the most remarkable long term change I’ve noticed.
The cynicism left me, too. I was done with negativity. I had no idea how I would stop being that way, but even that didn’t concern me. I knew whatever changes I would make would come naturally and at the right time. I don’t know what else to call this but a profound spiritual awakening. The consequences have been bewildering but beautiful.

In one sense, the changes were instantaneous. But, in another way, the awakening initiated a process of change that is still going on to this day. Maybe what I experienced was the very thing I had been telling others about for decades but only vaguely knew about myself. I don’t know and, frankly, I don’t care. Whatever it was, it must surely be what Saint Paul was describing as, “the renewal of mind. Like scores of other people, maybe you, too, I had been a Christian, a believer, for years. But, apart from churchgoing and trying to be a decent church-going person and, later, the best church leader I could be, I cannot say my thinking or living was any more fulfilling or any different than unbelieving people.

As my thinking about everything began changing, however, I started to simultaneously notice a shift in my feelings, too. Almost all the time now, I am at peace. There’s a contentment I feel, and a level of self-acceptance and self-assurance, I’ve never known before. All of this has been supplemented by joy and happiness, qualities of the human experience I had known before, but only ever briefly. Now, however, joy is my normal state of consciousness.
I realize how remarkable, perhaps even unbelievable, all of this must sound to you and, of course, it is. But, it does not mean that my world has become some kind of enchanted fairytale. Nor does it mean that I have achieved a level of spiritual awareness that puts me in the ranks of other spiritual avatars in history. I use words like “awakening,” “enlightenment,” “redemption,” and so on, but only because each of these words contain a picture, an image that describes some little aspect of my otherworldly experience. For me, it’s not unlike a gemologist attempting to describe to a blind person the clarity, cut, as well as the colors, hues, and tones, she might see while observing a multi-faceted diamond. No one word can say it all. But, all of them express something of the Mystery that is inexpressible.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thinker, activist, and innovative spiritual leader. He boldly calls for a new kind of spirituality, one that connects people to God and to other human beings, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious background. “The survival of humanity,” says Dr. McSwain, “requires an end to the insanity of assuming, ‘We’re in; You’re out!’ ‘We’re Right, You’re Wrong!’ ‘We’re the Chosen Ones, You’re Not!’” Whether addressing a gathering of worshipers, corporate executives and company employees, seminar/workshop participants, or the keynote speaker at a convention, Dr. McSwain "has that rare gift of inspiring others to be more generous than they ever dreamed possible,” writes one observer. “He gives others the satisfying sense of belonging deeply to God and God’s plans.”