The third thought experiment I’ll narrate is what I consider the formative experience of my life. It occurred when I was about eleven. At school during playtime one day, a classmate demonstrated how by hyperventilation and applied thoracic pressure you could induce loss of consciousness. No! Was that possible? Wasn’t it dangerous?
I hung back for a day or two and watched the more adventurous step forward. They were duly put to sleep . . . and then, after a minute or two, woken up again. It didn’t seem too big a deal. Eventually I too took the plunge. I even repeated the experience. No big deal, indeed. It only changed my life forever.
The effect that unconsciousness had on me was to snap a link, a link in the chain that had held me bound to earth. Previously, I’d always assumed—and this is the perspective that society reflects back at you—that we are physical beings with a spiritual add-on. But, after venturing into internal nether regions, I discovered that my perceptions had subtly altered, and that things were no longer as they’d been.
I returned to find my world had changed. This was most disconcerting. Somehow I was now reduced to a state of semi-consciousness. I couldn’t shake myself awake to the same degree that I remembered. It made me worry that I’d lost some brain cells (which could be true). But recently I’ve gained a greater understanding.
What happened, I now surmise, is that after having ‘lost’ my body—and yet retained my awareness of self (whilst unconscious)—I realized that, instead of the body containing me, I contained it. Far out!
It had dawned on me that I could not be contained or constrained. Rather, I-as-an-essence contained the physical body. I now see myself as a spiritual being having a physical experience. Evidently, the trip of self-induced unconsciousness triggered a form of near-death experience. And just as the NDE crowd are forever affected by their experiences with bright lights, tunnels and celestial guardians, I also was marked. And that brings us—I can’t skirt around it any longer—to the subject of religion.