How One Glimpse Beyond Changed My Life Twice

The epiphany that once gave me confidence now soothes my grief

Joni Sensel
May 16, 2018 · 8 min read
Spirals of light in the darkness
Spirals of light in the darkness
Image by Lucid_Light from fractal art Fractal art by Eli Vokounova

One of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had was also, for many years, one of the most reassuring. It was late one night in 1999 and I’d had a great July day with people I loved. Full disclosure: Marijuana brownies had been consumed that afternoon, and although many hours had passed, that may have had something to do with what followed.

I was in bed but lying awake, staring into those warm, geometric shadows that a familiar room takes on once your eyes have adjusted to the darkness. I was re-experiencing the day with a glow and didn’t want it to be over yet.

Looking over my shoulder at… me

I was startled wide awake, completely intrigued. Questions bubbled into my mind, like, “What is this window that I/you’re looking through? How does it work?” And I started getting answers. I don’t know how else to say that. As a question occurred to me, the answer arose, sometimes as a voice or a sudden knowing, but mostly as a mental image. Mind-blowing.

The first answer was that this boundary I was looking across was a sort of membrane, the barrier between the physical world and reality. That it could be made more transparent, just like a one-way mirror if you turn out the lights on the reflective side and turn on the lights on the observer’s side. Some people meditate to turn down the lights. Some people use religious rituals to stretch the membrane thinner. Some people go to physical extremes, as in long-distance running or vision quests. Some people splash chemicals on it.

After such a full and obliging answer, I wondered if this was a hallucination. (I try to be at least 5% skeptic.) So I had that, “Wait — is this real?” moment.

The illusions are real

“The pictures are real. It’s the forms that are illusions.”

I understood that to mean that this earthly life was only a front; that a more essential reality lay behind it. Behind the membrane.

Since my wonderings had been answered so promptly, I kept asking questions. Like, “What is real, then? What exactly is there on that other side?”

I can still see the answer in my mind’s eye: Streams of light that were… consciousness, that merge and refract the way white light can be split or unified by a prism. They wove and spiraled together like the strands and coils of a rope, or like a DNA helix with many more strands. I had the understanding that this was the “coil” of life, that all people are a part of it, and of each other, interconnected.

For some reason my next question was whether dogs were in the coil with us.

“Dogs are souls, too, but they have their own coil. It just intertwines with the one you are on.”

I understood that every living thing has its own strand, its own frequency in the stream of light — and I feel like I’m mixing metaphors badly, but that’s the only way I can capture it. The strands intertwine and interact. Two strands might cross and then not meet again. Or a group — a family, a circle of friends or colleagues — will entwine and move together, a cable in the overall braid. The cables twist up almost infinitely with others. They’re all important. They support one another where they intersect, and all the coils together make up the spiral of life.

Recalling this again as I write, nearly 20 years later, an awe still rises within me. I knew it was an epiphany, and it was inexpressibly exciting to have the privilege. My heart was pounding, adrenaline souring my stomach, but I was trying not to move because I didn’t want it to stop. My eyes were still open, staring at the ceiling, but my attention was all inward on that mental screen.

Refractions and reunions

And that was why people with near-death experiences saw white light. They’re approaching, if not merging with, the rest of their strand.

A rainbow over a lake
A rainbow over a lake
Rainbows don’t mean what you thought. Photo by Joni.

Suddenly suspicious — or maybe “on guard for dogma” is more accurate — I asked if this light-refracting-into-colors thing had anything to do with Noah’s rainbow or Christianity in general. I got an image of a traditional rainbow and “That’s a misunderstanding.” Plus the absolute conviction that if the rainbow in the sky has meaning beyond sunshine through rain, it’s not so much a promise as a reminder of that greater braid of refracting light — a reminder to be grateful for life. Gratitude matters.

I asked about evil — was it a discreet force? — and saw dark patches, like electrical shorts, in the streams of light. I didn’t understand that answer. I asked about fate, and saw a map or outline, with “but you fill it in.” To me that meant there was a direction but with flexible details. Then I saw stepping stones, and realized abruptly how seemingly unconnected parts of my life — my college, my writing, people I knew — had added up in a meaningful way to who and where I was now. Later, I thought, well, duh… looking back over a path, of course it leads to where you are now, no matter how crookedly. But at the time it felt like, “Oh, of course! Ha! I see now how those things are connected, not random!” And how the details embellished the planned direction.

I asked about a few loved ones who appeared on that path, and got the strange image of a hand, and the number five, and the sense that this was connected to the idea of refracted light. I was one digit on the hand. Two key players in my life were two other digits. And “Two chose not to divulge,” which seemed to me to mean that other important souls either weren’t in my life yet or would not be in this life at all.

Don’t go there

I asked if science, maybe quantum physics, was going to figure any of this out, and I got this sense of inversion, of confusion, of things turned around backward. I understood that to mean theoretical physics is looking in the wrong direction, outward, materially, rather than inward to consciousness. With major apologies to the late Stephen Hawking, wherever and whatever he is now, I no longer think we keep finding smaller and smaller particles strictly because they’re there. They’re there because we keep looking. Matter is a function of consciousness. It will therefore oblige us.

I asked if I might be allowed to do this again. Again, the skull and crossbones.

“Okay, I get it,” I thought. “That’s a ‘No.’”

And then it felt like I was turning, or was turned, away. And that was okay; I was exhausted. I drew my gaze away from that internal screen and looked at the clock. More than three hours had passed. It didn’t feel that long, except that I was worn out.

My evidence, such as it is

I crawled back in bed but was afraid to sleep, afraid it would all be gone in the morning and my notes would be meaningless, the way so many “brilliant” story ideas that come in a dream sound completely stupid the next day. But I needn’t have worried. The whole night was burned into my brain. In addition, all around me I saw reflections of those spiraling streams of light. The grain patterns in the wood of my porch, the woven strands of a rope, somehow even a new mother with her child in her arms reminded me with a jolt of that coil. They were somehow an echo of that experience.

I thought I must’ve been shown these things for a reason, though I didn’t know what. That scared me, to be honest. Was I supposed to spread the word about this fundamental reality? I couldn’t imagine doing that. I did try, at first, to share this with people I trusted, but nobody knows how to respond to, “Guess what? I had a spiritual epiphany last night.” I mean, what do you say back? “Uh… good?” I didn’t get very positive reactions, and I couldn’t make anyone understand why it seemed like such a Big Deal. So I stopped trying.

Until now.

In the meantime, for many years, I thought of this experience daily. It’s always there, like a doorway I can walk past and glance into. It made me very sensitive to spirals and other patterns — in leaves and flowing water, in clouds, in life. Such patterns reassure me. The universe is a chaos, but a chaos of patterns, of particles within waves, just as people are particles within waves of society. (This last idea, that people, like light, exhibit behavior consistent with that of both particles and waves, is from a book about social change I once read. I wish I could remember the title, because the author’s words struck me hard; they so perfectly reflected physical science, social science, and my experience.)

I didn’t talk about this experience for two decades, just used it as a secure foundation for an adventurous life. Then I lost my life partner prematurely not long ago, and, as it does with many people, the grief has made me question my philosophies of life and what might make each next day worth getting through. Just as my “spiraling light” vision comforted me for many years in a difficult part of my life, revisiting it is helping me again find my gratitude and a reason to live. So this is the second time it’s changed my life. I look forward to finding out if any part of it scratched at a Truth.

Joni Sensel

Written by

Exploring intuition, imagination, creativity, and other paths to the Divine. Writer, adventurer, creativity advocate. www.jonisensel.com

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