“Birth and death are virtual, but Life is perpetual.”
~ Ron Rattner, Sutra Sayings
“The soul never takes birth and never dies at any time nor does it come into being again when the body is created. The soul is birthless, eternal, imperishable and timeless and is never destroyed when the body is destroyed. Just as a man giving up old worn out garments accepts other new apparel, in the same way the embodied soul giving up old and worn out bodies verily accepts new bodies.” “The soul is eternal, all-pervading, unmodifiable, immovable and primordial.”
~ Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Krishna to Arjuna
Soon after my life-changing out of body experience (OOB) at a 1974-5 New Year’s ‘pot luck’ party, I learned that the experience had been triggered by my unwitting (and only) ingestion of cannabis; that the home-made desert cake which I had so enjoyed then was laced with marijuana. Though this initially raised doubts about the “reality” of the experience, it did not end my irresistible determination to find out what really had happened.
The New Year’s Eve experience was too vivid and too authentic to dismiss it peremptorily as a mere psychedelic hallucination. Yet it was so challenging to my egoic sense of self identity, that I was afraid to then share the experience with others. And as an upright, uptight officer of courts, I didn’t want to admit to anyone my ingestion – even unwittingly – of an illegal substance. So, I didn’t promptly tell Naomi or anyone else about my out of body experience.
Instead, sparked by the momentous question: “Who or what am I?”,
I began covertly exploring what happened.
Though busy with my law practice, I sporadically read articles and books about parapsychology and psychic phenomena, but not about sacred mysticism or spirituality, of which I remained ignorant. As I read and reflected, I intuited the validity of various reported metaphysical phenomena, but still hadn’t encountered information about out of body experiences, which I didn’t yet know were common.
However, irresistibly I kept thinking about my New Year’s Eve experience and its meaning. Though convinced of the authenticity of that experience, I suppressed conscious confirmation of it’s true significance until April, 1976 – fifteen months later – when it burst into consciousness from the subconscious, shattering the ego’s psychic shell, which until then had censored and suppressed such awareness.
By that time my marriage was ending and I was confused and troubled, trying to cope with the shock and trauma of divorce and its consequences. Naomi and I were then living separate and apart, but still in the same house, pending legal agreement on sale of the house, our only major economic asset. I had temporarily moved into a third floor attic room, anxiously awaiting my lawyer’s permission to move out. It was the unhappiest time of my life.
My heart was broken at the prospect of being permanently separated from our young children, Jessica and Joshua. But, I hadn’t yet experienced the depth of my emotional sadness, and – as an uptight man – hadn’t shed any tears during my entire adult life.
Then it began happening. I awakened one Monday in April, 1976, feeling an unprecedented slight pressure inside my head. It lasted all day, and was still present the next day – only slightly more intense. For the entire week, the feeling of pressure inside the head intensified each day.
With growing apprehension I began wondering whether I was developing a serious neurological disorder. But, ambivalently, I continued with my busy schedule without consulting a doctor. By the time the weekend arrived, I was experiencing, with considerable concern, great pressure inside my head – as if it was about to ‘explode’ from the inside out.
That weekend Naomi went away with the children, and I was alone in the attic room, when the ‘explosion’ finally happened. I was again wondering about the meaning of my New Year’s Eve out of body experience and the question “Who or what am I?”, when, at long last, I had a profound but simple insight that:
“I am not my body or its thoughts, but pure awareness; I am not my role in life – lawyer, husband, father – with which I’ve identified, but pure awareness.”.
Thereupon the pressure in my head immediately ended, and I burst into unending flood of tears. [Synchronistically, I later realized that the head pressure was a symptom of ascending “kundalini” energy spontaneously purifying my nervous system, by opening subtle body energy channels (nadis).]
As I intensely and uncontrollably cried as never before, my body went into fetal position and spontaneously and convulsively I began gasping and hyperventilating with spasmodic movements. It was as if I was replicating a newborn baby’s emergence from the womb into this world via the mother’s birth canal. The crying, sobbing and ‘rebirthing’ process continued intermittently and spasmodically for twenty four hours, until finally I fell asleep.
Upon awakening, I felt extraordinarily different than ever before. Initially, instead of experiencing myself as a physical body, I experienced only consciousness of flowing lines of vital subtle energy channels , which I later associated with the ‘chi’ meridians described by Chinese acupuncture medicine and with nadis described by kundalini yoga.
Thereafter for almost three months, I needed very little sleep. I would habitually get into bed every night but slept very little, finding that customary restorative sleep wasn’t necessary. Though this extraordinary energy gradually waned and my former physical body experience returned, never again have I experienced life as I did before that self-identity insight and ‘rebirthing’ process.
Paradoxically, my prolonged mid-life birth canal emergence process may have been the first time in this life that I had an experience like a normal newborn’s journey through the birth canal. Prior to this ‘rebirth’ event, my highest spiritual energy experiences had happened when I was present in the delivery room at the births of Jessica and Joshua, our two beautiful children. But these were births of other beings. My own birth was a different story.
Early on November 8, 1932, the day of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first election, I was traumatically extracted with forceps from my mother’s body – a breech birth – after an exceptionally protracted but incomplete labor period.
Because of the psychological significance of perinatal trauma, I have wondered whether that breech birth extraction affected my personality, and whether it in any way triggered or contributed to my mid-life rebirth experience.
Some Western astrologers say that because I emerged at a very propitious time, when the Moon was in Pisces, I came into this world with an open Hearted tendency, not so characteristic of other Moon signs. So, despite the breech birth trauma, that birth time may have been a great blessing.
What do you think?
An “identity crisis” can be life’s greatest opportunity,
because it raises life’s most crucial question – “Who am I?”
~ Ron Rattner, Sutra Sayings
Upon graduation from the University of Chicago law school in 1958, I became a Chicago lawyer. Two years later I was married and moved to San Francisco, rather than settling into married life in Chicago. An idealist then, I had quickly become disillusioned with the Cook County Illinois court system and felt that there must be another place where courts administered justice more consistent with truth, law and equity than politics. And because I previously had a very positive experience of the San Francisco ambiance and “vibes”, I thought the Bay Area might be such a place. Also, my new wife, Naomi, and I both believed that starting married life might be easier if there was a two thousand mile distance between us and our parents. So adventurously we moved to San Francisco after our marriage in June, 1960.
Unlike many others, I didn’t move to California to participate in significant Bay Area social ferment and transformation of that era. I wasn’t interested in Beatniks, Hippies, Flower Children, the Haight-Ashbury scene, or Eastern spirituality (of which I was then totally ignorant). As a San Francisco lawyer, I just wanted to – and often did – help unjustly exploited or downtrodden people with legal problems. But I felt compelled to work within the legal system on cases which came to me, and not pro-actively – except for certain civil liberties issues. Though as an idealistic lawyer I abhorred the tragic injustice and insanity of the Viet Nam war, and the authoritarian suppression of free speech at U.C. Berkeley, I wasn’t politically active in those causes, or in the feminist revolution with which I ambivalently sympathized. And I was quite ‘uptight’ about breaking any social ‘norms’ or doing anything illegal, like using psychedelics.
While keeping distance between us and our parents may have initially been helpful for Naomi and me, it wasn’t enough to prevent irreconcilable differences from ending our marriage fifteen years later. While we had long been stressed by our incompatibilities, for me the psychological seeds of our parting and of a new life beyond married life, were first sown at a 1974-5 New Year’s Eve party, at the Clarendon Heights home of doctor friends who weren’t as uptight about certain social norms as their lawyer friend Ron Rattner.
As we embarked for the party I felt inexplicably happy – happier than I had felt for a long time. And at the party this happiness kept growing as the evening progressed. So by the time that the new year arrived, I was very high in Clarendon Heights. All evening I had been sipping champaign and singing old Broadway songs around an upright piano played by a pianist with an unending repertoire of Tin Pan Alley favorites. The singing brought me back to happier times in high school and college when Dave Weiner, my multi-talented friend since kindergarten, would often lead similar singing from the piano.
After mid-night and customary “happy new year” proclamations, we ate a ‘pot luck’ buffet dinner. I enjoyed the food very much, especially the desert – a home baked cake. But soon after eating it, I began feeling very strange – like I’d never felt before. My brain felt anesthetized, so that I could hardly think. Believing that I was becoming quite ill, I asked Madlyn, the hostess, for a place to lay down. She showed me into a very small, dark utility room furnished with little more than a bed, upon which I quickly fell face down, after removing my eyeglasses.
Then, after lying face down on a pillow for a short time, I had an unprecedented and unforgettable out of body experience (OOB). It seemed that I floated out of my body and up to the ceiling of that small dark room. And from the ceiling, with my glasses on a bedside table, I clearly saw my body lying face down on the pillow. Then, with difficulty I thought: “How can I be up here, when my body’s down there?” And with every thought, I beheld a vividly colored kaleidoscopic form – a surreal thought form, which appeared below the ceiling (where I was) and above the bed (where my body was lying face-down).
All these perceptions seemed very real – not dreamlike or hallucinatory. And for the first time in my life they irresistibly raised an urgent new question: “Who or what am I?”
In later reflecting on my OOB experience, I reasoned that if I was on the ceiling of the room, while my body was face-down on the bed, I couldn’t be the body; and, that if I was on the ceiling of the room, while my thoughts were appearing below me, I couldn’t be the thoughts. Then, if not my body and not my thoughts, who and what am I?
Until then, I had always assumed that I was only my mortal physical body, its thoughts and its story; that I was a middle-aged secular Jewish litigation lawyer, married, with two kids, born in Chicago and living in San Francisco. But with ‘pot luck’ on New Year’s Eve 1974-5, those assumptions were forever shaken.
Thereupon, irresistibly and persistently I began asking the question “Who Am I”, intensely longing for an answer. This self-inquiry process proved an enormous blessing which changed my life forever.