Lack of food and sleep led to a loss of consciousness, and possibly to a glimpse of the realm between life, death and rebirth
By Annie Katz
Six years ago, I was sitting in a wooden chair meditating early in the morning at a remote retreat center in Northern California. It was the first morning of a 10-day intensive retreat, and I was not prepared for it. I was 70 years old, and I had driven many long, stressful hours the day before to get there. The woman I was sharing a cabin with was highly agitated, and she kept me up nearly all night talking, worrying and thrashing about in her bunk. I hadn’t eaten much food the day before that first early morning formal group sitting meditation. I was bundled up in way too many wool clothes, and the meditation hall was hot and getting hotter. And I was overheated and lightheaded, but I didn’t want to disturb my fellow meditators by peeling off clothes or going out to get a sip of water.
I fainted, fell and banged my head on the wooden chair in front of me, so I ended up disturbing everyone after all. Coming back into consciousness was fascinating, and I remember thinking it fit the descriptions I’d read of the bardo, which in Buddhist philosophy is a transitional realm between life and death and rebirth.
Everything was foggy and fuzzy, and then I began to hear sounds that seemed like soft human voices. Then my vision cleared a bit, and out of the fog I saw that I was surrounded by human legs, and I wondered how that could be possible. Finally, I fully regained consciousness and found out my head was bleeding. Several women, the group leaders, I assumed, asked if I could walk. I said I was fine, and with their help I sat up and then walked out of the meditation hall to a coatroom, where they let me lie back down again while they tended my wound. I told them I was fine and just needed to rest a few minutes before I could walk out of there.
They said they were calling an ambulance because I needed stitches, and I refused. They insisted. I refused again. I knew what would happen if an ambulance came for me. The whole scene played out in my mind like a movie, and I didn’t want that. I knew they were following the center’s protocol in such cases, and I knew I didn’t need stitches.
I had the clarity and courage to fight for my truth, and I told them to call my sister and have her come get me. They kept insisting on an ambulance, and I kept refusing, and finally the right words came out of my mouth. I said, “It’s against my religion.”
I didn’t plan to say that, and in fact I hadn’t aligned myself with any religion since childhood, but those magic words ended the standoff. They backed away from me, called my sister, and hustled me out of there as quickly as possible.
I healed beautifully in two weeks, with only a small scar, and I learned a lot from the experience. Wherever I had gone when I lost consciousness was a place of wisdom and truth, and the energy of that place was still with me when I came back to waking consciousness. Even though I was bleeding from a head wound and couldn’t stand up, I had the strength to hold my own with several people bearing down on me insisting they knew what was best. I came back into this world with the kind of integrity that couldn’t be broken.
If that was a preview of the bardo, if there is such a place, then if I ever travel there again, I might think, Hey! I’ve been here before. Cool!
Annie Katz is a retired educator living in Ashland. She has studied philosophy and spiritual practices all her life and now writes novels for fun. Readers may contact Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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