In moments when everything is taken away from us, we may remember, in deep grief, that there is something within that cannot be lost or gained. Something that is forever and eternally uncreated and un-born and that will never die. I had such a moment in my childhood when I awakened to this entity. One late sunny afternoon, while walking through a cornfield, I was overcome by a sudden and intense urge to start running and running, faster and faster, until I collapsed. I was lying there looking into the sky and an intense happiness came over me. It was the pure joy of being alive, of having a body, and of living in this intensely beautiful world.

But then something strange happened. I noticed that somebody else was watching me. I had thought I was just a six-year-old body, not very gifted, not very smart, barely keeping up in sports and school. I could hardly understand my family and was unable to make myself understood. But as I lay in this cornfield, watching the endless expanse of the late afternoon sky, I saw an “other” me, looking out through my eyes. Having no preconceived idea what it was or what I should do, out of curiosity I let myself fall into it, as if letting my body fall into a pool. Submerging into this other being, I assumed its infinite expanse. This being had no beginning or end. It was timeless and eternal. It did not think. It noticed all of my limited thoughts, but did not produce thoughts itself. It witnessed my pains, joys, frustrations, and fears but stayed separate from these—pure and untouched. Whereas I could be submerged, almost drowned, in the drama of my life, this strange friend was the ocean itself. It was aware of the waves on the surface, but always remained the entirety of its unfathomable depths.

I stayed there with my newfound friend for an hour or so. In this hour, I learned I was eternal and infinite and that life was not what I had been told it was. I also learned to shut up. When I came home, my mother said, “Look at your shoes. Didn’t I tell you to stay out of the fields? Wait until the farmer gets you. He’ll give you a hiding!” I did not say, “Mum, I’m not afraid. Did you know that you, my personality, and the farmer are just images superimposed onto the screen of my consciousness?” I just said, “Yes, Mum.”

Spontaneous experiences like these, though, are not easily integrated and often don’t make life any simpler. Part of why yoga is so conservative in provoking such experiences is this difficulty of integration. In my example, what should a young person do with such an experience? This is why yoga emphasizes the preparation for such states initially more than their actual arising. Some people have provoked similar states through psychedelic drugs. But they are not truly yours unless you have done the groundwork, which in the case of yoga requires inquiry into yoga philosophy, devotion, asana, pranayama, kriya, and Kundalini meditation.

An excerpt from my forthcoming book Samadhi The Great Freedom