The hot summer day was subsiding into a warm, early-evening dusk. A slight breeze stirred the olive-green apostrophes of the leaves on nearby gum trees. I sat alone and cross-legged on a bare slab of concrete – the foundations of a house-to-be – which had absorbed the sun’s fierce energy all day and now gently radiated it back into the darkening sky. In front of me lay parkland, the grass already blonding in the dry summer weather; along the horizon lay the steel-blue undulations of the Dandenong Ranges. I must have been nine or ten years old.
As I sat there, my legs warmed by the concrete, my face intermittently stroked by the breeze, I was suffused by a wonderful feeling. I felt calm and yet alert, joyful and yet a little pleasantly wistful too. I became aware of the whole world spreading out around the focal point at which I sat, and of all the living things in that world. I felt a tremendous benevolence towards life in all its forms, wanting to throw out my arms and cherish it, protect it, while at the same time feeling part of it, connected. I sat there for a long time, savouring this rare moment of clarity and aliveness.
Although it was subjectively very striking, there was nothing particularly unusual about my experience on that long-ago evening. Buddhists might describe it as a moment of Metta, or Loving-Kindness; Sigmund Freud would probably have categorised it as the “Oceanic Feeling” (which he rather distrusted); Jill Bolte Taylor possibly experienced an extreme version of it during her 1996 stroke. A positive experience of connectedness, benevolence and clarity is common to many people – and yet it often remains a rarity in any individual life.
In the intervening years, I’ve never re-encountered that intense state of mind (or, perhaps, no-mind). I’ve had hints of it, washed-out echoes, but nothing with that same vivid clarity, that allness. I suppose, in a way, my life since then has been haunted by that one afternoon; I’ve been left stranded in the tangled humdrum of the everyday, while beset by a yearning sense that everything is actually simpler and clearer and more joyful than it generally seems to be. There are periods of “stuckness” when I wish that my moment of clarity had never happened, so that I could be content with watching TV and going shopping and getting on with life in the way that any number of quite happy people seem to be – but I know, fundamentally, that some experiences can’t be retracted, nor some intuitions rejected. I’ll keep looking, forwards as well as backwards, reaching out for that elusive clarity, and being grateful for having experienced it at least once in my life.