It happened on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, in 1981. I was preparing to drive to my girlfriend’s house in Laguna Beach for dinner. Just as I was about to leave, I sensed a vastness hovering over me–a premonition of impending death. It became so tangible it froze me at the threshold. I stood motionless for sixty seconds of forever; then something pushed me into action. I fumbled for my car keys and headed off. Ten minutes later, death met me in a hurry. A station wagon ran a red light at fifty-five miles an hour and slammed into the driver’s door of my compact car.
Glass and steel ripped apart like garments.
The paramedics say I was unconscious for twenty minutes. They had given me up for dead and were working on the other driver. When they were finally preparing to saw me out of the wreckage, they noticed my slumped body stir to life.
Twenty minutes or twenty centuries made no difference to what had been “me” in the ruined car. All meaning was discarded with the din of shredding metal and shattered glass falling away. My consciousness was launched into an ocean of golden silence.
Perception of myself was everywhere and nowhere, running at a million years a moment. I remember hovering over parents and friends who never saw me. I wasn’t there. And I did this “not there-ing” with as much reality as I had “done” the physical body. I looked through my girlfriend’s eyes and saw her hands cutting carrots for the meal we would never have. Her hands suddenly stopped. She put down the knife and folded her fingers thoughtfully.
There were other beings “not there-ing” in the golden silence. They cast the impression, like turning on a light, that I was home and there was no need to return “down there.”
But somewhere in the lower vibrations of the space/time continuum, a pair of eyes opened. My mind re-engaged. Coolness, and a restfulness I have never felt before, encompassed the form that was the only thing left unbroken in the car. I felt like a time traveler returning from a million-year journey, inwardly silent and centered.
Someone was tapping on the glass. An ashen-faced paramedic gaped at me through the window and yelled, “Can you get out?!”
“Sure,” I said evenly, as if he had only asked me for the time.
I found the door handle and walked away from death.
Prophets explain that through techniques of deep prayer, trance, or meditation–and sometimes even through a severe shock–they can have a glimpse of a higher vista of consciousness, where the horizon of time stretches far beyond the present moment.
The objective mind cannot always repress the psychic in us. And in some rare moments the fantastic even leaves its calling card at a skeptic’s door. I remember how I tried to reach out to those I loved after the collision propelled me into the golden light. Later on I asked my girlfriend what she was doing at the time of the accident.
“I was in the kitchen,” she said, “cutting some carrots for dinner, when suddenly something stopped me. I knew you weren’t coming…that something terrible had just happened.”
Facing life’s ultimate threat of change–death–has given me a deep sense of gratitude, not only to the mystery that continues to give me life, but also to the sixth sense that sent me a premonition of danger. If I had been more self-observant, and more open to my own prescience, I might have respected that premonition and avoided a circumstance that almost killed me.
I contend that we all suffer from prophet’s block. Most of us have been programmed to act like ostriches, to hide our heads from premonitions of change. A premonition of apocalypse–whether personal or global–may be a blessing in disguise. We can use precognition as an alarm to wake up in time and steer our destiny out of harm’s way.
(23 April 2007)