Something happened one day in 1974 that would forever change the way I look at life. And I find that once you go through that door, you can never go back.
I will start with a parable. It’s an expansion of a story told by writer David Foster Wallace. Imagine, if you will, that each of us is a newborn fish. In the few days since we were born, we’ve cautiously swum about some, but now Mom has gathered us together to teach us about our world. She points out rocks, and that some good things to eat might be found around them. She tells us about the sand, and that there are some creatures that look like sand but might sting us. She lets us know about what’s good to eat and what might want to eat us, and eventually we come to feel as if we have this fish thing wired.
What she doesn’t tell us about, of course, is water, because she doesn’t know about water. You know, it’s that water-to-the-fish thing: the fish doesn’t know about water because water is all it knows. But imagine that one day something happens to you that takes you out of your well-understood reality. In this case it comes in the form of feeling something sharp and foreign in your mouth. You’re jerked around and pulled upwards, and suddenly you cross some sort of boundary and you can’t breathe. You’ve been caught, and, fortunately for you, you’re in a catch-and-release area and you’re gently put back where you belong. And now you know about the existence of water. You know about water by experiencing what we might call “not-water”, so that you can now distinguish water from everything else.
On that day in 1974, I found out about “not-water”. And that changed everything.
For human beings of course, the water in this parable doesn’t represent a physical thing. Instead, it represents an abstract idea. It takes the form of an explanation of what we see and hear. It is a conventional understanding we have about the world and about our place in the world.
However, like the fish in our parable, we look through, and not at, this understanding. It’s transparent, like the water the fish swims in. We never think about it, and for the most part we’re not even aware that we have it. It’s all we know. And the totality of how we look at ourselves, at life, at the world, our entire belief system, is based on this invisible understanding.
For us humans, this conventional explanation is rooted in one fundamental idea: that the world exists pretty much as we perceive it to be, whether or not we are around to perceive it. It’s a natural, intuitive assumption. We all “know” that when we look at something, we’re seeing it more or less the way it actually is.
In this view, the world is a machine, a mechanical reality that acts and evolves according to well-established rules. And yet any student of physics who has encountered quantum mechanics, as I have, will likely come to see that this view is very hard to defend. And it turns out that there is a completely different interpretation we can make of what we see with our physical eyes.
By 1972, I had been introduced to books by Carlos Castaneda, Paramahansa Yogananda, and others whose works allowed me to glimpse a new possibility. I slowly began to realize that there were ideas around that were inconsistent with my existing world view. Eventually I saw that I had stumbled upon a completely different idea of the world and our relationship to it.
At first, I found this “new-to-me” idea to be an interesting and oddly compelling notion. But over the intervening decades, I have come to see my attempt to grasp, and then to articulate, this different idea as my purpose for being here. I finally understand that I no longer have any choice except to follow this idea as far as I can. It’s as if I hear a calling, and at some point I finally decided to follow that calling as best I could.
This book sets down in words the story I now tell about my journey through life. All people, naturally, have a story they tell about their lives, and while I’ve had some wonderful experiences and encountered some truly gifted people, I don’t think the list of events that have taken place in my life is particularly remarkable. And yet, because I now tell my story in terms of following a path to which I was called, and because of the manner in which this new and very compelling idea shaped my choices and decisions, I felt compelled to put it to words. To some degree this is a partial autobiography, but it’s also an adventure story in a very different sense than one might expect.