Imagine for a moment that we are all One, truly One. Let that thought flow through you, like an ocean. Imagine that what you call God, Source, whatever name you want to give it, is the ocean and you yourself are a wave in that ocean. You might sometimes feel that you are separate from the ocean because you are a wave and experience your life as a wave but in the end, there is no separation between yourself and the ocean, you are part of the ocean, you are the ocean, you always have been and will always be the ocean.
This is my personal story of how I experienced myself as an ocean, as being one with everything, for the first time in this life. It was the summer of 2003 and I was about to embark on a new journey. I had one more term left to finish my Bachelor’s degree, had just ended a difficult relationship and was feeling completely open and alive again.
I arranged to spend some part of my summer holidays with one of my best childhood friends whom I hadn’t seen much the years before. Since my friend was living in Australia at that time and I was living in the United Kingdom, we decided to meet somewhere half-way. We started looking at the world map when my friend suggested meeting in Nepal. I had never been to Nepal before nor to Asia. At that time I hadn’t traveled much yet and so I was extremely excited at the prospect of being able to discover a new continent and to get to spend some time alone with my friend.
So here I was in Kathmandu in the middle of the monsoon when my friend suggested why not trek the Annapurna base camp for two weeks. I was not prepared for that at all but I had always been someone who was very open to new ideas and adventures and this sounded like it could become quite an adventure, though I had not expected nor in any way imagined that it would turn into one of the most important turning points of my life.
We found a travel agency, hired our guide, and off we went, trekking the Annapurna in the middle of the monsoon in tennis shoes with our 10kg backpack. The first days went very smoothly, we adapted well to the difference in altitude, walked for 5-7 hours a day mostly in the rain and were glad every day when we came to our next guest house to take a shower and warm up around a fire.
However, one thing started to disturb me deeply after the first days in the mountains. The heavy rains seemed to also have brought out the leeches in the Himalayas. Wherever we walked, one could see leeches “waiting” for us. As soon as you got closer, they would try to raise their tiny bodies and started to become really agitated in the anticipation of being able to get a hold of your shoes and find a nice spot on your skin to be able to suck your blood. There was nothing really dangerous about the situation, but once you start to become obsessed with an idea, it’s hard to let go. And so I was thinking about the leeches most of the time, watching my feet while walking and even feeling leeches on my body where there were none. It got so bad that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue the trek.
One evening I had troubles falling asleep as I constantly felt something crawling on my body, imagining a leech hiding somewhere under my sleeping bag. I knew that there most likely wouldn’t be any in my sleeping bag but my body started itching all over and falling asleep seemed impossible in that situation. Then I started thinking what could be the worst to happen if a leech was really there, or two, or three… I started to imagine there really being leeches on my body crawling over me. I continued trying to imagine the leeches multiplying and covering my legs, my complete lower body, my upper body and eventually my whole head. I first got to a point of deep discomfort which eventually led to utter disgust while I imagined myself being literally drowned in leeches. At exactly that moment when I felt the disgust so intensely in every single cell of my body and mind and when I thought I could not take it anymore, something changed and a deep calmness came over me. I was already really tired, it was quite late, I can’t remember what happened next but I must have fallen asleep and I slept very well until the next morning.
The next day we continued our trek and my whole fear surrounding the leeches had simply vanished. I would still encounter them but they didn’t disturb me anymore in any way. I would still see them on the path but if I noticed one crawling up my leg, I would just take it down again – no discomfort, no disgust, no fear. We continued walking in the rain most of the morning and I remember thinking about the concept, the relationship and the purpose of “others and me”. I cannot recall the details of my thoughts but I remember us stopping at the peak of one mountain when the sky suddenly cleared and we had an unobstructed view of the mountains, the valley and the sky. It was mesmerizing.
At that moment, I felt as if everything around me had disappeared or rather as if I had disappeared. I saw the mountains, the valley and the sky and I knew in that moment that I was the mountains, the valley and the sky. I knew I was everything and included everything but at the same time I knew that I was an irrelevant speck of dust in the middle of it all. It is very difficult to describe this experience in words as I feel that words cannot capture the whole essence of that moment. It was such an elevating and humbling experience at the same time and all I could feel was love and gratefulness. What happened next was that my mind just became empty – completely empty of thoughts and the only thing left was a feeling of complete bliss. It was as if I had dropped everything that moment and was just full of awe of the present moment I was experiencing.
However, what intrigued me most about that experience was that it wasn’t just happening and gone the next minute, as if when you see a beautiful sunset, you appreciate it for a while and then you go on doing something else, while the taste of the experience slowly fades away. In this case it wasn’t so much the experience of standing on top of the mountains but rather the change of awareness that took place while I was standing on top of the mountains. That emptiness of mind and blissfulness of heart just stayed with me for the next two weeks and with it a deep trust and a deep knowing that everything is perfect as it is and that everything turns out perfectly as it should even though we may not understand or be able to see it at that time. Everything I did just felt completely effortless and my mind felt somehow crystal clear.
I continued our trek in this state and a couple of days later we were relaxing in Pokhara, a beautiful little town by the Phewa lake. Soon it was already time to leave Nepal and go back home. I still had a month left of holidays which I spent in Austria with my family.
When I travelled back to Austria this feeling of intense love and bliss travelled back with me. I felt as if I was in love with the entire universe, I felt so much love for everyone and everything – the strangers on a bus, the trees in my parents garden, the ants on the pathway. I could see the beauty and perfection in everything.
At the same time I started noticing that I didn’t have access to my mind as I usually did, it was so still and quiet that I started feeling I didn’t have a mind anymore. I started noticing that I had difficulties doing simple things like going grocery shopping and this was when things started to get more complicated. I would go into a grocery shop and while in the shop, I would start wondering what I needed to buy but my mind was just not operating as it usually did. Instead of thinking how many bananas I would like to get, I would wonder if I needed bananas, what a banana was, how real a banana was and if I was real. Or when a friend asked me what types of films I liked, I couldn’t answer the question anymore as I didn’t know what films I liked anymore or what I liked in general.
My whole sense of identity had shifted, I felt like I didn’t have an identity as such anymore at least not one that I could relate to yet and being back in Vienna in my familiar surroundings brought that contrast out even more. I felt as if the reality I had known didn’t exist anymore and I was in a new reality but I couldn’t make sense of it. It was as if I was given a new reality map but I had no clue how to read it as the reference points I had used in the past were not applicable anymore, they just didn’t make sense to me anymore.
I was starting to move between moments of great bliss, joy, and love and moments of confusion, lack of understanding and feelings of being lost. Whenever I was not using my mind I would feel this taste of oneness with everything but whenever I was trying to use my mind, I would feel utter confusion. I started having more and more difficulties “functioning” in everyday life and though I knew I had experienced something beautiful and profound in Nepal, I couldn’t find a way to integrate that experience into my everyday life.
I was having an identity crisis between my identity of being a wave and of having had the realization of being the ocean but I wasn’t able to hold these two identities at the same time. Many spiritual traditions have written about altered states of consciousness when you realize even if just for a moment that you are the ocean. Abraham Maslow has termed it peak experiences, it is called Awakening in modern spirituality, Kensho in Zen, Enlightenment in Buddhism. And as the saying goes in Buddhism, “after enlightenment, the laundry” and this was the beginning of an extensive laundry for me that would last several months and at the same time the beginning of my spiritual journey.
Much love to you 💙🙏 🌈
Gratitude to Elena Prokofyeva for the picture