You're sitting in a room. It's pitch black.
6' wide. 4' long.
This was me at the beginning of 2018.
I was at a meditation retreat in a remote part of Yosemite National Park. Beautiful, lush, secluded.
What made this retreat different from other retreats I've done was the pagoda cell: a pitch black shoe closet for undivided meditation. Undivided sensory deprivation, too.
You see, usually students meditate together for 10 days in the same room. This time, advanced meditators had the option of meditating in a more quiet setting.
The pagoda hall was in a different building. Walking in to one of the cells, it was as if even death stood still in there. That's how quiet it was.
It was akin to the abyss of the Mariana Trench. That's how dark it was.
I figured why not? I'll give it a shot. I walk in to one of the cells and close the door quietly. I sit myself down on the meditation cushion.
I close my eyes. Nothing changes. It's as if my eyes were closed and open at the same time. It made no difference.
Amazed and somewhat scared, I leave after 5 minutes. I come back in, and try it again. I would continue cycling in and out for a few days.
As time went on, I got used to the cell. I could relax in there without freaking out. What made it nice was the total loss of all sensation that we seldom experience in modern times.
After the 10 day retreat was over, I hitched a ride from the Mahavana Vipassana Meditation Center on February 24, 2018. Pondering my experience on the way back, I didn't think it was any different than my other meditation experiences.
Everything was normal. Normal until I got dropped off in Mammoth Lakes, CA, where I planned to go skiing with a friend for a few days.
Usually, one can take an overpass from North Fork to Mammoth, but we had to drive all the way around.
My friend and I go skiing, grab food, and hang out at the co-working space in Mammoth.
On one of our rest days, we decide to try Willy's: a hot spring outside of the city.
You can think of Willy's as a luke warm, 5-foot deep pool of water in the middle of nowhere. Tourists frequent there for its relaxing, soothing, natural spa-like experience.
We get in the water. Ah, relaxing. The warmth of the water against the winter air was refreshing. Not too hot like a jacuzzi, but warm enough to keep our bodies warm and out of the elements.
After a while, I start feeling tingly. These endorphins are great!
The longer I sit in the pool, the more I start to feel like I'm getting anxious.
I'm calm. I think? I try nasal breathing, but this anxiety starts to feel like I'm in danger.
Within a span of 1 minute, the danger turns into doom. The doom turns into a panic attack. The panic attack turns into a full-blown break from reality. The break from reality turns into a...
Ok, let me pause here for one second. I just went from a 6-by-4, pitch black shoe closet experience into a hot spring located in a field the size Massachusetts.
The size contrast is stark but even moreso, it's unsettling. How can my brain interpret this sharp shift in physical space?
It can't. And that's what caused me to feel like I was completely removed from base reality, flung into the cosmos on a different planet.
What am I doing on this planet? Do I belong here? Is there a way to escape this? It's like I'm being forced to question my worldview.
A metaphysical shift. A dissolution of the ego. A panic attack?
I don't know. Whatever it was, it lasted about 2 minutes and I was frozen in my existence.
Frozen in ontological shock.
The moral of the story? Sometimes you'll lose sense of reality without any drugs, alcohol, or hallucinogens. Let it happen.
You can't stop it.