Reflecting on the phenomenon of self after the experience of anesthesia during a medical procedure.
– An unexpected awakening –
… I remember the activities of the people in the hospital who were preparing me for a stomach-endoscopy. It all appeared to me like the countdown for launching a rocket or something – me being the astronaut. They connected me to all kinds of machinery and monitoring equipment and set me up on the “launch pad”. I felt like an astronaut being prepared for his great lonely journey into space. They calibrated their instruments, checked my condition. I clearly remember the doctor saying – taxing me with a vague glance – “ok, give him a hundred”. Seconds later I felt flashes of wild unexplainable sensations exploding in my head.
The next thing I recall is that they talked a lot, and somehow their attitude had changed and my dear Parvin, my wife, was there and kissed me. Somehow there was a faint idea that time had passed, but it didn’t seem alarming. There was a most beautiful feeling of ease, a sense of this wonderful old ‘ok-ness‘ that lacked any need for explanation. I wondered when they would start the procedure – my systems were all primed to expect some ugly events, (swallowing a tube, oh my god!) – and then they just laughed that it was all over already.
Somewhere there was a strange, faint reverberation in me, a distant echo ringing aimlessly through the vast space of my mind, an echo, a meaningless empty message from the past. Not a memory of physical sensations; it was like laughter, laughter ringing in my head, compassionate laughter. About what?
So it was already finished? Well – drugs, anesthesia – pretty good. I scanned through my body – boy, there wasn’t even the slightest sensation, no pain, no soreness, nothing! Didn’t they say something about this gruesome tube swallowing? I licked my lips – normal. The IV was gone, all the wiring was gone. Did I really miss the whole thing?
I noticed my disbelief and again sensed this mysterious urge to laugh, like drifting fog rising from the dark canyons of my mind, this knowing amusement that somehow brought tears to my eyes. Not sneering but warm and full of compassion. They talked to me and told me a lot of stuff, but somehow the intellectual information wouldn’t sink in. Later, Parvin had to tell me everything again. It was like in meditation; thoughts formed but quickly vanished because they were not picked up by attention. With giggling amusement I watched the passing show of thoughts entering and disintegrating, unused, like snowflakes melting on my hand. In ordinary waking state we usually think we are our mind (the classical Descartes’ error). Here, in a most peculiar way, I felt my mind, I felt how it continuously, quite unsuccessfully, tried to raise alarm – something was wrong, its authority was profoundly questioned.
To whom did all this happen? The good old Self, otherwise so pompously in charge all the time, where had he been? Things seemed to have worked well – miraculously without him. How could this be? asked Self, and he seemed offended, insulted like a child that hadn’t been taken seriously.
It was as if I was just coming back from somewhere where Self cannot go, and I chuckled when it dawned on me: oh yeah, this poor guy didn’t get what happened, sure he cannot, well, gee, look at this character, how upset he is, pretty funny!
So, really, to whom did all this happen when I = Self wasn’t there? Oh yes, I know, they tricked me, it only appeared as if I wasn’t there. I must have been there! I mean who else could have had the experience? Gee, but there was no experience! But they told me I was there. What is this self anyway? Who am I?
And at the same time I felt as if I was stroking over my own head and whispering into my own ear: Hey, my little boy, my brother, don’t get excited, this is something you cannot understand. Just go back and play. It’s ok.
Well, it didn’t take that long until the terribly familiar business of making sense of reality started rolling again. The missing pages in my personal history felt funny but surprisingly not disturbing. They said I had been functioning and reacting quite normally during my “absence”. I actually learned that my stomach was quite ok. It meant an end to a long miserable story of sleepless nights and joyless days. One of so many stories our mind is busy constructing day in day out. Sometimes, when the mind is deliberately left unattended, deprived of the attention it craves so much – I’m practicing this in meditation all the time – it becomes possible to climb out of the story. But it is hilarious and at least equally liberating to find yourself knocked out of your story in such an unexpected way and suddenly catch yourself simply existing, entirely independent of any story, anything you think, laughing about the mere attempt to make sense.
In strangely curious fascination I find myself often going back to this event. What was this mysterious laughter about? It was so friendly, so kind, so soft! I long for it so much! Who was it who was laughing? And I feel it again, both: the pain of not getting it and the relief: there is nothing to get, it cannot be understood this way, there is no need to do anything, it’s already ok.
© Klaus Kommoss July, 2004