|Christina Katz in the mid-90s|
Like most people, I have had many life-changing moments. But probably the biggest was the time I was not sure I could go on living. My despair wasn't sparked by the loss of a job, a dramatic breakup, or a major humiliation, although, I've had my fair share of those. My life-changing moment occurred in a high-rise apartment building community room in Chicago in the fall of 1996, where I was attending a small, all-day meditation workshop.
The first thing that might be hard to accept is the idea that Chicago, Illinois is a spiritual place. I am not sure about the cause and effect of how so many spiritual communities and teachers were attracted to Chicago in the first place. But when you consider the city's reputation as Carl Sandburg described it in his poem "Chicago," "Stormy, husky, brawling / City of Big Shoulders," it makes perfect sense that a more spiritual feminine energy would spiral up to balance out the grid-like, mundane, masculine grind you can feel bearing down on you in the windy city's downtown.
There's a surface to Chicago and then there's a depth to Chicago. There was a surface and a depth to my life back then, as well. By day, I worked as the assistant to a real estate entrepreneur who had lost almost everything in the early nineties recession and was plotting his comeback in a small office in Streeterville. By night and by weekend, I spent my time dabbling in the esoteric arts in my violet-walled bedroom at the top of a spiral staircase in a Wrigleyville coach house with a roommate, who worked at REI, and her Siberian Husky, Harley.
When All Hell Broke Loose
These were the spiritual topics in which I was fairly well-versed at the time: Astrology, Tarot, Reiki, Shamanism, Angels, Past-life Regression, Kriya Yoga, the 12 Steps, Living In Process, The Artist’s Way, Jungian Psychology, Art Therapy, The Divine Feminine, Feng shui, Mythology, and Divination.
You might have thought, with all this esoteric dabbling, that I'd be ready for some type of enlightenment experience. But I wasn't. I was about as prepared as the female New Age version of Forrest Gump doe-doe-dodying my way along from spiritual experience to spiritual experience. I always wanted more and there was always a steady stream of workshops or retreats or presentations to attend.
This would probably be a good time to discuss what I mean by spiritual experience. One of the definitions of enlightenment is a fundamentally changed consciousness whereby everything is perceived as a unity. That sounds really neat and tidy, but it's not really communicating the terror of having your consciousness suddenly and radically wiped clean and then being thrust right back into your normal, everyday life.
It was there, at the all-day meditation workshop, when I broke through the veil without trumpets blowing or fanfare. I just popped right through in my mind's eye while my physical body sat, cross-legged, in a community room in a Chicago high rise staring at a point on the wall. And that's when all hell broke loose, so to speak. But actually it was quite the opposite. It was the day I got my life back.
The Curtain Came Down
What happened is that all of my everything—my life, my world, my personal history—was obliterated in the span of a moment. Just gone. Completely shattered and replaced by what I was experiencing. And it wasn't just bright white light, like we always get in the movies. I mean it was somewhat like that, but that image really pales in comparison to the actual feeling. It's more the positive equivalent of a nuclear bomb and equally as annihilating.
Ka-boom! And you are done. Next?
Beyond that there were none of the usual clichés. There was no white-bearded old man pointing a finger at me. There were no picturesque choirs of angels lifting me up. No dramatic Last Supper images like you see in stained glass windows. I distinctly did not hear a movie soundtrack crescendo in the background.
Instead, the crescendo was silently going on inside of my every cell. All of my senses felt like they would burst from overuse. I perceived everything. There it was, all at once, burning hot ecstatic white without any sign of ever waning or running out. I felt like I would implode from my own incredulity.
The enormity of what I was taking in at once is unworthy of words. Words cheapen the experience in every way. And then BAM! Before you know it, it's over, because these kinds of things never last very long. The door closed. The curtain came down. We were moving on in the workshop to the next exercise. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position of that community room and never get up. I wanted to lie there until I melted from decay. The unbearable heaviness of living was suddenly pushing down on me like it only has when I have been deathly ill. Somehow I went through the motions of being present for the rest of the workshop, which was thankfully beginning to wrap up.
24 Hours to Live or Die
There is a bargaining period of about 24 hours, when you are keenly aware that the power to be there and not here is quite possibly in your hands. But instead of contemplating my own power to end my life, which I would never do, I spent most of my time on wishful thinking. Hoping beyond hope that I would go to sleep and be there, or that I would go to sleep and never wake up, because I would be dead, and then I would be there.
I have never wished for anything as much as I wished to just be done with all of this. And I felt angry that I would be given such a tiny taste of the infinite only to have it all yanked away so quickly and abruptly. I was furious. Enraged. Who the hell thought that this was a good idea?
Of course, it was me, all along, who thought it sounded like a good idea. And as soon as you realize this, you can really curse yourself up and down and back and forth for a good long while. In the meantime, you do what you have to do to carry on until you can, Humpty-Dumpty like, pick up all the pieces of your consciousness and pull them back together.
On that day, I did what I had to do, which was get my coat and my hat and my scarf and my bag, and stagger home through the cold, loud, blustering, jackhammer-obsessed city that is Chicago. First down to the subway, then up to the El train, and then, after what seemed like a lifetime, I was finally home.
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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series: