Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When All Hell Broke Loose, and I Got My Life Back (Life Changing Moments Series)

I first met Christina Katz at a Writer's Digest Conference in New York City. In fact, her room was next door to the one I shared with WD trade book editor Scott Francis. She's not only smart and inspirational, but she's also very nice. By the way, I'll be speaking with Christina and Jane Friedman in a few weeks at the 2012 AWP Conference in Chicago. So in addition to being cool, Christina writes books, coaches writers, and follows her creative instincts. Before she started writing productively, it took her a decade to find her creative center and learn how to direct it wisely and prosperously. During that time, some days were more challenging than others. This is a story about one of those days. Learn more at

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 clich├ęs. 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.


If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:


shannon esposito said...

Wow. Okay, I've written and erased fifty sentences here. I'm just going to leave it at wow. Thank you for sharing! Going back to read this again.

Christina Katz said...

Thanks for hosting, Robert. Honored to be here. Looking forward to AWP!

Anonymous said...


It's hard to read with a glaring spell mistake. Thanks.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

My mistake. Good illustration of self-editing mistake. Ugh!

I'm glad somebody--even if anonymously--pointed that out.

Christina, I'm looking forward to AWP too!

Shannon, thanks for sharing! Wow is definitely enough. :)

Hope Clark said...

Amazing how we have our pivotal moments. Some we can share - others we cannot. But it's awesome when someone has to courage to bare that moment to strangers. Nice job, Christina.

Jeanne said...

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield describes his experiences with this phenomenon. Twice in my life, I've personally felt/shared this momentary, overwhelming oneness with God and universe. You're right. Words diminish the experience, but I can attest to the fact that we are never quite the same afterward. I do not fear life or death because somewhere deep inside me, I KNOW.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

I agree, Hope. I think it does take courage to share these moments, especially a personal moment like this.

Jeanne, you've reminded me that I need to read The Celestine Prophecy again. I remember I loved reading it in high school, but there are probably whole new levels of experience I could apply to reading it now.

Christina Katz said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. It does seem to take a certain amount of guts to share something so pivotal and personal, but again, thanks Robert for asking me to do it.

Shannon, feel free to email me if you prefer. No pressure to share here. Only if you want to.

Robert, thank you for making a typo. Not sure if I'd also made one, but this always reminds me that typos happen. And that's just the way it is.

Thanks, Hope!

Jeanne, I appreciate your response and I can relate, for sure.

Mention of The Celestine Prophecy certainly takes me back. :)

Christina Katz said...

I received an email from a person (who shall remain nameless) who inferred—and I can see why based on what I wrote—that I was describing an all-day "sitting" (meditation) experience. That's not what this was. It was a workshop with a variety of exercises. Prior to this experience, I had only been meditating for a few minutes. Maybe fifteen tops, but if I'm remembering correctly it was more like five or ten. So not to be confused with all an all-day sitting meditation (which I have never really had the patience for, I confess). Just wanted to clarify. I'll describe it better next time!

JIM in MT said...

Back in the 70's we'd go to Berkeley to see the Kid Guru and we'd sit and sit and sit and still he never showed up. Those folks who - kaboom! - "got it" finally got up and went home. The rest are probably still sitting there. Hows that Kundalini working out for you?

- Nameless

Christina Katz said...

Honestly, Jim, it took a while to pull myself together and move forward. Let's just say there was a lot to integrate. Still working on it, in fact. ;)

Linda G. Hatton said...

I'm sure it was not "coincidence" that brought me to read your blog tonight. I'm a bit in awe at learning of your metaphysical interests and reading of your experience.

During and after the death of my father (even though I had lived through the deaths of many others before him), I went through something similar . . . but different. Life became a fine line between physical and spiritual.

Your sentence, “Of course, it was me, all along, who thought it sounded like a good idea,” gave me even more of a “wow” moment.

Even though we are powerless regarding our death, we have choices in life.

So glad I read this.

Unknown said...

Christina- Maybe I need to soak this in, but this reminds me of a variation of an "out of body" experience. What does the world and your life look like now? I think that's a burning question that I must ask. Thank you for sharing this.
I am working on my own submission!