England, one afternoon in Spring. It was sunny, with very little wind. I was the only walker on the path that runs along the ridge of the hills at that point. On my left, only a few kilometres away to the south, the sea with a brilliant sun reflecting off it. On my right, inland, a huge stretch of green and rural England.
I turned off the main path and took a smaller one that led down through the thick woods that clothed the sides of the hills. A few metres down this path, I branched off again onto a very narrow and little-used track that dropped steeply downwards. I often walked this track and knew it well. There was a deep silence in those woods, broken only by the songs of birds – especially at this time of the year when migratory arrivals from Africa were still settling in – and the occasional rustling above me where whatever breeze there was stirred the topmost branches of the trees.
I knew many of the trees along that path; I knew the eccentricities of the path my feet had to negotiate. In places it was hardly wide enough to walk on, and at one point dropped dramatically away on one side into the deep crater left by a Second World War bomb ditched by German aircrew to help speed their getaway over the Channel after an air raid on London seventy kilometres to the north.
I was about a quarter of the way down this track that day when I had a sudden sense that I was not alone. I had company. But I’d heard no footfalls; there was no evidence whatever of another person. Strangely too, I felt no need to stop and look around. I just kept walking. And as I walked, this sense of some other presence alongside me grew. There was no dismissing it; I knew – with a knowledge beyond all knowing – that it was there, that it was infinitely benign – and it was real. Tears came to my eyes. I knew not only of its presence, but also that it was not, in itself, an entity – it was a one-ness; it extended through me and into everything around me – the trees, the grasses, the wild flowers, birds, insects, the sky above me and the earth at my feet. Everything was one; everything, I was aware, is interdependent on everything else. It brought to me a feeling which I can only describe as bliss.
Along with all that, I knew two other things. First, this profound thing, whatever it was, would be with me for only seconds. Also, I knew instinctively not to ‘think’ about it. Not to use my mind to try and understand, analyse and label it. It was coming from somewhere where the mind does not reach. Direct the mind on it, and it would be gone. I tried therefore just to ‘be’ with it, and stay with it until it had gone.
How long it lasted, I don’t know – I had no sense of time. But looking back it was probably a minute at most. I felt it fading, and with it went my tearfulness, until both were gone. And there I was, once again, just a bloke walking down a path in the woods. But something had changed.
I can’t explain it. It’s beyond explanation. It confirmed for me what I’d long felt – that we, and everything in the world around us and beyond, even out to the furthest stars, are all one indivisible entity.