Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Erik Davis' Mystical Experience

The author Erik Davis is known for his many essays in a variety of both fringe and mainstream publications over the last two decades. I remember reading pieces by him in Gnosis magazine back in the day (seen here and here)  as well as his book, Techgnosis, when it first came out. Last year, he came out with The Visionary State, a beautiful coffee table book about the long tradition of California fringe spirituality as documented through photographs of buildings and locations. He has an essay available online, “Beyond Beliefs: The Cults of Burning Man,” that was published in AfterBurn: Reflections on Burning Man, as well.

As someone who has written about spirituality on the fringe and also as a longtime Burner, I would hardly be shocked to discover that Davis has his own spiritual bent and experiences. On his blog this week, Davis documented the one out and out mystical experience that he had. This occurred, interestingly enough, while on a month-long Zen retreat after finishing Techgnosis. Davis states:

So I’m rinsing the beets, minding my own business, vaguely enjoying the cool water washing away the moist and pungent mud, when my “I” suddenly rockets like a SciFi space elevator into the highest, most barren and serene realms of Witness consciousness. I became the watcher of the watcher of the watcher of the watcher of the watcher of the watcher..., a bootstrapping eensy-weensy spider of observer and observation that shed layers of identification as it flip-flopped up the water spout into ever more rarified levels of subjectivity, until there was not much left. What did this feel like? The analogy that arose most forcefully a few moments later, when I was able to reflect again, was of some sea-farer’s spyglass rapidly being drawn open, an action which extends the reach of the eye even as it, in some sense, increases the distance between the eye and the surface medium where the world inscribes its traces. My eye, my I, was now peering into my experience from Olympian climes. It’s tough to describe what this new I felt like without leaning on mystic rhetoric, which I really don’t want to do because it sounds like bullshit, and my experience was anything but bullshit to me. One thing is for sure: there was nothing particularly human in it. It felt like a being, but it had no attributes I can really name other than awareness and perception. It felt like diamond, like hard serenity, a clear and crystalline meta-mind that was both individual and, in some ungrokkable, transpersonal way, collective. And ever so slightly amused.

I recommend reading the whole entry. It is interesting, at least to me.

For myself, I’ve never had a similar experience though I have had a variety of odd, synchronistic, or awe filled numinous experiences at times over the years. One of the things that I’ve appreciated about Buddhist practice is that it teaches to just let these sorts of things pass. Experience them but don’t cling to them or grasp after them. Still, it is interesting to read about the experiences of others.