I Ate Some Sweet Peas and Found the Fundamental Truth of the Universe
In January 2018, I went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat and experienced oneness with the universe for the first time. It was a surreal embodied experience of the self dissolving and becoming a united whole with the surroundings. In that moment, I was convinced that there is some fundamental truth in our unity that we can’t see or touch from our normal consciousness, but is there nevertheless.
After obtaining this insight, it didn’t take much effort to convince myself, a meat lover, to turn into a vegetarian. I also became an activist on a variety of existential issues that I never bothered to care about before. After realizing my existence went beyond myself, the issues all beings faced instantly became my issues.
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Article originally published on Linkedin in Jan 2018.
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As I proceeded with my normal life, and the retreat effect wore off, I was struggling to feel one with my surroundings again. In a society where everyone tells you to be independent, to not be a burden, and to achieve greatness, I started to watch out for myself again and felt deeply separated from everyone else. My relationships became transactional and I felt I had no community where I could be accepted as myself.
I was ready to reconnect with the universe and thought about this magic food called sweet pea that the Michael Pollan and Sam Harris of the world publicly talk about. I have been studying in psychology classes about its effects on the serotonin receptors and have been curious if it could be a more accessible way for more people to realize our profound unity. Finally after three years of “feeling it out”, I decided to take the plunge and designed a trip to nature with some friends for spiritual enlightenment.
On the last night of the trip, my friends and I ate some sweet peas and waited. After a long time watching Midnight Gospels and being disappointed nothing was happening, the magic finally took place. A boring cabin turned into a living canvas. Everywhere I looked started to radiate with vivid colors and fluid shapes. As I looked around with eyes wide open, an overwhelming sense of love emerged and overtook me. I was heating up and found that I had so much energy at my disposal so I started to pass it around. I grabbed my friends’ hands and was able to transmit “love” to them effortlessly. The boundary of our hands disappeared into each other. Not long after, I became one with them, and together with anything I, or we, touched: the sofa, the computer, the ceiling, the entire house, the entire sky. I sat there with a huge grin on my face. I was smiling out of ecstasy for this precious unity that I had been missing. I thought to myself,
Love is the language of the universe.
At some point, we discovered that music is the gate to an integrated experience, so we turned off the light and cuddled in the dark with music. To music, I surrendered myself. I was embraced by music coming from all directions. For the first time in my life, I was hearing each instrument separately but together at the same time. My breath rose and fell with the rhythm: deep breathe at one time and rapid breathe at another. I closed my eyes and just let that state of being last for as long as it did. I felt drunk, on love.
The next time I opened my eyes, I suddenly realized that I was sitting alone in the dark. My friends were still around but I wasn’t immediately aware of them. The moonlight shining through the windows on one side, together with the high ceiling, constructed an image of an abandoned chapel. The music that gave a deep-space, timeless feel turned my mood 180 degrees. I became a disembodied soul, alive by the grave after my own death. The worst thing was that everyone had left my funeral, leaving me to face the rest of time alone. I was suffocated by a sense of eternal aloneness. I felt dread in my stomach.
This deep loneliness was a trigger and brought my memories back to each step of my journey immigrating to the US. I was reminded of all the struggles I had to overcome to survive in a country that was not home and a system that actively discriminated against immigrants; I was reminded of the insecurity and fear I had been feeling all these time: of being abandoned by my friends and not having a family to fall back on. Bitterness swelled up in me as it used to in the past, but instead of suppressing it, I decided to give up control and let it out this time. I bursted out crying, like the 3-year-old me realizing my parents had left on the first day of kindergarten. There was no hiding, no pretending. I cried and cried and cried as if I was deep-cleansing my soul. It felt good.
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As I cried for my own sorrow, I started to connect with humanity’s collective sorrow. I saw the tired face of a single mother rocking her baby to sleep, the numb face of a homeless person trying to stay alive in an indifferent world, and the wrinkled face of an elder at his death bed alone. I saw that while we led completely different lives, our sorrow is the same: the deep sense of separation, loneliness, and abandonment. Their sorrow started to flow through me and expressed with my tears.
My cry woke my friends up from their “dreams”. They rushed to me, offered me their hands to hold and shoulders to cry on. I could not talk so I just grabbed their hands as tightly as I could and breathed heavily almost as a way of expression. My tears of sadness turned into tears of gratitude: at my lowest, at a time when I had absolutely nothing to offer, I was still cared for. I was not sure why but my friends were there for me. When I thought I was alone after death, life really wasn’t worth continuing. Now that my friends were by my side, I regained the confidence for life: I could make it through this darkness that’s death and come back alive.
This is the meaning of my existence, that we are here for each other.
An eternity passed and my tears dried up. I looked out and saw dawn was coming. I was aware that my peak experience was over and was relieved. I was scared of being stuck in that eternal aloneness or that virtual world like the matrix. I remembered telling myself that moment that reality was the best of all worlds because at least it was real. To that, I would wholeheartedly accept whatever life throws at me in the future.
When I returned from the restroom and sobered up some more, I became acutely aware that my friends were in their own worlds: one of them was playing with bananagrams and talking to himself; the other completely sobered up and was going to sleep. I was immediately disappointed: what I experienced, that love and connection, was just a dream. I dreaded coming back to the reality where we lived and struggled in our separate worlds.
I had an urge to go back to the “dream” where everything was connected and no one was alone. But I also knew that the “dream” state wasn’t actually desirable. As much as I was immersed in love and unity, I was also fundamentally alone. Because the boundary of myself and everything blurred, I effectively became the universe. There was nothing else but “me”. I was both in this universe and the universe itself. I was connected and alone at the same time. This is how I finished the trip, puzzled by these mysterious contractions.
It took me a week afterwards to consult my life coach, and read Adyashanti and Alan Watts to get further insights. I realized our lives are full of such seeming opposites or contradictions: female & male, lightness & heaviness, light & darkness, pleasure & pain, free will & determinism, detachment & attachment, individualism & collectivism, independence & interdependence. They are not a bug, but a feature of life. The goal of life is never to achieve one thing or another, but to live in that perfect harmony with both, to engage in the dance of the yin and yang.
The truth I discovered was that we were alone and together at the same time. Sometimes we feel more alone and sometimes we feel more connected. Neither is worse or better; they just are. All we can do is to embrace these present moments.
The feeling of separation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It helps us to develop abilities to take care of ourselves first before attending others; it cultivates independent thinking and allows us to create works of art. It’s completely fine to be in a state of aloneness as long as one is aware, at the same time, of our interconnectedness and does not take separation as reality. No matter if we feel the intimate connectedness or not, we are connected. Just like the phrase in Ocean Vuong’s poem,
“Loneliness is still time spent with the world.”
We are “condemned” to be together and going against this inclination is orthogonal to our natural state of being. As we go on living our separate lives, the more we could embrace our fundamental unity, the more whole and “at home” we could feel. This insight is not a new one; it’s been talked about throughout centuries by the Ancient Greeks, the Buddha, Hindu and other eastern religions as well as western. It’s a timeless truth, awaiting every one of us to discover within ourselves.
Thanks to Amy Shen, Denelax Orakwue, Kevin Yang, Mika Reyes for the edits!
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