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Copyright 2002 Realization.org.


Collision with the Infinite

As she stepped into a bus on a street in Paris, an unexpected mental cataclysm split her consciousness in two. A few months later, her sense of personal self disappeared forever.


IT WAS IN THE SPRINGTIME that it happened. I was returning home to my apartment on the Left Bank after attending a class for pregnant women at the clinic across town where I would be having my baby six months from then. It was the first week of my fourth month of pregnancy, and I had just begun to feel the faintest stirring of my daughter's tiny movements, like being brushed by a feather from the inside. The month was May, and the sun felt warm on my head and face as I stood at the bus stop on the Avenue de la Grande Armee. I was in no hurry and had decided to take a bus instead of the metro in order to enjoy the lovely weather.

Several buses came and went before I finally saw the number 37 approaching down the wide avenue. Six or seven of us were waiting together at the stop, exchanging pleasantries about the weather and comments about the new advertising campaign that had been appearing on all the billboards. As the bus approached, we congregated expectantly near the curb. The bus lumbered to a halt, expelling the acrid odor of exhaust fumes and hot rubber into the warm spring air.

As I took my place in line, I suddenly felt my ears stop up like they do when the pressure changes inside an airplane as it makes its descent. I felt cut off from the scene before me, as if I were enclosed in a bubble, unable to act in any but the most mechanical manner. I lifted my right foot to step up into the bus and collided head-on with an invisible force that entered my awareness like a silently exploding stick of dynamite, blowing the door of my usual consciousness open and off its hinges, splitting me in two. In the gaping space that appeared, what I had previously called "me" was forcefully pushed out of its usual location inside me into a new location that was approximately a foot behind and to the left of my head. "I" was now behind my body looking out at the world without using the body's eyes.

From a non-localized position somewhere behind and to the left, I could see my body in front and very far away. All the body's signals seemed to take a long time to be picked up in this non-localized place, as if they were light coming from a distant star. Terrified, I looked around, wondering if anyone else had noticed something. All the other passengers were calmly taking their seats, and the bus driver was motioning me to put my yellow ticket into the machine so we could be off.

Reprinted with permission from
Collision with the Infinite: A Life Beyond the Personal Self
By Suzanne Segal
177 pages.
Published by Blue Dove Press (1996).
ISBN 1884997279

Suzanne Segal

"Instead of experiencing through the physical senses, I was now bobbing behind the body like a buoy on the sea."

I shook my head a few times, hoping to rattle my consciousness back into place, but nothing changed. I felt from afar as my fingers fumbled to insert the ticket into the slot and I walked down the aisle to find a seat. I sat down next to an older woman I had been chatting with at the bus stop, and I tried to continue our conversation. My mind had completely ground to a halt in the shock of the abrupt collision with whatever had dislodged my previous reality.

Although my voice continued speaking coherently, I felt completely disconnected from it. The face of the woman next to me seemed far away, and the air between us seemed foggy, as if filled with a thick, luminous soup. She turned to gaze out the window for a moment, then reached up to pull the cord to signal the driver to let her off at the next stop. When she rose, I slid over into her seat by the window and bid her goodbye with a smile. I could feel sweat rolling down my arms and beading up on my face. I was terrified.



The bus arrived at my stop on the rue Lecourbe, and I got off. As I walked the three blocks home, I attempted to pull myself back into one piece by focusing on my body and willing myself back into it where I thought I belonged in order to regain the previously normal sensation of seeing through the body's eyes, speaking through the body's mouth, and hearing through the body's ears. The force of will failed miserably. Instead of experiencing through the physical senses, I was now bobbing behind the body like a buoy on the sea. Cut loose from sensory solidity, separated from and witnessing the body from a vast distance, I moved down the street like a cloud of awareness following a body that seemed simultaneously familiar and foreign. There was an incomprehensible attachment to that body, although it no longer felt like "mine." It continued to send out signals of its sensory perceptions, yet how or where those signals were being received was beyond comprehension.    

"There was no conceivable way to explain any of this to him, so I didn't even try."

Incapable of making sense of this state, the mind alternated between racing wildly in an attempt to put "me" back together and shutting down completely, leaving only the empty humming of space reverberating in the ears. The witness was absolutely distinct from the mind, the body, and the emotions, and the position it held, behind and to the left of the head, remained constant. The profound distance between the witness and the mind, body, and emotions seemed to elicit panic in and of itself, due to the sensation of being so tenuously tethered to physical existence. In this witnessing state, physical existence was experienced to be on the verge of dissolution, and it (the physical) responded by summoning an annihilation fear of monumental proportions.

As I walked into my apartment, Claude looked up from his book to greet me and ask how my day had been. The terror was not immediately apparent to him, which seemed oddly reassuring. I greeted him calmly as if nothing were wrong, telling him about the class at the clinic and showing him the new book I had purchased at the American bookstore on my way home. There was no conceivable way to explain any of this to him, so I didn't even try. The terror was escalating rapidly, and the body was panic stricken, sweat pouring in rivulets down its sides, hands cold and trembling, heart pumping furiously. The mind clicked into survival mode and started looking for distractions. Maybe if I took a bath or a nap, or ate some food, or read a book, or called someone on the phone.


Copyright 1996 Suzanne Segal. All rights reserved. Photo of Suzanne Segal by Sherry Burkart.

This article is reprinted with permission from the book Collision with the Infinite. To order a copy from the publisher, click here.

Next page | After months of this mystifying witness awareness, something changed yet again: The witness disappeared.
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This page was published on September 22, 2001 and
last revised on October 18, 2001.

Copyright 2002 Realization.org