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Copyright 2002 Realization.org.

Collision With The Infinite  |  1, 2

The whole thing was nightmarish beyond belief. The mind (I could no longer even call it "my" mind) was trying to come up with some explanation for this clearly inexplicable occurrence. The body moved beyond terror into a frenzied horror, giving rise to such utter physical exhaustion that sleep became the only possible option. After telling Claude that I didn't want to be disturbed, I lay down in bed and fell into what I thought would be the welcome oblivion of sleep. Sleep came, but the witness continued, witnessing sleep from its position behind the body. This was the oddest experience. The mind was definitely asleep, but something was simultaneously awake.

The moment the eyes opened the next morning, the mind exploded in worry. Is this insanity? Psychosis? Schizophrenia? Is this what people call a nervous breakdown? Depression? What had happened? And would it ever stop? Claude had started to notice my agitation and was apparently waiting for an explanation. I attempted to tell him what had taken place the day before, but I was just too far away to speak. The witness appeared to be where "I" was located, which left the body, mind, and emotions empty of a person. It was amazing that all those functions continued to operate at all. There was no explaining this one to Claude, and for once I was glad he was the kind of person who didn't persist in pursuing a subject I didn't want to pursue.

This article is reprinted from the book Collision With The Infinite. Click here to order.

"In the dissolution of the witness, there was literally no more experience of a 'me' at all."

The mind was so overwhelmed by its inability to comprehend the current state of existence that it could not be distracted. It remained riveted to the incomprehensible, unanswerable quandaries that were generated in an unbroken stream out of this witnessing state of awareness. There was the sense of being on an edge of sorts, a boundary between existing and not existing, and the mind believed that if it did not maintain the thought of existence, existence itself would cease. Charged with this apparently life-or-death directive, the mind struggled to hold that thought, only to exhaust itself after several fitful hours. The mind was in agony as it tried valiantly to make sense of something it could never comprehend, and the body responded to the anguish of the mind by locking itself into survival mode, adrenaline pumping, senses fine-tuned, finding and responding to the threat of annihilation in every moment.

The thought did arise that perhaps this experience of witnessing was the state of Cosmic Consciousness Maharishi had described long before as the first stage of awakened awareness. But the mind instantly discarded this possibility because it seemed impossible that the hell realm I was inhabiting could have anything to do with Cosmic Consciousness.

THE WITNESSING PERSISTED for months, and each moment was excruciating. Living on the verge of dissolution for weeks on end is stressful beyond belief, and the only respite was the oblivion of sleep into which I plunged for as long and as often as possible. In sleep, the mind finally stopped pumping out its unceasing litany of terror, and the witness was left to witness an unconscious mind.

After months of this mystifying witness awareness, something changed yet again: The witness disappeared. This new state was far more baffling, and consequently more terrifying, than the experience of the preceding months. One might imagine that a great weight would have lifted when the witness disappeared, but the opposite was true. The disappearance of the witness meant the disappearance of the last vestiges of the experience of personal identity. The witness had at least held a location for a "me," albeit a distant one. In the dissolution of the witness, there was literally no more experience of a "me" at all. The experience of personal identity switched off and was never to appear again.


"Why was there a reflection in the mirror, since there was no one there?"

The personal self was gone, yet here was a body and a mind that still existed empty of anyone who occupied them. The experience of living without a personal identity, without an experience of being somebody, an "I" or a "me," is exceedingly difficult to describe, but it is absolutely unmistakable. It can't be confused with having a bad day or coming down with the flu or feeling upset or angry or spaced out. When the personal self disappears, there is no one inside who can be located as being you. The body is only an outline, empty of everything of which it had previously felt so full.

The mind, body, and emotions no longer referred to anyone — there was no one who thought, no one who felt, no one who perceived. Yet the mind, body, and emotions continued to function unimpaired; apparently they did not need an "I" to keep doing what they always did. Thinking, feeling, perceiving, speaking, all continued as before, functioning with a smoothness that gave no indication of the emptiness behind them. No one suspected that such a radical change had occurred. All conversations were carried on as before; language was employed in the same manner. Questions could be asked and answered, cars driven, meals cooked, books read, phones answered, and letters written. Everything appeared completely normal from the outside, as if the same old Suzanne was going about her life as she always had.


In an attempt to understand what had occurred, the mind began working overtime, generating endless questions, all unanswerable. Who thought? Who felt? Who was afraid? Who were people talking to when they spoke to me? Who were they looking at? Why was there a reflection in the mirror, since there was no one there? Why did these eyes open in the morning? Why did this body continue? Who was living? Life became one long, unbroken koan, forever unsolvable, forever mysterious, completely out of reach of the mind's capacity to comprehend.


"Worst of all, simultaneous with the cessation of personal identity, the experience of sleep had changed radically, leaving me with no escape from the constant awareness of emptiness of self."

The oddest moments occurred when any reference was made to my name. If I had to write it on a check or sign it on a letter, I would stare at the letters on the paper and the mind would drown in perplexity. The name referred to no one. There was no Suzanne Segal anymore; perhaps there never had been. There is a turning inward that occurs when the mind searches for internal information, whether it be about feelings or thoughts or connection to a name or inner experience of any kind. This is generally referred to as introspection. Without a personal self, the inside or internal simply did not exist. The inward-turning motion of the mind became the most bizarre of experiences when time and again it found total emptiness where it had previously found an object to perceive, a self-concept.

The more baffled the mind became, the greater the fear. By this time, the body had locked into a pitch of terror that generated continuous shaking in the extremities and copious sweating. My clothing was constantly damp, and the sheets on the bed needed to be hung out to dry every morning. Worst of all, simultaneous with the cessation of personal identity, the experience of sleep had changed radically, leaving me with no escape from the constant awareness of emptiness of self. Sleeping and dreaming now contained the awareness of no one who slept or dreamed, just as the waking state of consciousness contained the awareness that there was no one who was awake.


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

Suzanne Segal was an American psychologist who experienced an unexpected awakening in 1982. She died of a brain tumor in 1997.

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

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This page was published on September 22, 2001 and
last revised on October 18, 2001.

Copyright 2002 Realization.org