The fluorescent light of my mind’s eye flickers as foresight fades. A buzzing oscillation, an electric pang, a plunge into darkness. My future disappears. I am alone, suspended in time, reaching out for something concrete to hold, to escape temporal isolation.
All I find is empty space.
Is the future just a vision? A mirage of the imagination in the desert of the unknown? Is it a sense, a feeling? Or is it a prophetic window outside of the mind, a transcendent glimpse into the nature of time?
Whatever the future is, mine often disappears. It’s as intriguing as it is inconvenient. What’s the purpose? Is this the winter of growth? A respite before a new beginning? The darkness before the dawn?
Since I was young, mental illness has warped my sense of time. Depression hid the future and buried happy memories. Anxiety gave me future projections of catastrophe. Psychosis fractured linearity, memories presented like patchwork.
Thanks to this house of mirrors, I believed I wouldn’t make it to old age. Not only grey-haired, wrinkly skin, looking-back-on-a-life-well-lived old age. I couldn’t see beyond my 20s. Depressed and hopeless, I’d recite numbers, trying to sketch future me onto a canvas of thin air… 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29…
Then I turned 30, the age I didn’t think I’d make.
A life story isn’t a history book. It’s not a chronological list of factual events. No one’s story is flat and lifeless. Of course, there are factual elements, chapters, significant moments. But what you remember is the residue of lived experience, time-capsules of information, mini-life stories within themselves.
Memories are encoded with emotion, feeling, sensations in the body. Memories are living moments, suspended in time.
When you heal, forgive, let go, move on, the energy in the time-capsule is freed. Light comes in. There’s room for gratitude. Imagine that? Gratitude towards a past that, at one point in time, you thought destroyed you.
They say you can’t change the past, yet the past is always changing.
My life story was re-written. Cut, paste, edit. Genre shift from tragedy to one man’s adventure in learning to live again. A hero’s journey of looking within, facing the darkness and the disenchantment, re-discovering magic, becoming re-enchanted, falling in love with life.
My journey to 30 is non-linear. I travel through time, viewing the entirety of my life from different Vantage Points. I travel back to heal and find meaning in time-capsules long forgotten, and in doing so, fix the vision of my future, too. I see miracles encoded in memories, easter eggs waiting to be rediscovered on repeat viewings.
I’ve always had a vivid imagination. But as I grew up, I learned that imagination wasn’t where life happened. A source of joy as a child became a distraction as an adult. Day-dreaming is a waste. So I dimmed the light and closed the curtains.
Yet I craved existential meaning. This spiritual impulse short-circuited to despair, apathy, and meaningless due to the material worldview I’d inherited. Religion was archaic. Spirituality was naive. Science has the answer and I’m a biological fluke floating on a rock through a meaningless universe.
Oh, no worries. Put the kettle on. Don’t think about it. Don’t look up at the stars. Look down at the screen. Ignore voices of wisdom. Build knowledge.
I became smart and learned about the world and the way things are and became disenchanted. My imagination was fanciful and wrong and silly. Be rational. Be intelligent. The miraculous is wishful thinking.
The curtains of my imagination remained closed and the magic was lost. The world was stripped of its soul and my soul was submerged, shipwrecked in an imaginal Atlantis, a forgotten empire of dreams, fantasies, creativity, wonder, awe.
I wanted to escape my inner world. That’s where life is, out there. So that’s where I lived. Out there. Submerging with experience. The drugs, the partying, the romance. My focus outward, afraid to look within, to return to the lost world.
Eventually, the dam collapsed and tidal waves flooded my conscious mind. My inner world saturated out there. I tried desperately to prevent the two from merging. I couldn’t contain the overflow. Liquid thoughts drenched the external as imagination and perception swam in the same ocean.
Am I screaming? I’m not sure if I’m screaming. Am I frantically scribbling? Can people see I’m not okay? Am I making a funny face? Am I alone? Am I crazy? Is everyone talking about me? Are these voices parts of the ocean, the ocean that knows no bounds?
What’s real? What’s imagined? Isn’t it all part of the same thing? Be rational. Be intelligent. The miraculous is wishful thinking.
In Inner Work, Robert A. Johnson writes about the “tremendous collective prejudice against the imagination.” In Jungian philosophy, the imagination is a potent tool to translate the invisible contents of the unconscious into images and symbols the conscious mind (or ego) is able to process.
In a phrase that sent ripples of delight back in time to my younger self, a feeling of redemption and validation and I-knew-it-all-along, Johnson writes: “Dream and imagination connect us to a level of existence that is not only ‘real’ in the external sense of reality, it is more than real.”
As my soul drowned and disenchantment set in, I didn’t just stop imagining. I lost touch with a deeper reality, one I would spend years re-discovering.
Vantage Point: 22. Sheffield, England. University, studying Journalism. “Go around in a circle, tell us your ideas.” Fuck, I hated going around in a circle. The anticipation was unbearable. One by one, closer to my turn, burning from the inside, anxiety-like-fire.
I was a seasoned veteran of stealth panic attacks. Yet fearing a complete breakdown in front of my peers, I did something I’d never done before: I walked out. I made an excuse of needing to pee and fled before my turn to speak.
I went to the toilet and was mocked by the failure the mirror reflected. I shook. I scolded myself for being weak. Then shame set in.
They must’ve seen beyond the veil, into the searing hot pit of my stomach, the volcano erupting, lava through veins, burning up whilst sitting down. How can I keep going like this? How can I cope with the trials and tribulations of life, if I experience a lifetime’s fear when “going around the circle”?
Will life always be damage limitation? Getting through? Avoidance? How can I become who I want to be? To share my soul with the world? How? Someone tell me how? Am I always going to be incapable? Are they judging me? Mocking me? Laughing at my weakness? I am alone.
I rush home as quickly as I can. I don’t look as I cross the road and I don’t wait for a green light. I head straight to my room, I draw the curtains, I block out the mid-afternoon sun. But I don’t block out my thoughts. I get in bed. I pull the sheets over my head. I cry.
I mourn lost futures in the timeline of my mind. Milestone after milestone. Visions riddled by failure, the same failure I felt that day: best man’s speeches, birthday celebrations, dinner with friends, family gatherings, toasts, commiserations, birth, death, everything in between.
Every time I walk out, I leave, I panic, I don’t cope. That day’s experience superimposed on a lifetime of moments, in an instant. The message was clear: I was incapable, unable to enjoy the gifts life had to offer. Anxiety was my present, my future, my past, my prison.
I didn’t think I’d make it.
Spiritual awakening. A myriad of non-ordinary, ineffable experiences imprisoned by one definition. Divine interventions, epiphanies, insights, changes in perception, synchronicities… My awakening has many forms, different tastes, different tones, all complementing each other.
Vantage Point: 23. I start meditation while overcome by the waves of psychosis. Scary as it was, I was wide-open and radically receptive. Skepticism was the smallest part of me yet it spoke loudest for many years. Yet meditation allowed me to access the lighter elements of receptivity while learning not to be afraid of the dark.
In the beginning, I was ungrounded. I had to learn to anchor myself, to remain strong in expanding fields of energy and perception.
First came profound open-heartedness. Similar to what I’d experienced synthetically on dancefloors, yet more expansive, more grounded. And guess what supercharged that experience? My imagination. Learning to visualize loving-kindness opened a portal to feelings independent from the external, breathtaking, and omnipresent, and really fucking cool.
These Buddhists were talking my language. Harnessing the imagination to cultivate compassion, kindness. I’m down for that. As I practiced, I felt the interconnection but had little idea of what was going on. I was a leaf blowing in the wind of oneness.
The heart-opening, lucid experiences came and went as my awareness expanded and contracted. Sometimes I’d have prolonged spells in non-ordinary states of consciousness, where the illusion of reality exposed itself, and life’s true essence peeked from behind the curtain.
Then the Dark Night of the Soul. Healing, real healing, really tough, burn away that which you aren’t, feel all the grief you’ve sanitized, comatosed, and paralyzed, let it resurface. Cry. Cry like you mean it. What does your body feel? Access that space of stillness, again. Let it hold the pain, its space is infinite. It’s always there. You know that now.
Vantage Point: 27. Awakening to the sanctity of flesh, dirt, the gifts of Mother Earth. Deep reconnection to body, learning felt intelligence, instinct, intuition, tuning into softly spoken wisdom of the heart. I woke up to the immaterial life force of all material things.
Everything came alive.
And I mean everything. Not just living things. Everything. First, the trees started communicating. I felt their presence. I tried to ignore it but they protested by becoming more beautiful, more luminous, appearing in dreams with messages from the gods. When I finally acknowledged them, they smiled. Trees can smile, did you know?
Then the sky. Then the wind. Then light. Then rocks. Then almonds. Then water. Then dust. Then vibrations of sound. Then the vitality of taste. All a breathtaking illumination of universal consciousness, a soul reflected in every atom, panpsychism through perception.
Then the fountain of creativity erupted. The structure of my mind changed. My thoughts had always raced and ruminated. Now they danced in grandiose lucidity, clear, concise, alive. The inner-monologue of day-to-day worries replaced with ideas, insights, realizations, knowing. I spun and spun until I got dizzy and fell on my back laughing at the magnificence of it all.
As I lay in the aliveness of the sun, I felt myself sink into the ground, a peaceful acceptance of the inevitability of returning to the soil, not dismay or devastation but a calm return, a dignified surrender to life’s organic cycle.
Then the other extreme — a Third Eye earthquake caused a pineal gland tidal wave. Visions so bright they made the backdrop to anything look dull. Lucid dreams, visitations from past lives, communicating with animals, alien worlds with multiple moons and trees shades of scarlet, an effortless joining of dots.
Vantage Point: 28. Kundalini awakening igniting in a dream. I was opposite a beautiful woman. She looked familiar yet alien, her eyes bigger, wider. An unmistakable aura. I know this is a dream. Wait, is it? I’ve had lucid dreams before but this pierced through the veil. This was real. Realer than real.
She was… sitting there. Not saying anything. Looking in my direction. I started to feel self-conscious. “Can you see me?” I asked. I already knew the answer as I buzzed in affirmation. “I can see you,” she replied, and the framework of the dream collapsed into a deeper reality.
You know how it feels when you lock eyes with someone, and they look into your soul? Supercharge that feeling by infinity and beyond. We locked eyes and I accessed a different dimension. This wasn’t love, or lust, this was a transmission of the ineffable.
She reached out a finger. She paused. She tapped my shoulder gently. The moment of contact sparked a surge, electrocution, energy engulfing. My body seized, eyes rolled, I started to float, my vision disappeared. I knew I was about to die. “It’s okay,” she said, and although I could no longer see, her presence reassured me, I trusted her, I knew it would be okay.
I died shortly before I woke up.
Vantage point: 10. I’m in the kitchen of my family home in Bristol, England, dabbing my index finger in soap. Enough that no one could see, but enough to work this magic, to rescue the hostages, evacuate the bank, and save the day when the alarm rings. Quite a responsibility for a 10-year-old, but I’m ready.
There’s a sense of anticipation, excitement, spectacle. Why wouldn’t there be? BS3’s most gifted showman was about to perform. The lucky audience includes my nan, my mum, my dad, my sister, and Audrey from next door (adopted as surrogate grandma by my sister and I).
I stand in front of my stage, a make-shift table with an orange container filled with lukewarm water. Salt and pepper on either side. For today, the bowl is a bank. The pepper represents the bank robbers. The salt a group of unfortunate hostages. I start to perform, I weave a story, build a narrative.
“It was a normal day at the bank, with customers patiently waiting in line,” I say, as I pour the salt into the water. “But suddenly, a gang of robbers appears! Taking them hostage!” I sprinkle the pepper into the mix. I thrive in the suspense. They’ve got no idea what’s coming.
“But WAIT! Someone pressed the alarm! The police are about to arrive!” Then: magic. I gently tap my finger into the mixture. The soap causes the pepper to rapidly disperse to the edge of the bowl as the robbers escape. The salt doesn’t move. The hostages are safe. Cue “ums” and “ahs” and “wows”. Cue me enjoying the spectacle.
Audrey’s never seen anything like it, she says. My nan claps in astonishment. My parents smile. My sister is impressed but looks suspicious. There’s always one skeptic in the crowd.
Despite the highs, I soon discovered the limits of magic. One day I purchased a pack of cards. They looked normal but had subtle symbols etched onto the back pattern. Memorize the symbols and you’d tell the suit and number from a quick glance of the back of the card.
Eager to try a new trick and up my game, I ripped a card in half, in anticipation of magic putting it back together, like I saw on TV. I held the two pieces in my hands. I waited. Nothing. Then reality started to sink in. I cried. Magic didn’t show up when I needed it.
Vantage Point: 13. My uncle died at age 50. Lung cancer. It was unexpected, it spread quickly. I was exposed to the raw, scolding hot sense of loss. My pain was bad, but witnessing the pain of my family was worse. I struggled to feel. I felt numb. How could my uncle just… disappear? While I’m still here?
Grief tore my worldview apart. I looked to God to put the pieces back together. Nothing happened, just like how magic didn’t repair that playing card. I should’ve learned the lesson. My grief became a vendetta against God, who I simultaneously blamed and ridiculed for not existing.
My disenchantment was confounded by a conveyor belt of loss. One by one people I loved died. Futures extinguished. Numbness solidified. Nihilism a default state.
I was convinced I’d die young. I romanticized a tragic, early death. I became chronically suicidal. The ideation was mostly passive — “I hope I don’t wake up” or “maybe I’ll get hit by a car” — sometimes active.
Magicians understand sleight of hand. They know the art of magic is deception. I was expecting magic to put the broken pieces back together, to undo death, remove the pain of living. I was looking in the wrong place. My moment of great despair was the sleight of hand that led to the great reveal.
The magic of the soul.
Vantage Point: 18. I’m planning on killing myself. I’m about to give up. But I’m interrupted by an act of grace. I’m jolted to lucidity by a presence. Although far beyond my understanding at the time, it was familiar and powerful, and benevolent.
Don’t do it. You have to get here. Stay with me. Look at the future I’ve arrived at. It’s not time. It’s not your decision to make.
I respected its message and gentle authority. This wasn’t my time.
The magic never left, I just didn’t understand the rules, how magic dances with reality, hands reaching out from behind the curtain. The experience, so deeply irrational, shook the foundation of the shell I was encased in, which was fortified by rational, fixed beliefs about what was possible, what was real.
The vibrations reached within, sending ripples through Atlantis. A process had begun in my unconscious. There was no stopping it.
We exist in a quantum universe where every atom is directed by invisible forces. Like an atom, the psyche is full of potential. Yes, there are dimensions that appear logical and rational. But like the atom, the deeper you go, the more irrational existence becomes. Events unexplained by cause and effect, “spooky action at a distance,” as Einstein said.
Rationality is one function of the human experience. A limited one. But it’s pervasive because it offers the illusion of security for the times we desperately reach for something to hold onto — the craving for something concrete, the belief one day, we’ll know it all.
My process of re-enchantment required me to explore the terrain beyond rationality. As French philosopher, Blaise Pascal noted, “the endpoint of rationality is to demonstrate the limits of rationality.” The deeper the journey into the psyche, the more intimate our relationship with the soul, the less rational things appear.
And what can be more irrational than magic?
Vantage Point: 29. Triebel, Germany. Vipassana. Day 7. I’m the deepest I’ve been. As insights, understanding, energetic rushes, present themselves, I feel mischievous — am I supposed to peek so far behind the curtain? I’m not just peeking. I’ve gone backstage when no one’s looking. I’m walking around, seeing how things work. I piece together the magic. It all starts to make sense.
Memories resurface, but they’re not impressions of lost moments. I’m visiting them again. I’m the awareness behind them. The awareness that’s always been and always will be. Vantage Point: 3, carried to bed in my mother’s arms. Vantage Point: 12, enjoying a family holiday. Vantage Point: 22, clubbing with friends, opening new portals of experience.
Vantage Point: 18. On the brink of killing myself… Don’t do it. You have to get here. Stay with me. Look at the future I’ve arrived at. It’s not time. It’s not your decision to make.
I try to be strong. I try to be kind. I extend compassion. I reach back in time to save myself.
Vantage Point: 6. One of my first stories was about twins. One called The, the other called End. I called the stories The End, in what wasn’t only a play on words, but a message from my soul, a hint towards the circular nature of time, how the end is already beginning, and the beginning and the end are always changing.
Imagine every moment of your life represented in millions of time capsules. Picture these moments hanging on a thread. Linearity is the conscious part of you moving across these moments in an orderly fashion. On the surface of the conscious experience, there is a past, there’s the present, and there’s a future.
Behind the sense of the passage of time, all these moments exist, simultaneously. What if all of these moments interact with no regard for beginnings, middles and ends? What if the great reveal is that the unconscious always has access to the whole, and orchestrates your journey from behind the scenes?
A few weeks after the Vipassana retreat and my realization, I picked up Man and His Symbols, which had been patiently waiting on my bookshelf. I wasn’t sure what encouraged me to read it when I did, until, a third of the way through, I read Marie Von Franz’s passage about the Self:
“The various ages [the Self] assumes show not only that it is with us throughout the whole of life, but also that it exists beyond the consciously realized flow of life — which is what creates our experience of time. Just as the Self is not entirely contained in our conscious experience of time (in our space-time dimension), it is also simultaneously omnipresent.”
I’d received an explanation of what I’d experienced, a seemingly innocuous paragraph in the depths of a knowledge-rich overview of Carl Jung’s body of work. At the retreat, with extended periods of enhanced awareness, I’d sampled the Self outside of the consciously realized flow of life.
What I once thought was a pathological symptom of depression is a spiritual process — illustrated by Sufi teaching: die before you die. Death is the demise of potential futures. The opposite is true. When potential futures disappear from view, you experience a form of death. But from that place awaits an opportunity for rebirth. In Wait Without Hope, T. S. Eliot writes:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
There was a greater plan when I couldn’t picture the ages I didn’t think I’d make. I see that now. Hope would’ve been hope for the wrong thing, love would’ve been love for the wrong thing.
Had I been able to see imagined futures, I would’ve continued to escape my inner world. Any vision would’ve been a distraction from the real thing. It was without vision that I discovered my soul. It was in the liminal space of uncertainty that I discovered faith.
The depression, the hopelessness, the panic attacks, the psychosis. It wasn’t the path I chose. But without the visceral interception, I wouldn’t have taken notice. I wouldn’t have discovered the magic of the psyche. I wouldn’t have become re-enchanted.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reassures Arjuna the path of self-realization is bitter poison at first, sweet nectar in the end. I started inner work to free myself from pain. Eventually, life became, and continues to become, sweeter and sweeter.
And after it all, I made it to 30.
Vantage Point: Infinity. The breathtaking fabric of existence, billions and billions of life stories intertwined by cosmic intelligence, the blueprint of the fine-tuned soul of the universe, evolving towards the future none of them thought they’d make, for it seemed impossible, because, for a brief moment, they couldn’t see their potential, and they forgot their true nature.
Note: this was written a few months after my 30th birthday. I’ve pitched the article with no luck, radio silence, and a few rejections. Then I realised, what better place to publish than my spiritual home on the web? And what better time than shortly before turning 31?