One Thought Changes Everything
When I was 20 years old and a junior in college, I decided to do a semester abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was 2003, and Argentina was emerging from a horrible economic crash and a period of great instability. My parents urged me to pick another place to study abroad, as they were concerned about how dangerous Buenos Aires might be. The news reports about riots and people being forced to trade food and services in the streets because their bank accounts had vanished overnight were not exactly comforting to my parents.
“What about Dublin?” they said. “You’ve always wanted to go to Dublin.”
I dug in my heels and insisted that I wanted to become fluent in Spanish and that it would be a fascinating time to go live in a place like Argentina. I wanted a whole new cultural experience, and Ireland seemed entirely too “safe” a choice.
Well, I got my way — and I most certainly did not end up taking the safe path.
I didn’t tell my parents until almost six years later, but within three weeks of starting my seven-month study abroad program in Buenos Aires, I was held up at gunpoint. I’m going to relay what happened to me that night: not for shock value, but because it revealed something to me about the nature of human existence that I only fully came to understand many years later, when I started to learn about an understanding of the mind referred to as “the three principles” that I describe in this book. That night taught me a truth about what we humans are made of, which is now the truth I help others uncover in themselves (and in a much less dangerous and dramatic way). To be honest, I couldn’t really understand or describe what happened to me that night in Argentina until I learned about the principles behind the human experience a few years later.
Two new girlfriends from my exchange program and I planned to go to a restaurant and then to a tango bar in a cool neighborhood of Buenos Aires called Palermo Viejo. It was similar to areas of Brooklyn, New York. Only a couple years earlier, it was gritty and off limits, but it had become hip; all the 20-somethings liked to hang out there after dark. Perhaps (or obviously) naively, the three of us felt relatively safe walking around the area, as we were surrounded by other people. There were certainly much more dangerous areas of the city. Anyway, I don’t remember feeling especially on guard.
After dinner, we set off for the tango bar, which included walking down a quieter street without any restaurants. About halfway down that block, out of nowhere we were cut off by two guys on a motorbike. Because the three of us would’ve been smushed too tightly for the width of the sidewalk, I was walking a teensy bit ahead of the other two girls, so I stuck out just a hair ahead of them. That hair was the difference that led me to have a profound out-of-body experience, as opposed to just getting spooked and running away … as my two friends did.
When the two guys on the motorbike hopped up on the sidewalk in front of us, the man on the back jumped off and grabbed me on my arm – by my upper bicep, to be exact. My girlfriends were able to escape before either of the guys could grab hold of them. In telling this story, I have often been asked about what happened to the two girls. Why did they leave me? Did we ever talk about the incident later? All I can say is, I don’t know. Maybe I would have run away, too, if no one had grabbed my arm. And because I am still here today and the experience actually ended up being quite amazing, I never felt the need to ask them, “Why did you leave me there?” It seemed much simpler to just go on being friends with them and leave the incident behind us.
Once the man had my arm firmly in his grip, he reached down his pants, and I distinctly remember the last couple of “Mara” thoughts I had (meaning the familiar, in-my-body recognizable voice I know all to well) were, “Ughhhhhh, seriously?! He’s going to pull his dick out?!” I felt a wave of fear and disappointment, as I figured, “OK, he’s either going to expose himself to me or full-on try to rape me. This is not going to be good.”
But before I could even finish following that train of thought in that familiar “Mara” tone of voice, I felt the cold metal tip of a gun against my temple. And the last thought I had was, “That’s not his dick he just pulled out of his pants. That’s a gun.”
And then, the world went silent.
That voice that was always yip-yapping in my head just shut up: the one that is constantly chit-chatting about where to go and what to do; asking how I am feeling, how do I look, what do I want to talk about, what’s next in life, yada yada, so on and so forth, all day long. It just stopped. It was as if somehow, it knew something. I say “it,” because in that moment, I felt myself go away, and some bigger intelligence kicked in that knew more than I did. It understood that Mara’s little yip-yapper was irrelevant. There was nothing in the realm of me that had any knowledge of how to deal with this situation. So without intentionally doing it, I simply shut up and got out of the way. Or it, that larger intelligence, knew to put me to the side, much like you would push a clueless, distracted pedestrian out of the way of an oncoming bus to save their life. All of my thoughts, all the noise that usually makes up the mind and the identity of Mara Gleason, went quiet.
In that silence, something amazing occurred. I will try to describe it, but I’m going to fall short. Words cannot capture it. You see, now I’m back in my little yip-yapping Mara mind, trying to describe something that was far beyond the littleness of me. So please forgive me if it sounds silly or trite. I’ll do my best to be honest and clear about what occurred with the language I have, but the experience was truly beyond me.
When my head fell silent upon feeling that gun against my temple, the sensation that emerged in the silence was indescribably huge, like a wave of vast energy. Not the personal energy that makes us feel revved up, but pure, impersonal energy. Beautifully quiet. The buzzing, raw force behind life, like a kind of super knowing. Not a brain knowing, but a much bigger spiritual knowing. Without the separateness of my “Mara” thinking, I was merely an energetic experience connected to the fabric of all energy: not an individual drop, but the whole ocean. I was not raised in a religious or even particularly spiritual home, but I knew that what I was experiencing was the definition of a power greater than oneself. Because my self, driven by my normal thinking, was gone.
Yet there were small glimpses of little, personal “Mara” thoughts that came to me. Like a “Whoa!” that popped in as I realized I was looking at the gunman’s hand on my arm, but I couldn’t distinguish a physical end to my body and a start to his. Everything blended together. Then, when I looked beyond him to a tree that was growing out of the sidewalk, I couldn’t really separate this singular blob of energy that was he and I, from the tree. Again, no end and no beginning: just one continuous flow. And then I vaguely remembered that when he originally put the gun to my temple, he’d said “Dame tu billetera.” (“Give me your wallet.”) I had not made a move to find my wallet, as I was too absorbed in this experience of one, continuous energy.
What was perhaps the most surprising and lovely aspect of that oneness was that I felt an enormously profound love for the man holding my arm and a gun at my head. Not the kind of love we normally think of, like the love we have for our romantic partners or our family. But rather, a deeply impersonal love that goes beyond our separate selves, our ideas, our preferences, our expectations: a much more universal love. Something that could only come through silence.
As I was having this experience, which I would describe as an “out-of-body” experience, he, my mugger, began to have it, too. How do I know? I just know. Because for a moment, he and I were the same. I was in him and he was in me. We were one. As well as the tree and everything else, I suppose. I recall feeling completely confident and at peace. Whether he shot me then and there, or whether I walked away and kept living my little Mara existence, I knew that there was a greater intelligence behind life and there was no real end or beginning.
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