I wondered what I was doing in this godforsaken place, when exactly I had become so insubstantial, agreeing to go out to the store alone at ten, agreeing to do all kinds of things I didn’t really want to do. I shivered a little with self-pity.
Manhattan in the 1980s was a gritty place. I used to think of it as having a dark glamour but no more. A few years before, I had come to Manhattan like someone drawing close to a fire. I wanted to be warmed, enlightened. But nothing turned out the way I hoped, not love, not work, not life. I pictured myself a waif huddling along in a bleak neighborhood, bringing her own pasta to dinner. The image was so pathetic that I savored it, a fragment of a modern Dickens tale.
I was passing an empty parking lot on West 35th Street near Tenth Avenue when three men rushed out at me from the shadows of a gutted tenement across the street. I heard them before I saw them, pounding toward me, whipping past me, stopping and wheeling around, taking up stations around me, as purposeful and practiced as football players,
For a few moments, we stood and stared at each other. Incredibly, I was gripped by an impulse to smile and make eye contact, to diffuse the situation by establishing that we were all fellow human beings, even potentially friends. They were not interested in making friends.
They were pumped up, panting, panicking. Two looked like lanky teenagers, wraith-like in dark hooded sweatshirts, eyes glazed with fear. The third was older and much bigger. A faded green sweatshirt stretched taut across his chest. His wrists dangled out of the sleeves, as if he was wearing someone else’s clothes, and maybe he was because the next day there were reports in the papers of escaped convicts in the area. His broad face was grim.
Darting behind me, he jerked his arm tight across my throat. I felt his chest heave and heard the rasping of his breath. Staring up at the side of his face, I saw a long shiny scar. It was strange to be pulled so close to someone intent on harming me, but even stranger was the sudden pang of compassion I felt for him, for the wounding that had made the scar, for the suffering he must feel to be doing this.
It was the strangest thing. Brain studies show that the readiness of the body to move precedes our awareness
I read a story about how no animals were found among the dead after a tsunami; sensing the infinitesimal vibration of what was coming, they headed for higher ground. Even before I could grasp what was happening, it was as if the animal of my body and my physical brain was heading for higher ground, opening to receive help from above. Even before I glimpsed the light, my heart was opening to a kind of feeling that cannot be created or destroyed by anyone, only received.
“Money!” His voice was a rasp. His massive arm was pressing down on nerves that made it impossible for me to move my arm to reach the money in my front pocket, and I couldn’t talk to tell him this. “Money now!” He pulled his grip tighter. My vision started going black around the edges. I remember thinking the situation was absurd. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t tell him that I needed to be released to reach my money.
But I also glimpsed the larger absurdity of the larger situation: I was
My brain started working faster than it had ever worked, calculating the size and strength of my attacker, the agility of two young men guarding me, my own capacities and the probability of this or that happening if I did this
It was then that I saw the light, just a glow at first but growing brighter until it became dazzling, welling up in the darkness to fill my whole body and mind. As it grew, this light gained a force and direction—an authority unknown to me. I remember marveling at the building intensity and intention, wondering where it had come from, not just low down in my body but from unseen depths—and then it became a column of brilliant white light that shot out of the top of my head, arcing high into the night sky.
A Tibetan Buddhist I met who read an earlier account of what happened to me that night told me it reminded her of a Vajrayana Buddhist practice called phowa. I also learned that Vajrayana means “diamond” or “thunderbolt” vehicle, which I understood personally because everything about the experience dazzled, was charged with force. Phowa is described as a practice of conscious dying, or transference of consciousness at the time of death, or even a flash of enlightenment without meditation. Tibetan lamas imprisoned by the Chinese were said to be able to leave their bodies this way.
But this—happening to someone who could barely sit still for a twenty minute meditation—didn’t amaze me
I realized that I could see myself and my attacker from behind and above. I watched myself gasping, watched my knees buckling, watched myself sink, watched myself looking up at the light. And then I was embraced by the light.
Science argues that while near-death experiences feel real they are simply fantasies or hallucinations caused by a brain under severe stress, and certainly my brain was under stress that night. A choke hold can kill in twenty to thirty seconds. Someone skilled in martial arts can knock someone out within eight seconds using such a hold, and brain damage can happen after about fifteen seconds because stopping blood flow to and from the brain can lead to brain hemorrhage, and the pressure on the heart can cause it to stop.
But science can’t account for the intimacy—for the extraordinary presence—of the experience. I didn’t just see the light, I was seen by it, and not in part but in whole. I knelt on the sidewalk, looking up at a light that was not separate from wisdom and love, a light that descended to meet me.
Afterwards, I heard the phrases “communion of saints” and “heavenly host” and “vault of heaven” and felt a thrill of recognition—my mind grasped at religious metaphors to describe what I had seen. The light was vast, vaulted, and all around. I sensed the presence of beings, ranks of beings, an ascending multitude, turning, moving, altogether forming a great witnessing consciousness, in every detail and part infinitely finer and higher than my own. There are no words for the majesty and radiance of what I glimpsed and how it made me feel, lifted, seen, accepted into a vast whole.
A particular being drew very close, looking down at me from above with love that had a gravity and grace unlike anything I known. It proceeded to search me, brushing aside everything I thought I knew about myself—my name, my education, all my labels—as if it was not just unimportant but unreal. I once came up with an awkward personal metaphor for the urgency of this part of my experience: fire fighters searching a burning building, shining a light through smoke, looking for signs of life while there was still time. Strangely, I sensed that the urgency and concern weren’t for my physical life.
Finally, the searching stopped. The light came to rest at a particular spot in the center of my chest. It poured through me. I was very still, in thrall, humbled, aware that what was dear and good to this light was not any quality that I knew, but something deep and mute in my being. How long was I held in the grave and loving gaze of this higher being, this angel of awareness? Moments probably, but time meant nothing. I had the sensation that my whole life, lived and as yet unlived, was spread out for examination, that my life was being read like a book, weighed like a stone in the palm of a hand.
I saw that everything counted—or, everything real, every tear, all our suffering. That I didn’t “believe” in
I was lifted up into a field of light and love, flooded with a feeling of liberation, of rejoicing. It was like flying, rising above the clouds into bright sunlight, except that it was more radiant. It was exalted, sublime yet welcoming. Everything I knew fell away, yet I felt completely accepted and acceptable, completely known, completely loved, completely free. There were no words, just experience. Yet ever since, I have wondered if this is what salvation is like, to be lifted
It was clear that this radiant light, this loving consciousness, held everything that is. It was the alpha and omega, the particle and wave, the unifying force of the universe, suffusing us, carrying us when we leave this body, accompanying us always and everywhere, appearing in us when we are open to receive.
I knew I wouldn’t stay long in this radiance, in this sublime love and freedom. I was still sinking to my knees on a dirty sidewalk in Hell’s Kitchen, still struggling to breathe. Yet, as strange as it sounds, I wasn’t struggling inside. I was still. It felt as if I was falling to my knees in prayer—surrendering, not to this attack but to something that was infinitely higher. I understood that a life could have a different sense and meaning, that it could be spent seeking, purifying, practicing—I couldn’t find a word that conveyed the glimpse I had better than the words of the prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
The being who searched me—who saw me inside and outside, past, present, and future, told me without words to relax, the struggle would soon pass, I would not be harmed. I would return.
My attacker loosened his grip just enough to allow me to reach a ten dollar bill in the front pocket of my jeans. I threw the bill on the ground. My attacker jerked his arm off my throat, scooped up the bill, and ran off with the others. I stood up. I had my life back. I stared up at
“Of all the pitfalls in our paths and the tremendous delays and wanderings off the track I want to say that they are not what they seem to be,” writes the artist Agnes Martin. “I want to say that all that seems like fantastic mistakes are not mistakes, all that seems like error
I walked back to my ex-boy friend’s apartment, shaking with sobs. I wasn’t harmed. Settled at the long dining room table in his book-lined loft, tears streaming down, I choked out the story, insisting that I wasn’t harmed. Never mind the weeping, I told him. I was fine, really, perfectly calm at center of the storm, you see. My ex-boyfriend looked miserable. The crying went on and on. He pushed a twenty dollar bill across the table towards me, repaying me for the groceries. I brushed it away and he pushed it back. Just take it.
We aren’t in control in the way we think we are, I told him. Things happen, even terrible things, but they are not what they seem to be. And we aren’t alone. There is a light, a luminosity behind the appearances of this world. There is a luminous, loving intelligence above us, watching over us, caring for us. I knew how this sounded. Religious, mystical, unbelievable. Do you believe me, not about the mugging but about the light? He shook his head no, scowling softly, sorry for me. He just could not.
In the weeks and years that followed, I learned this is how it goes with personal revelation. I was an unreliable narrator, no more so than any other ordinary human, but still very limited, subject to dreams, to the wheels and levers of conditioning. But the experience never grew dim. I told it to people I trusted, or the dying. I told it to my father in his last days, and to another dear old friend near his end. I sure hope you’re right, he said.
What we really have to share is not any spiritual treasure we imagine we have stored up, but our poverty, our common human situation, our inability to know.
Many years after that night in Hell’s Kitchen, I still drift through the world lost in thought, captivated by stories and images. But I know a greater reality and a greater awareness exists. I know there is a truth that cannot be thought, only received.
This article originally appeared in Parabola magazine and is reprinted here with permission. Parabola is a not-for-profit organization that. Four times a year for over thirty-five years it has gathered the wisdom of the world's spiritual traditions to illuminate the central questions of life.
Wonderful. Amazing. And so very comforting. You were very fortunate to have met the God of Love. The God of our universe. Sadly, so few know Him or acknowledge Him
Cool article. I know for sure life goes on as I channel lots of spirits in the spirit world. Tracy's soul condition was in a good shape when she "temporarily passed" into the spirit world. If we are open to love, I have often been told by many spirits that it is like being truly loved to the core for the first time in our lives. If we are not open to being loved at all, then spirits can find themselves in a really dingy place which means they become earthbound. It all revolves around how loving we chose to be in our lives, so I just wanted to put out that Tracy's experience is not a guarantee for all. It is just about the fact of whether we are opened to being loved, and though it may sound counter intuitive, many are not out of unworthiness or rebellion. If you are interested in talking to people who passed on I do offer channeling classes by donation. https://www.facebook.com/gr...[Hide Full Comment]
1 reply: Amy | Post Your Reply
Thank you for sharing this touching and beautifully told story. I don't know why but I always find comfort in reading accounts of near death experiences. Some ancient part of me must remember the loving connection to these heavenly beings, even though they seem far away now. Though I don't wish to experience the kind of terror you did, I long to have such a visceral experience that no one or the passing of time can dim the remembrance of angels watching over us.
BEAUTIFUL!!! I definitely get where you've been. What is "real" is not only what's happening to us at this very moment, but so beyond us... I saw an angel one night. I stood there in sheer silence & stared at her. It was a few days before my first born. Not something I share with people I know...cause we all know what adults believe / don't believe.... I've never had another experience like this since...however how many times does the big fella need to throw miracles into our laps before we accept that life beyond what we know is unfathomably limitless??
i retired in 1996, after plying trains for 41 years on the Western Railway, including 25 years
over the suburban network. Like every member of the city’s workforce, a
Motorman leaves home, praying for a good day at the office. Unlike a priest or
doctor, a Motorman undergoes the chilling experience of watching live human
beings, young and old, full of Life and hurrying across the tracks, or coming
before the train to be blasted into eternity. At the last moment before Death, our Third Eye and Mind opens, and we visualize the beauty of Life and Love. Sometimes, when a fatally injured victim was struggling with his last few moments, lying on the track, there was an aura of solemnity surrounding us. I would gently ask the victim to ask forgivenessfrom Almighty before entering his heavenly home. The motley crowd of commuters formed a respectful ring around him, replacing the family and friends that normally surround a person bidding adieu to our mortal world. The saddest poverty is when a man goes to his grave, not knowing the purpose of his earthly journey. The goal of Life, like worship, is Self Realization. La vita fugge, et non s’arresta una hora, / et la morte vien dietro a gran giornate” (Life flees, and slows not for an instant, / and death hurries along behind it)—Petrarch.
Dear Tracy, what amazing and beautiful compassion that you wrote about regarding the men who were killing you. That that was your first thought and not for your own safety speaks volumes about your character. I've helped hundred cross over and I've crashed twice myself from anaphylactic shock. Last night was almost a 3rd, but I made the choice to stay, even though it took several minutes to push the call button for help. My fever has gone up a little this afternoon, so I was already to turn off my computer, but your compelling subject line said "No, you need to read this!". I get that it's not my turn yet, and there is more work to do, and thank you for reminding me why I started on my spiritual path.
I had a very similar experience once when my life was in peril, not from an attack but from a strange near-accident. My mind opened into what appeared to be a seemingly different dimension that could only be described by the word LOVE. There were/are no other words to describe what I experienced. I wish I could say that this long-ago experience has guided my every waking minute since then, but it has not. Still, it has left me with a greater sense of trust and ease and a peaceful supposing that death just might not be such a fearful thing. If it turns out to be a passage from this reality into one like the one I glimpsed, I could welcome it!
1 reply: Sc | Post Your Reply
This touched me on a few levels. I moved to New York in 1981 and also lived in Hell's Kitchen, not far from the area she described. It was indeed a seedy and dangerous place. I myself had a close call one night as I was walking my dog.
More importantly, I could not get over the synchronicity of finding this in my inbox this morning, as last night I feel I had a brush with death. It was not an official "near-death experience" in that I didn't leave my body, but a physical condition suddenly gripped me and it seemed as if I was near the end.
I uttered a healing prayer and the situation just dissipated and I fell peacefully asleep. I can only imagine that I was touched by some power or being greater than myself. I guess it is not quite yet my time to go.
Thanks to Tracy Cochran for bravely relating an experience that worldly unbelieving people would readily scoff at. I completely believe in accounts such as these and I'm grateful and ennobled each time I hear one.
Thank you.[Hide Full Comment]
The more I learn the less I know, so just think ... This only increases my small (I thought large) revelation of God's grace!
I was like you once....a non believer....then after the death of my grandmother, I began receiving messages from her...this pushed me into a different path for my life altogether and I still have trouble believing the messages when they come. How wonderful that your experience pushed you so far in that you can't deny it and how wonderful that you can share this with us and confirm others experiences that are often discounted as dreams or fantasies to escape horror rather than what they are....a connection to the spirit, ours combined with all others.
1 reply: James | Post Your Reply
I was so moved by this story. I believe this and I see and feel glimpses of this at times.
Do I believe this? Indeed I do. Let's start telling our stories!
here is a sharing:
a poem entitled "worry"-written this morning:
no need to worry
about all the “to-do’s”
there is more than enough time
to accomplish everything
that needs to be done
the birds are singing their magic song
which becalms the roiling waters within
and soothes the soul
my siren song
along with distant tires strumming along the interstate highway
and neighborhood dogs sometimes barking
the leaves flutter outside my window
the sky’s haze portends the heat to come
holy rarified air
with laser force
all in all
open hands eager to do the work of the day
enormously blessed[Hide Full Comment]
On Aug 18, 2013 Tracy Wasem wrote:
i know this is truth. It forever changes your outlook on life. My experience happened so long ago yet I remember everything about it. Life changing.
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