It’s Professor Brian Cox who dunnit for me, in the sitting room, with his BBC series, The Wonders of the Universe.
His extraordinary programmes have fundamentally changed my understanding of God. Although I have never been a practicing Christian, I have always had a profound belief in God as an external force. By this I mean an omniscient intelligence that guides and nurtures me. My interpretation of this God-like presence is very personal, but it has given me great comfort in times of despair, and has provided a moral cornerstone for how to live my life.
My belief in a benevolent force stems from what I can only describe as a mystical experience. It happened twenty-odd years ago, on, of all places, a train. I had been working through some emotional issues, and was feeling raw and vulnerable, and in need of a break. A friend in Dorset had invited me to stay the weekend, and I was on my way there.
I can remember gazing out of the window, looking forward to seeing my friend, when suddenly it felt as if the curtains in my forehead parted, and everything else around me disappeared. I found myself ‘floating’ upwards in a kind of dusty light, which was full of sparkles, and being infused by a feeling of peace and serenity that I had never experienced before.
I then became aware of a lion-yellow colour streaming out from my left side. At the same time, I was filled with an understanding that should I dive into this stream of colour, I would be able to confront the many mistakes I had made and learn from them. There was no sense of judgement or blame, but rather a loving, wry knowing.
I was just thinking, ‘hmm, that’s seem like an interesting idea,’ when I ‘received’ a message, which told me, ‘Life is only an experience. It’s how you perceive the experience that matters.’ With that, the curtains in my forehead swung closed, and I was back on the train.
I suppose the whole thing may not have lasted more than a couple of seconds, but for many months afterwards, I found myself mourning the loss of that ultimate peace and serenity. In fact, even though it’s so many years later, I can still feel the same depth of loss as I write about it.
At the time, I interpreted this experience as an encounter with some kind of next-world energy that would greet me when I died. It was a huge comfort, and has stopped me fearing the actual moment of death. As I said to a friend, ‘If that’s what is waiting for me when my time comes, then Yes Please!’
It also made me aware of the importance of doing the best I can with who I am, and to keep developing spiritually and emotionally. I also realised that I had to start taking responsibility for everything I created, because there seemed to be some kind of spiritual reckoning which happens after death.
However, since working with Dr Peter Fenwick on a research project into end-of-life experiences, I am now convinced that spiritual reckoning is an on-going life experience, which heightens as we approach death. Psychologists and doctors have recognised that spiritual distress is caused by unresolved shame, anger, blame or resentment, or ruptured relationships which have never been healed. Our end-of-life study suggests that we are innately called to do this before we die, and become increasingly anxious when these issues are not addressed.
So it’s been quite an experience to watch Professor Brian Cox explaining how the Universe came into being, and how planet Earth itself is merely a grain of sand within our Milky Way galaxy, and that our Milky Way is one of billions of other galaxies that ebb and flow throughout the cosmos.
I realise now that my sense of a bigger external existence comes from the fact, as Professor Cox explains, that we are made up from atoms found through the Universe. The vastness of the Universe actually lives inside us, so no wonder we organically experience a force superior to human life.
But, as Professor Cox points out, in the greater scheme of things, human life with alls its failing and foibles, together with this beautiful blue planet we live on, are of very little relevance. We and our Earth merely exist because of the Big Bang that created our known Universe some 14 billion years ago.
Hearing him talk, and seeing the spectacular photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope of stars, nebulae and galaxies, I realised that the ‘God’ I believed in doesn’t exist. But, perhaps my mystical vision tapped into an unconscious archetypal energy that has evolved over the 75,000 years since our homo sapiens ancestors first walked out of Africa, and began to try to make sense of life through their creation stories.
As Carl Jung, the father of modern psychiatry said, the relationship between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind is the same as a cork (conscious mind) bobbing on a vast ocean (unconscious mind).
As I am coming to terms with the loss of my God, I am aware that my faith in some kind of existence beyond human life is still strong. I will never forget that feeling of peace and serenity which welcomed me into that other world, or how important it is to make the very best of life that I am living right now. But it doesn’t really matter what happens to me after I die, because, according to Brian Cox, I – and you – are destined to return to the same stardust that made us in the first place.
I rather like the idea.