Never Born and never Died

An Essay from Carsten Dohnke (published 2001)

My aspiration was to delve into the profound realms of meditation, to reach the “Dhyanas” as the Buddhists describe them, to attain meditative states where ecstasy, happiness, and profound peace saturate one’s essence. On this path, I wanted to learn to navigate the world with love and openness, supporting others along their journey. With this goal in mind, I had already embarked on numerous journeys to Asia before. However, this time was different. Instead of meditating in a monastery, I chose to dwell in a darkroom for three weeks, immersed in pitch darkness without a glimpse of light, without sight of my own hands, and devoid of external stimuli to distract my senses.

In the initial days, fear, loneliness, and emotional turmoil enveloped me. Disoriented, I stumbled through the darkness, besieged by surreal dreamscapes that invaded my mind. Yet amidst this tumult, moments of unexpected inner ecstasy emerged during meditation, where every cell of my being danced in harmony with the universe’s life force. These initial days were a tumultuous blend of emotions. As I gradually embraced the darkness, relinquishing control and surrendering to relaxation, a profound sense of boundless love blossomed within my heart. In the second week, peace, devoid of boundaries, became my steadfast companion. The visions that arose during my waking dreams delved into ancient layers of my existence, reconnecting me with the primal security of the womb.

After about 14 days, my inner sojourn in darkness drew to a close. Boredom set in relentlessly, time stretched endlessly, and I yearned to depart the darkroom. Although I believed I had gleaned my lesson, I continued to meditate, basking in the serenity within my heart, yet inwardly anticipating the “door to life” to swing open, beckoning me to be reborn into the light. Unexpectedly, a profound fear of death gripped me. Death’s presence permeated my being, haunting my dreams and thoughts with the specter of mortality—my own, my loved ones’.

Life lost its allure; pleasures like dancing, swimming, savoring delicious food, even love itself, seemed mere distractions from the stark reality of mortality. The belief in rebirth appeared feeble in the face of death’s inexorable grasp. Escape seemed futile; death awaited, unperturbed, claiming its due at the appointed time.

The pursuit of peace and happiness leads me not here, but to granite! It seems futile, nay, impossible, to discover enduring inner tranquility in a world destined for decay. Alas, this soul cannot escape the clutches of suffering, for within its very essence lies the seed of anguish. Inwardly, I surrender! And thus, death’s embrace tightens its hold around me evermore.

Although each of my cells is permeated by fear and powerlessness, something else is there since that moment, like a hunch, like a feeling, and yet I have not perceived anything. It is not like the light at the end of a tunnel. There is neither light nor tunnel. It is what has always been there. Never born and never died. I want to grasp it, but it is not tangible. It has nothing to do with any meditation or practice. It is neither being nor non-being. It feels more like a fog that surrounds everything. In it lies the source of love. And in it lies the gate to freedom. To pass through the gate is to die like burning in a flame. And that which may then be born is something else, no longer “I” myself.

When I leave the darkroom after three weeks, something deep inside me has changed: For a very small moment I felt a deep trust in the “essence of life”, in the “power of the Tao”, as the Chinese say. And I suspect that it is important to develop this seed of trust more deeply in order to get fully involved in life, to give up the deep fears in me that do nothing but permanently knit the illusion of an “I”  must constantly fight, work and prove itself in order to be loved or simply to be. What a sham!