“People have these unaccountable mystic experiences,” Barbara Ehrenreich tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross about her new book, Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything. “Generally they say nothing or they label it as ‘God’ and get on with their lives. I’m saying, ‘Hey, no, let’s figure out what’s going on here.’ ”
Highlights from the interview:
On the first time she had a mystical experience as a teenager
I was just staring at the woods … [when] something happened. It’s like a layer peeled off the world, the layer that contains all the meanings, the words, the language, the associations we have. Yeah, I was looking at trees, but I no longer could say I knew exactly what a tree was, with all the knowledge and experience that goes into our notion of a tree.
I didn’t find it scary … I guess it is for some people, because I have since, many years since, read about people who suffer from something called dissociation disorder and have this happen to them occasionally, and they seem to hate it. I just thought, well, this is pretty interesting. …
What if there is a world underneath what we perceive? We’re usually in a world of shared “reality.” You and I agree on what we see if we’re together, we have similar explanations for it, and so on. To leave that behind and just see things without any of those human attributions, well, that’s very, very strange, but I wanted to know more. … I couldn’t tell anybody. I had enough sense to think that this would be seen as crazy.
On the second vision she had in Lone Pine, Calif.
The only words I can put to it after all these years is … that the world flamed into life. Everything was alive. There was a feeling of an encounter with something living, not something God-like, not something loving, not something benevolent, but something beyond any of those kinds of categories, beyond any human categories. I don’t know how many minutes this lasted in its full intensity.
On why she’s writing about it now
The book contains things I never said to anyone, never talked to anyone about. … I have been a journalist and a writer for most of my life now. … I think I have a responsibility to report things, even if they’re anomalous. Even if they don’t fit whatever theory I had in my mind or most people have or anything. It’s in that spirit that I take this risk.