Conversations with the Down-Under Mystic: An informal interview with John Wren-Lewis by Dan Sutera Originally published by The Self-Knowledge Symposium Foundation based on the three universities of North Carolina, USA.
In a recent issue of What is Enlightenment? Magazine (http:I/www.moksha.org), Ken Wilber described enlightenment as the “radical realization of the ever-present condition of all conditions, a radical freedom in its radical fullness, an infinite Release in the midst of misery, a tacit realization that you are utterly one with all that is arising moment to moment in any and all domains, high or low, sacred or profane.” To which the Enlightened John Wren-Lewis replied, “Well, yes, except on Thursdays! What in the hell does that mean!?!”
My curiosity about the seventy-seven year old author and skeptic-turned-mystic was sparked at a Self Knowledge Symposium (SKS) meeting at Duke University in the fall of 1998, when Aug Turak brought “The Dazzling Dark,” an article John had written for What Is Enlightenment? (Volume 4, No.2). The article recounted his near-death experience and subsequent immersion in “eternity consciousness” or what is more commonly called spiritual Enlightenment. Raised Roman Catholic, I’ve always been uneasy dealing with the idea of “Enlightenment” and some of the more esoteric things talked about at the SKS. When I went to Australia for a semester abroad last spring, a few other SKSers suggested that I find John Wren-Lewis and ask him about his experiences in person. Why not? I thought. In Sydney, I found his number in the phone book. I called him up to ask him if he would like to meet for coffee, but ended up in a more than three-hour phone conversation with him. In his insightful, kind, rambling, rational, and witty manner, John did the best he could to answer all my questions about his experience and Enlightenment in general.
Once an outspoken skeptic of mysticism, John was thrust unexpectedly into enlightenment in 1983 as a result of a near death experience. On a long-distance bus in Thailand, he ate a piece of poisoned candy from a would-be thief. Though he didn’t have an out-of-body experience, didn’t see any bright white lights or meet any spirits, John woke up in a hospital bed in a new state of consciousness, which he would later come to call “the Dazzling Dark.” John had been a long-time spiritual skeptic, and was a strong proponent of the “Death of God” movement in the 1960s. Although realizing after his experience that the mystics had been right all along, John has stayed true to his scientific roots and has been working hard to make Enlightenment understandable to the average person. Bringing Enlightenment “down to earth” is the main theme of his upcoming book, The 9:15 to Nirvana, in which he tries to explain simple things, such as how Enlightenment makes your corn flakes taste different.
After our initial conversation over the phone, we met in the city, where my friend Colin and I helped him carry a second-hand MacIntosh back to his place so he could finish his book. He lived in a picturesque location; it was on the coast, overlooking the Sydney harbor bridge. And John looked just like I thought he would energetic and alert, especially considering his age. As we spoke in his one-bedroom apartment, cluttered with spiritual research and notes for his book, John enthusiastically offered insights into the truth of existence. This time I came armed with a tape-recorder so as not to miss a word.
“My first realization after the accident was that nature did not involve suffering at all, it was only the human mind that was out of step with natural consciousness,” explained John. “Human consciousness is unaware of the unconditional love of the universe!” John is now aware of that love, but says that he spends only about 50% of his day in eternity consciousness, since concentration of any kind causes the eternal, or the “Dazzling Dark,” to temporarily recede. He is working towards perpetual eternity consciousness, and though some gurus have been claimed to have reached it, he doubts if it is possible. John experiences two types of regressions into normal consciousness; the first he calls a “slip-out,” which happens once or twice a week, the second he calls “screening.” When John needs to concentrate on something, the Dazzling Dark is pushed to the background, and the “role” of John Wren-Lewis takes the attention on the forefront of his mind. He used the metaphor of a camera shutter closing briefly then re-opening so he can see the world “correctly” (in eternity consciousness) again. Occasionally, the camera shutter gets “stuck,” and this results in the slip-out. But he falls back into Enlightenment as soon as he remembers the Dazzling Dark, and no harm is done.
The other kind of regression is a more extreme slip-out, the shutter closes, and John cannot relocate the Dark. This has happened to him only a couple of times, and it has always been associated with severe physical or emotional pain. John describes the time when he is apart from eternity as his own “dark night of the soul.”
One thing about the prospect of Enlightenment has always bothered me: the notion of the complete loss of self and identity. I asked John about this-is it true? Do you really cease being who you are?