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Balancing Heaven and Earth
The Golden World:Living with Visions of the Divine
It all began with the crash of a car against a brick wall and the small knee of an eleven-year-old boy caught in between.
I had been visiting my father, and I was enjoying the late summer afternoon as I made my way home on roller skates. My parents lived three miles apart in Portland, Oregon. I was midway between these poles of my life, almost exactly between my father's house and my mother's house. Certainly the split between my two parents was a place of danger. I decided to buy a Coca-Cola at the local drugstore and was just going in the door with five pennies clenched in my hand when two cars collided in the street before me. My left leg was through the door, but the right one was still touching the sidewalk when there was a crunch of steel and brick, a rush of adrenaline, and the sickening realization that it was too late, my leg was pinned between brick and chrome, the knee crushed. In that instant everything seemed to move in slow motion. A second earlier would have caught both of my legs as I entered the drugstore, while a second later would have had me safely inside the building. But it was that second, just that second, that everything was aligned to give me a devastating blow but leave me just short of death.
I awoke on the pavement, dazed, feeling no pain but bleeding profusely since the main artery of my leg had been severed. The five pennies that I intended to spend on a soft drink were still clenched tightly in my hand. A circle of people looked down at me. Someone asked where I lived, and I managed to whisper myhome telephone number. I was weak and nauseated when an alert nurse who lived nearby came running to provide first aid. She improvised a tourniquet, an ambulance rushed me to the nearby Immanuel Hospital, and a bone specialist was summoned to surgery. When they wheeled me into the emergency room, the hospital gurney bumped the doorjamb, a bump that felt like sheer agony. Then came the oblivion of anesthesia.
I knew nothing more until the middle of the night, when I awoke sweaty and shivering in a metal bed, my leg held down by a heavy cast that ran from my neck to my toes. I felt nauseous and horribly weak. No one knew that the sutured artery in my leg had broken loose and was hemorrhaging again inside the cast. I was slowly bleeding to death, and I began drifting away to another world. I knew precisely what was happening, at least in its psychic dimensions. I set my feet against the downward spiral and determined not to die, resisting it with all my willpower. But at a specific moment I crossed a divide-it felt like that bump against the doorjamb-and suddenly I was in a glorious world.
It was pure light, gold, radiant, luminous, ecstatically happy, perfectly beautiful, purely tranquil, Joy beyond bound. I wasn't the least bit interested in anything on the earthly side of the divide; I could only revel at what was before me. We have words for this side of reality but none to describe the other side. It was all that any mystic ever promised of heaven, and I knew then that I was in possession of the greatest treasure known to humankind. Later in life I heard the religious scholar Mircea Eliade refer to this magnificent realm as the Golden World, which is exactly right, and I have called it that ever since.
But I was not to leave this earthly world on that August day in 1932; instead I was only to be teased with a brief preview of the Golden World that would figure so profoundly throughout the rest of my life. An alert night nurse came by and noticed blood leaking through the underside of my cast. She set off an alarm and had me whisked off to surgery, where they quickly tried to transfuse blood. My veins were so badly collapsed that I still have ribbons of white scars down my arms where they made incisions, searching desperately to find a vein.
Inwardly, I was harshly interrupted in my timeless ecstasy of paradise by a summons to go back to the earthly realm. I resisted this as strenuously as I had fought the crossing from earth to heaven, but to no avail. I awoke on the surgery table convulsed with pain, hearing the busy sounds of an emergency room, and looking up into a nightmare of tubes and a circle of masked faces peering down at me. One of these, the surgeon, said, "So, you are alive!"
Yes, I was alive but reluctantly so. No one can look upon even the antechamber of heaven without a lifetime of regret at what has been lost. Seeing through this mundane world to the golden, archetypal world was marvelous beyond description, but at the tender age of eleven it was almost too much. I was so blinded by the golden light of the divine world that I was spoiled for regular life. A curtain separating the two realms was for me forever parted. In the morning of that fateful day I was a giddy kid; by midnight I was a very old man in a boy's body.
The physician initially told my mother it was doubtful I would survive, as this was the age before antibiotics. My mother later said that after being brought back from the lifesaving surgery I emerged out of the stupor of the ether and sat upright in bed, and my first words were that I wanted to be buried in the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Portland, bringing terror to her already worried face. Apparently I said very little about my Golden World experience.
My leg began to heal in the next few weeks. The blood system, however, never attained proper function. Gangrene set in, and first one, and then a second, amputation was required. Fortunately, both were below the knee, a lesser degree of handicap than it might have been. I spent two months recovering in the hospital before they sent me home. I philosophize now that I was wounded just enough to set off a deep experience of the inner world but not enough to end my life. just enough!Balancing Heaven and Earth. Copyright (c) by Robert A. Johnson . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.