This is from Ehrenreich's interview with Terry Gross on April 8, 2014:
"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. . . .
"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."
I suspect a lot of people reading this have had awakenings -- and if you have, you know that this was one. This is the world with language stripped away -- the world of "That Which Is."
Most people know Ehrenreich as a lifelong socialist and social activist. Her new book, Living with a Wild God, is a real departure for her. She kept the mystical experiences of her teenage years secret for more than half a century!
Ehrenreich is just a bit older than I am -- culturally we are contemporaries. I didn't have any teenage mystical experiences, but I know that if I had, I would have kept them a secret. The 1950s and early 1960s were not a time to tell people things like this. You would be thought crazy, or you would simply be dismissed. I'm not sure which would be worse. When the most important thing in your life happens to you and you can't find anyone who can validate it, you must keep it secret. You must keep it secret or it will be destroyed by those who cannot understand what it is to know what is actually real.
I feel sad that Ehrenreich didn't have the support that people can find now when they have these types of encounters. If you listen to the whole interview, you'll see that she hasn't gotten to the bottom of it at all. She doesn't know yet that this is just the tip of the iceberg -- that without language as a barrier, we do not actually exist separately. If things had been different when she was young, she could be fully enlightened now. Think of that, and think of how important it is for us to nurture these spontaneous realizations in those we know.