Instant enlightenment — or not (concussion recovery)

There’s a little joke I made to myself shortly after the accident: all this time I’ve spent trying to learn meditation, how to focus, how to live in the moment, how to do one thing at a time*, when all I really had to do to find enlightenment was fall off a horse.

It’s not true enlightenment, of course, but the concussion really has forced me to do things with intention and one at a time, to go slowly, to give the task at hand my full attention. It shut off the constant distracting buzz of ideas and questions (and self-doubt) that used to run in the background of my thoughts and interject sometimes overwhelming possible outcomes (and self-criticism) when I had to make a decision.

boardwalk in lynn canyon park

Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver

In the past few weeks this swarm of background bees has started to come back sometimes, but in a much quieter and more subdued way. As it grows stronger (I’m assuming it will), I’m going to need to work to remind myself of how it felt not to have it there, to remember that the decisions I made without that hyperactive internal editor were just fine, and to try to recall that enlightened-type sensation.

I felt it last night, when I went to see Howl’s Moving Castle at a movie theatre. I’ve seen it at least four or five times before at home, but on my small screen and dubbed into English; this was in Japanese with English subtitles, beautiful to look at, and loud enough that I had to put my earplugs in. (I always do at movies these days.)

Unlike the first couple of times I tried to see movies after the accident, I didn’t suffer sensory overload — at least not to the point of discomfort. This time the experience was intense in a way that was really pleasurable. I was mostly tuned to the visuals (as if paying attention to the music too would be too much): highly conscious of the backgrounds in each shot, the colours, the subtle gestures of the characters and their clothes, to the point that I wanted to slow things down to catch even more detail. (How had I never really noticed all the magical psychedelic wonders of Howl’s bedroom before? I could spend days in there looking at everything.) I was also much more aware of the symbolism and classic fairy tale elements, and especially struck by the non-fairy-tale-like complexity of Howl’s personality (he’s a mass of adolescent-style contradictions: generous and self-centred, impulsive and persistent, courageous and cowardly, outspoken against war and quick to battle — and so on), while Sophie is the iconic folktale heroine, the victim of a curse who stays kind and positive and never gives up.

howl's bedroom


It’s all obvious enough, but it *felt* like the kind of experience people try to find through hallucinogens or spiritual retreats. When I walked out of the theatre a sense of extreme awareness and presence stayed with me, a sensation that things were exactly as they should be, and were going to be exactly as they should be.

I’ve honestly never felt that before.

At the time when I first made the joke about instant enlightenment, I thought it would be foolish to hope that I might be able to hang onto this in some way as I got better. It’s a surprise to discover that after after just over four months I have some access to this sensation.

Maybe I’ll be really lucky and with some careful attention and work will be able to make it last.


From the wonderful Lynda Barry, via

*In addition to daily meditation, this has included a lot of listening to Pema Chodron.