photo: shazwan on flickr

When you think of a honeymoon, what comes to mind?

Dreamy newlyweds drinking champagne, staring into each other’s eyes?

Or trips to Hawaii and the Bahamas, with long, lazy days spent sleeping and making love?

Or how about mind excursions into the fleeting nature of reality, complete with visual hallucinations and world-shattering paradigm shifts?

No? The last one doesn’t ring a bell?

That’s because you haven’t heard about my honeymoon yet.

Melissa and I got married a few years ago. For our honeymoon, we decided to go to Tassajara Hot Springs. Tassajara is part of the San Francisco Zen Center. Given that we were both in school to become ministers, we thought it was an appropriate ministerial honeymoon spot: a week in the mountains, off the grid, surrounded by meditating monks.

In order to get to Tassajara, you have to drive down a 14-mile dirt road. It takes one hour to drive the 14 miles. Many visitors to Tassajara opt to take a shuttle, so they don’t have to drive the road themselves.

Melissa and I decided to tough it out. We borrowed her mom’s SUV, as we were told that most automatic shifts wouldn’t make it.

It was like Indiana Jones meets the Dalai Lama.

photo of the Dalai Lama: Ted Lipien on flickr

Except the Dalai Lama is a Tibetan Buddhist, not a Zen Buddhist. And Indiana Jones probably would have run down the dirt road, fighting off Nazis along the way. But still.

Melissa and I found the road to be steep and dusty and extremely rocky. We felt like pioneers, adventurers. Sure, we were driving a Lexus SUV, which isn’t exactly roughing it. But the one-hour drive down to Tassajara made us feel like we were entering another world.

And in many ways, we were.

photo: Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

When we arrived on site, my first response was concern. I was surrounded by shaved-headed, robe-clad, mellow-faced monks. My hair is pretty short, and I can be mellow at times, but I’m also a big spaz. How was I going to fit in with the super-chill atmosphere?

As it turned out, I was going to fit in just fine.

Within an hour, Melissa and I had already acclimated to the chillaxed vibe of Tassajara. We settled into our cabin, we ate the first of many beautifully-prepared vegetarian meals, and we went for a soak in the 108-degree natural hot springs.

photo: Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

By the end of the first night, we congratulated each other on picking the perfect honeymoon spot.

But Z, you say. What about the mind excursions into the fleeting nature of reality? Where do those come in?

Oh yes, those. Thanks for reminding me. Here’s what happened:

Our honeymoon happened to coincide with the second week of our summer quarter at Holmes Institute. Melissa refused to bring along any school work. I, on the other hand, am a card-carrying nerd. I find it relaxing and enjoyable to read books about quantum physics and the philosophy of consciousness.

As such, I brought along the texts to our class, Mind in the Cosmos.

photo: tomalen on flickr

So along with sleeping, eating, and soaking in the hot springs, I was reading about the fundamental insubstantiality of material reality and pondering the ultimate nature of existence.

You know, good honeymoon material.

I noticed that my meditation practice deepened considerably at Tassajara. My mind was clear and lucid. My breathing was gentle and relaxed. I felt at peace, inside and out.

And then it happened. The mind excursion.

It was our last night at Tassajara. We had gone for a post-dinner soak in the hot springs. I had finished before Melissa and was sitting outside the bathhouse on a rock, staring at the hillside.

It was dusk. I was thinking about a passage in a book I’d been reading. The book, Radical Knowing by Christian de Quincey, talks about the difference between “daytime” consciousness and “nighttime” consciousness.

“Daytime” consciousness is the prevailing worldview of Western culture. It involves what we perceive with our outer, physical senses.”Nighttime” consciousness, on the other hand, involves information from dreams, visions, and mystical experiences.

While Western culture tends to dismiss “nighttime” consciousness as unreal, this view has much to offer the dominant “daytime” paradigm.

photo: Dimitar Nikolov on flickr

I mean, it makes sense, right? Of course that’s what I’d be thinking about!

So there I was, sitting on my rock, staring into the dusk, contemplating “nighttime” consciousness.

My time at Tassajara had left me steeped in this sort of awareness. I was totally chillaxed. I had been spending long, sweet days with my wife. My meditation practice had deepened. I was high off the natural hot springs and amazing food. I was pondering the ultimate nature of existence.

And then I looked at my foot.

As I stared at my foot, I thought about quantum physics. (I told you I’m a nerd!)

You know how quantum physics says that material reality is primarily energy, as opposed to solid matter? How there’s vast areas of space between atoms, and the appearance of solid matter is an illusion?

So there I was, sitting on my rock, staring at my foot, and I swear to God, my foot disappeared.

Right before my eyes, it turned into a blur of energy. When I focused on the concept of a “solid” foot again, my foot reappeared. This happened several times, back and forth – foot as energy-blur to foot as “solid” foot.

It’s one thing to read in a book that material reality is ultimately an illusion. It’s another thing altogether to actually experience it.

As I watched my foot appear and disappear, I realized that my entire body is like my foot. I realized that I am essentially energy, that the seeming-solidness of my body is an illusion.

I realized that I’m much more than I appear to be, and that I’m intricately connected to the energy of the world around me.

photo: benjgibbs on flickr

It was really cool and really freaky, all at once.

After several minutes of this, Melissa joined me on my rock. Even though it wasn’t really a solid rock but was only an illusion of a solid rock.

I told her what had happened with my foot.

“Cool,” she said.

I love my wife.

So there you have it, my paradigm-shifting honeymoon story.

Yes, we could have gone a more traditional route – Hawaii and beaches and champagne – but how fun would that have been? Okay, it would have been fun, but I wouldn’t trade my rough-roaded, monk-populated, foot-disappearing honeymoon for anything.

And besides, it’s all energy anyway. So whether you appear to be in Hawaii or outside a bathhouse with an invisible foot, it’s all the same.

Wherever we are, we’re much more than we appear to be. And we’re connected to each other and the world around us in a way that transcends the boundaries of our supposedly-solid bodies.

photo: John E. Robertson on flickr

And that’s what I learned on my honeymoon.

What’s your experience with “nighttime” consciousness? What has it taught you?

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