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Collision with the Infinite: A Life Beyond the Personal Self Paperback – September, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
The utility of this book derives from the clarity with which Segal describes the profound spiritual experience of the egoless state and the sense of emptiness that many spiritual traditions seek to produce. Segal's easy and conversational narrative of her experience of this state does three things. First, it names the goal that meditation systems like her own Transcendental Meditation (TM) advita tradition seek. Secondly, her description of this experience in clear and appealing language bereft of all spiritual jargon is marvelously instructive. Thirdly, Segal's account of her own fear while in this state, coupled with her compelling curiosity to understand that fear, can teach others on this path how to cope with the experience. Many have tried to do what Segal does, but none have achieved such clarity in the task. Segal's book is a compelling testament to the power of advita spirituality couched in terms any pilgrim can understand and appreciate.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"'Enlightenment' to me means a total annihilation of the sense of personal doership. In the words of the Buddha, 'Events happen, deeds are done, but there is no individual doer thereof.' "Whether a traumatic experience is necessary for enlightenment to occur is a moot point, but it happened to Suzanne Segal. In her book, she describes the full story in a sincere and lucid manner, in simple words and a fluent style that fascinated me. "To anyone interested in the subject, I would say, 'Read this book!' " -- Ramesh Balsekar, author of Consciousness Speaks
"...Suzanne Segal...writes about her fears and apprehensions while coming to terms with her vivid awakening." -- Rodney Stevens,
"Suzanne Segal's Collision with the Infinite was a major milestone in my life. I consider Segal's book one on the giant works of our time, one of the most intriguing testaments of the mystical state, unique in its own way and language. I carried it around with me for weeks, couldn't bear to put it down, read and re-read it." -- Joseph Chilton Pearce author of The Magical Child
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Top Customer Reviews
In an early chapter, Suzanne's fiancé left her to pursue a spiritual life with the leader of a yoga movement that they had joined together, something that must have felt like a major betrayal to her. She does describe how devastated she was by it but doesn't go into much detail. She soon grows disenchanted with the TM movement and moves to Paris, where she she feels socially isolated even though she's somewhat fluent in French and becomes engaged. One day she experiences a dramatic shift in consciousness that is very disorienting and frightening to her. It feels like her awareness has separated itself from its location inside her body and that she is witnessing herself from outside. She seeks psychiatric help and begins a decade-long search to make sense of her condition, which has become permanent. A number of the therapists, counselors, and guides that she contacted, however, conducted themselves unprofessionally and even entered into personal relationships with her. One of them was particularly cruel and shamed her in front of a group of people. In spite of these disappointing attempts at seeking professional help, she continued to seek out one therapist after the other, hoping that she'd find one who could help her come to terms with this unwanted state of consciousness. In the process, the author's feeling that she did not exist became a very rigid self-concept. It's paradoxical, but her lack of identity became an identity of its own. Over and over throughout the book, she turns and walks away from anybody who does not agree with her way of viewing her admittedly unusual predicament.
Throughout, I was really struck by the flatness of her emotions. Aside from the primordial fear that she feels upon facing the vast emptiness, she has absolutely no emotional reaction to the comings and goings of all the people in her life. When others abandon her or betray her (and there are quite a few instances of that), she does not spare a single word to describe her feelings. I was always wondering "What is she feeling at this point?" But she claims that emotions are irrelevant because there is no self that they refer to, which just sounds like an elaborate form of evasion to me. It was like she boxed herself into a position where she was incapable of owning a single thought, feeling, or decision. "The presence of fear means that fear is present, nothing more," a statement she repeats many times. Thoughts and decisions simply "happen"; nobody thinks the thoughts or makes the decisions because she herself "cannot be located." Far from being a state of enlightenment, it felt to me like the author had completely disassociated herself because of past disappointments and traumatic events.
Eventually the author began contacting spiritual figures--some of them quite prominent--and the nature of the feedback she got dramatically changed. They all affirmed that she had had an "awakening." Many of them wrote her congratulatory letters praising her bravery and the depth of her insight, etc. She reprinted a number of these excerpts in the book, to establish the veracity (in our eyes? in hers?) of her spiritual accomplishment. Now that her experience was being affirmed (not "pathologized" as she felt all her therapists had done), the terror she had experienced ever since the advent of her loss of self now turned into a sense of bliss and deep calm.
In her final years (she died not long after the publication of this book from a brain tumor) she herself became a kind of spiritual guide, presiding over many gatherings in which seekers posed questions to her about the nature of emptiness and the spiritual path. The advice she gave at her gatherings (she transcribed some of these Q&A sessions in the final chapter of the book) frankly sounded very shallow to me. Her answers were full of platitudes and cliches, as if she was really struggling to communicate ideas that she didn't fully understand. What's more, she became a judge of who else had experienced the "emptiness" and who hadn't. She devotes a good part of one chapter explaining how she ended an association with a spiritual confidante because she decided that his claims to knowing the vast emptiness were untrue. The absurdity of getting into a tussle with somebody over who can be more non-existent than the other was completely lost on her. She was totally incapable of seeing that the need to defend her position betrayed her claims that she had transcended the ego. This was the point at which the central thesis of this book totally unraveled for me.
In short, it seemed to me that the author had indeed experienced a traumatic loss of personal identity. The source of the trauma may have been that the people she sought out for help often did not have her best interests in mind; some of them were remarkably insensitive. So perhaps she was driven by the need to become a spiritual authority in order to compensate for her loss of self and to take back the power that she had given away to so many authority figures along the way. But she was so deluded about her underlying issues that she managed to convince many people that she was spiritually quite advanced. That's the aspect of this book that I'm reacting to so strongly. The author wasn't a bad person, but she was unconsciously manipulating people into giving her the affirmation that she craved. I felt the need to write such a lengthy review of this book because I can see from the other reviews that many readers took this story at face value. I myself feel very strongly that there's a completely different story under the surface.