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Oliver Sacks - Bhagawandi P

Identifier

001661

Type of spiritual experience

A description of the experience

The Man who mistook his wife for a hat – Oliver Sacks

 Bhagawandi P, an Indian girl of nineteen with a [growing] malicious brain tumour was admitted to our hospice in 1978. …. Her original seizures had been ‘grand mal’ convulsions and these she continued to have on occasion.  Her new ones had a different character altogether.  She would not lose consciousness but she would look and feel ‘dreamy’ and it was easy to ascertain that she was now having frequent temporal lobe seizures…

Soon this dreaminess took on a more defined, more concrete and more visionary character.  It now took the form of visions of India – landscapes, village, homes, gardens – which Bhagawhandi recognised at once, as places she had known and loved as a child.

‘Do these distress you’?  we asked ‘we can change the medication’.

‘No’ she said with a peaceful smile ‘I like these dreams – they take me back home’.

At times there were people, usually her family or neighbours from her home village; sometimes there was speech, or singing, or dancing; once she was in a church, once in a graveyard, but mostly there were the plains, the fields, the rice paddies near her village and the low sweet hills which swept up to the horizon….

They occurred side by side with normal awareness… they seemed more like certain paintings or tone poems, sometimes happy sometimes sad, evocations, revocations, visitations to and from a loved and cherished childhood.

Day by day, week by week, the dreams, the visions came oftener, grew deeper.  They were not occasional now, but occupied most of her day.  We would see her rapt, as if in a trance, her eyes sometimes closed, sometimes open but unseeing and always a faint mysterious smile on her face.

If any one approached her or asked her something as the nurses had to do, she would respond at once, lucidly and courteously but there was, even among the most down-to-earth staff, a feeling that she was in another world and that we should not interrupt her.

I shared this feeling and though curious was reluctant to probe.  Once, just once, I said ‘Bhagawhandi, what is happening?’

‘I am dying’ she answered ‘I am going home.  I am going back where I came from – you might call it my return’.

Another week passed and now Bhagawhandi no longer responded to external stimuli, but seemed wholly enveloped in a world of her own, and though her eyes were closed her face still bore its faint happy smile.

‘She’s on the return journey’ the staff said ‘she’ll soon arrive there’

Three days later she died – or should we say she ‘arrived’ having completed her passage to India.

The source of the experience

Sacks, Oliver

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