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Observations placeholder

Symonds, John Addington - The apprehension of a coming dissolution, the grim conviction that this state was the last state of the conscious Self



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

J A Symonds, a biography – H F Brown 1895

[quoted in The Varieties of Religious Experience – William James]

Suddenly, at church, or in company, or when I was reading, and always, I think, when my muscles were at rest, I felt the approach of the mood.  Irresistibly it took possession of my mind and will, lasted what seemed an eternity and disappeared in a series of rapid sensations which resembled the awakening from anaesthetic influence.

One reason why I disliked this kind of trance was that I could not describe it to myself.

I cannot even now find words to render it intelligible.  It consisted in a gradual but swiftly progressive obliteration of space, time, sensation, and the multitudinous factors of experience which seem to qualify what we are pleased to call our Self.  In proportion as these conditions of ordinary consciousness were subtracted, the sense of an underlying or essential consciousness acquired intensity.  At last nothing remained but a pure absolute abstract Self.  The universe became without form and void of content.  But Self persisted, formidable in its vivid keenness, feeling the poignant doubt about reality, ready, as it seemed, to find existence break as breaks a bubble round about it.

And what then?

The apprehension of a coming dissolution, the grim conviction that this state was the last state of the conscious Self, the sense that I had followed the last thread of being to the verge of the abyss, and had arrived at demonstration of eternal Maya or illusion, stirred or seemed to stir me up again.

The return to ordinary conditions of sentient existence began by my first recovering the power of touch and then by the gradual though rapid influx of familiar impression and diurnal interests.

At last I felt myself once more a human being and though the riddle of what is meant by life remained unsolved I was thankful for this return from the abyss – this deliverance from so awful an initiation into the mysteries of skepticism.

This trance recurred with diminishing frequency, until I reached the age of twenty eight.  It served to impress upon my growing nature the phantasmal unreality of all the circumstances which contribute to a merely phenomenal consciousness.

Often I have asked myself with anguish, on waking from that formless state of denuded keenly sentient being.  Which is the unreality – the trance of fiery, vacant, apprehensive, sceptical Self from which I issue, or these surrounding phenomena and habits which veil that Inner self and build a self of flesh and blood conventionality?

Again, are men the factors of some dream, the dream like unsubstantiality of which they comprehend at such eventful moments?  What would happen if the final stage of the trance were reached?

The source of the experience

Symonds, John Addington

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Science Items

Activities and commonsteps