Suzanne Segal: Bus stop enlightenmnent

Suzanne Segal is, like John Wren-Lewis, a case of enlightenment outside suzanne segalof any tradition. Several years after leaving the Transcendental Meditation movement, she was standing at a bus stop in Paris, when she was catapulted into the position of a “witness” to her mind and body. After some months, this “witness” disappeared:

In the dissolution of the witness, there was literally no more experience of a “me” at all. The experience of personal identity switched off and was never to appear again.

The personal self was gone, yet here was a body and a mind that still existed empty of anyone who occupied them. The experience of living without a personal identity, without an experience of being somebody, an “I” or a “me,” is exceedingly difficult to describe, but it is absolutely unmistakable. It can’t be confused with having a bad day or coming down with the flu or feeling upset or angry or spaced out. When the personal self disappears, there is no one inside who can be located as being you. The body is only an outline, empty of everything of which it had previously felt so full.

The mind, body, and emotions no longer referred to anyone — there was no one who thought, no one who felt, none who perceived. Yet the mind, body, and emotions continued to function unimpaired; apparently they did not need an “I” to keep doing what they always did. Thinking, feeling, perceiving, speaking, all continued as before, functioning with a smoothness that gave no indication of the emptiness behind them.

Suzanne Segal’s mind struggled for ten years with twelve different therapists to understand what happened. She finally found a context for her loss of self within spiritual traditions. Eventually, “The fact that ‘I’ no longer existed, that there was no person anymore, gave way finally and completely to the realization that there is nothing that is not myself.”

Before long, a small group gathered around Segal, she wrote Collision with the Infinite , and held public meetings and dialogues. Tragically, Suzanne Segal’s life as a teacher was short-lived. Her health deteriorated in the spring of 1996 and, within a year, she died of a brain tumor.

I recommend reading Collision with the Infinite. It is not groundbreaking, but strikes me as a sincerely written account of a spiritual experience. She is a describer, though, and beyond that offers little except the common pronouncement that there is nothing to attain because we are already the infinite. Perhaps that is true, but the mind wants to know for sure, just as Segal’s mind needed to know what happened to the sense of self.

Check out this intriguing interview of Suzanne Segal.

I hear there are audio tapes available of Segal. For information write to:
The Estate of Suzanne Segal
c/o Steven Kruszynski, Executor
P.O. Box 218
Stinson Beach, CA 94970

8 thoughts on “Suzanne Segal: Bus stop enlightenmnent”

  1. Good morning folks, I am writing too you this morning in hopes of your help. I live in northern New Mexico and for the last 2 years have been ski touring around the Carson national forest. I came across the La Junta summer home area where there are 9 cabins, Suzanne had purchased one of the cabins in 1995. The former owner had renewed the 20 year lease with the USFS in 1990. I’m not sure how much the cabin was used after Suzanne purchased the cabin. At this point in time the cabin has fallen into disrepair with the front door busted open. In talking to the USFS they have indicated that a new 20 year lease was not renewed in 2010, the last year they received the annual payment. I do not know if you are the last owner of the cabin or if you perhaps sold it to someone else. The USFS is planning to consider the cabin abandoned this spring/summer and tear it down. I was hoping you could tell me if you are the last owner or was it sold to someone else? Also if you are no longer interested in the cabin would you consider selling the cabin. The only way to save the cabin would be to have a new lease/permit issued. I was able to contact the 2 former owners before Suzanne, they shared their personnel history with the area and the cabin, I’d be happy to send along those accounts and current photographs if you were interested. The cabin was built in 1953 by the family who went on to establish the Sipapu ski area not to far away which is still operating today. My plan for the cabin would be to repair it and use it as a base for hiking and skiing as well as reading and writing. I would be proud to honor the history of the cabin and the former owners. So, I guess at the end of this note, I am asking for your help in keeping this cabin alive by your reply. Sincerely, Todd Malzhan

    1. Hi Todd,
      As you know, Suzanne passed away several years ago. I know nothing about her estate, but perhaps your post will turn up someone who does.

  2. Suzanne was a close friend of mine. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misconception around her because her second book, which she tried vehemently to publish before her passing, was rejected by the publisher because hers was the most popular book he had published and he did not want to risk it being ‘outed’ as a non-spiritual awakening book after all.

    In her second book she detailed her experience from a much deeper and more honest perspective. For most of the years she lived in ‘terror’ after losing her sense of self, she had no misconception about this experience being an awakening. It was not until someone (a misguided spiritual teacher) told her that it was a spiritual awakening ‘that she just didn’t understand’ that she finally felt some relief and began to teach and ‘describe’ it in this framework.

    Suzy experienced what is termed ‘depersonalization disorder’ due to a very traumatic childhood, which she later revealed in her unpublished second book. The fact that this occurred after she became pregnant is not surprising, because pregnancy is a common trigger for traumas related to sexual abuse. Suzanne suffered longterm childhood sexual abuse, and like I said, wrote about it extensively in her second book. The ‘depersonalization’ did finally lift once she had integrated so much of her traumatic past, and she finally knew peace and freedom, in the sense of feeling ‘whole’ once again, before she passed.

    She felt very strongly that she owed it to the world to tell the truth about her experience, so as not to lead people astray (as she felt she was led astray) by concluding that the experience of ‘no-self’ was actually enlightenment. In fact, in her case, this was really a state of profound dissociation. She even described it quite accurately, as at first, she felt she was looking at herself from behind and to the side. This lasted for a while until her witnessing of herself receded altogether and she no longer recognized herself at all. This was always terrifying and unsettling for her, for many years. Part of the reason she was not ‘helped’ by therapy, is that she was quite resistant to therapy that was directed at uncovering her past trauma. In fact, even after she became a therapist, she tended to ‘not believe’ people who claimed to have suffered from childhood sexual abuse. She was still in deep denial and terror of her own past.

    When she was told she was ‘awake’, the relief of feeling not only okay, but somehow ‘enlightened’ rather than ‘something is terribly wrong with me’ due to this experience, initially led to a profound sense of freedom for her, because she was able to gleen a sense of self-acceptance due to the attention and adulation she was receiving after writing her book.
    This didn’t really last very long, however, before she fell into a deep depression, and that is when her real work began.

    When I met Suzanne, introduced by a mutual friend who thought we would get a long, she offered me her unpublished manuscript to read (Collision). Some time after that, and following the publishing and startling success of her book, she begged me to come stay with her and help her. During that time, we experienced her transformation, which was propelled by her vigilant and deep desire to truly heal and know herself, along with a deeper knowing, I feel, that her time on earth was coming to a close. Prior to that, she was attempting to frame her experience to fit into the model of ‘awakening’ she had been led to believe was true.

    To her, believe me, it never felt like an awakening until she attempted to describe it as such. Her many deep, lifelong fears still persisted privately, and it was not until she began to face the origins of those fears that she was able to release them and actually feel ‘normal.’ For her, this was joyous, not the fabricated and superimposed ‘joy’ she describes in her book, but the real joy of being able to just be, without all these concepts that were merely masking a deeper suffering.

    I think Suzanne is a great example of how spirituality can often be used to mask deeper trauma (as in, spiritual bypassing) and actually avoid facing that which could in fact free the person of the poison of buried trauma. It also points to the misconception of so many whose spiritual knowledge is only ‘skin deep’ as it were. Whose intellect supersedes reality to the point where the imposition of ‘spiritual truth’ actually causes harm to people because it is in fact, not spiritual truth, but intellectual concepts being imposed on those who are actually searching for help.

    Shame-based grandiosity always manifests as a feeling of being either more or less than human. Obviously, I am well aware that we are more than human, ultimately, but if one can truly accept one’s humanity, the universality of one’s true being, ultimately, not an easily describable reality, can be experienced. But this is slippery territory where people can really fall into deception and denial. Where people can also morph into ‘superior’ gurus and know-it-alls, if they are narcissistically inclined (narcissism, succinctly, being an intense and overwhelming avoidance of the experience of shame).

  3. Hi Shawn,

    A friend of mine and Suzanne’s who knew the publisher (at Blue Dove Press) asked if he had a copy of her manuscript, which he said he did. However, when my friend showed up to take a look at it, he was told it had gone missing. For various reasons, neither of us believed this. We thought it was more an issue of him not wanting the manuscript to get published.

    Suzanne’s husband Steve (who she married shortly before her passing) was, as far as I know, placed in charge of her estate, and became the legal guardian to her then teenaged daughter Arielle, as he had been a father figure to her for many years already. Her belongings, including the book, were in his possession. Other copies that may be out there, would not be publishable without permission anyway.

    I imagine he never chose to pursue publication after Blue Dove rejected her request, but as I never really kept in touch with him, I don’t know. Since it was his business whether to attempt publication, I am assuming he chose not to for whatever reasons. He was with Suzanne (most of the time) for many years before ‘Collision’ and witnessed her popularity as a teacher following ‘Collision’ and I really don’t know his thoughts on all of it. Although I don’t know for sure, I imagine it might have been his choice to lay it all to rest.

    I think there is unfortunately, an immaturity in spiritual seekers in our culture and time, which reveals a kind of spiritual greed for ‘instant gratification’ even in the spiritual realm. Spontaneous awakenings happen…but often they are overblown, or misinterpreted by the experiencer. Especially when there are so many people parading around professing their ‘awakening’ and gathering followers. This, unfortunately, can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, how lovely that people can come to know that the truth of being is available to experience now. On the other hand, this can give rise to a lot of misunderstanding, not to mention poppycock and fakery.

    An explosion of this really took off with the neo-advaitists who followed after Andrew Cohen and Gangaji popularized a fairly unknown person prior to that time, Hariwansh Lal Poonja . While Poonjaji was clearly enamored of Andrew in the beginning and asked him to go forth and spread the word, most people know that it didn’t quite go as anticipated. Andrew became a vainglorious cult leader who was finally brought down by his own students, who publicly claimed innumerable abuses, some which would qualify as torture. He is still intent on reclaiming his stature to this day, with lame, overly public efforts at ‘slaying his ego’ by doing things such as serving for a few months at Mother Teresa’s in India (and not doing it quietly, but making sure everyone knew of his ‘humble services’). This could be seen as one of many instances of someone ‘waking up’ to more expansive awareness, and then going forth and claiming spiritual superiority and donning the mantle of teacher/guru. Obviously, in this context, ‘waking up’ is hardly synonymous with ‘enlightenment’. It is also somewhat amusing (to me) that Papaji also said on numerous occasions, that all these people (from his satsang) who went out to teach were going to hell. He occasionally mentioned names. Nevertheless, they continue to multiply.

    My point being, immaturity. And people projecting ‘fantasy bonds’ with teachers and guru figures based on claims that are in fact, far from accurate, and also often on unconscious desires for a savior figure to empower them. And spiritual bypassing, meaning, in a nutshell, using spirituality to avoid facing one’s shadow, or using ‘nothing is real anyway’ as an excuse to live in denial.

    Those who have read ‘Talks With Ramana’ can surely recall that he did not claim the world was an illusion, but rather that our perceptions of the world are the illusion. Claiming the world or the physical self, or whatever, is ‘only illusion’ is dualist, polarized thinking. It is basically saying, only Spirit, or Self, or the Void (or Whatever) is real, and the physical world is an illusion. In other words, a spirit-polarization of ‘reality’.

    There are materialists who say the opposite, that spirit is make-believe, and only the physical world is real, and mind is equated with the brain. True non-duality is just…reality without these interpretations, experienced as Being. Even this awareness, is considered by some as a necessary, beginning stage of spiritual awareness, not some final liberation, or end point of the journey. A foundational awareness, as it were, that allows for endless expansion and integration.

    Just my two cents in this little comment section, and not necessarily pertaining to Suzanne. Her background in terms of spiritual belief, was initially with TM. But she is an example of how this kind of preconception among ‘spiritually awake’ people can run amok, and often does not spiritually serve anyone, really. Or maybe it does, in some unforeseen way… but, as an Indian cab driver once yelled out the window at someone while I was a passenger, “Hey, it’s not my fault it’s the Kali Yuga!” Well, that’s what it sounded like anyway…

  4. I just found this clip of Papaji. In this one, he says not only are his ‘messengers’ going to hell, but also their followers are going to hell. He also mentions ‘serving’ (for 12 years, in this case) to remove the ego.

    Ramana said, “Unless the samskaras cease to exist, there will always be doubt and confusion. All efforts are directed to destroying doubt and confusion. To do so their roots must be cut. Their roots are the samskaras. These are rendered ineffective by practice as prescribed by the Guru.

    The Guru leaves it to the seeker to do this much so that he might himself find out that there is no ignorance. Hearing the truth [sravana] is the first stage. If the understanding is not firm one has to practise reflection [manana] and uninterrupted contemplation [nididhyasana] on it. These two processes scorch the seeds of samskaras so that they are rendered ineffective.
    Some extraordinary people get unshakable jnana after hearing the truth only once. These are the advanced seekers. Beginners take longer to gain it.”

    Ahem…so practicing reflection and uninterrupted contemplation (which Ramana actually did for years) is necessary folks. He spoke often of ridding oneself of samskaras. You don’t hear much about this from the neo-advaita crowd these days, because they never did any of these things to any significant degree. There may be a few exceptions, but in general, there are huge misconceptions in these superficial teachings of most of the ‘messengers’ – and anyway, they are all going to hell… ; )

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