Act 2 : With a valiant heart, nothing is impossible

This article is a follow-up to Act 1 : A storm in my meninges, in which I tell the sto­ry of how I lived and sur­vi­ved a menin­geal hemor­rhage. Here I give a second level of rea­ding, where men­tal, heart and pre­sence come into play.

Presence is a state. A sin­gu­lar state of conscious­ness. It lives beyond words. Therefore, these can only help us to iden­ti­fy what pre­sence is not, that is, non-presence, men­tal. What is men­tal ? A simple defi­ni­tion tells us that it is « the tota­li­ty of the acti­vi­ties of the mind inclu­ding thoughts and emo­tions » [1]. This is an inter­es­ting star­ting point, which is in line with Eckhart Tolle’s vision : 


« In the sense in which I use the term, men­tal does not only refer to thought. It also includes your emo­tions as well as all the uncons­cious reac­tive pat­terns that connect thoughts and emo­tions. Emotions are born at the mee­ting point of body and men­tal. An emo­tion is the reac­tion of your body to your men­tal, or the reflec­tion of your men­tal in the body. » [2]


To unders­tand how Eckhart Tolle came to write this, one has to look at his sto­ry. In his book The power of now, he tells of having been depres­sed and even sui­ci­dal for a long part of his life. At the age of 29, he underwent an inner trans­for­ma­tion such that he spent seve­ral years in a pro­found state of peace, away from socie­ty. He final­ly retur­ned to the world as a spi­ri­tual tea­cher. He des­cribes his trans­for­ma­tion as the result of intense depres­sive suf­fe­ring that cau­sed such pres­sure on him that it even­tual­ly for­ced his conscious­ness to disen­gage from his men­tal.


At the heart of identity : mental

Eckhart Tolle also claims to have been influen­ced by Jiddu Krishnamurti. The main tea­ching of this Indian-born phi­lo­so­pher is based on a trans­for­ma­tion of the human being, and more pre­ci­se­ly of the « old condi­tio­ned brain of man » [3]. A trans­for­ma­tion that can only take place by freeing one­self from all condi­tio­ning, be it reli­gious, poli­ti­cal, social, fami­ly, cultural…

This man was also the ini­tia­tor of the ope­ning of seve­ral schools whose voca­tion was to pro­mote alter­na­tive edu­ca­tion. He wan­ted to make human beings who were freer to explore their own thoughts and beha­viors and to detach them­selves from them.


An unconscious dynamic


At first glance, men­tal may appear as a confu­sed and nebu­lous sub­ject. Probably because it is based on a dyna­mic that is all the more com­plex as it has become, over time, uncons­cious. However, by dra­wing ins­pi­ra­tion from Eckhart Tolle and Krishnamurti’s tea­chings, it is pos­sible to bring more awa­re­ness to the heart of this dyna­mic. It is based on four main axes : emo­tions, know­ledge, thought and time (see the article on the dyna­mics of men­tal).

Their tea­chings about men­tal are not real­ly new to me, strict­ly spea­king. I didn’t dis­co­ver them after December 2013, I’ve been trying to put them into prac­tice since I star­ted a per­so­nal deve­lop­ment pro­cess, that is to say for more than 20 years. Eckhart Tolle and Krishnamurti sim­ply state them in a dif­ferent way, one that reso­nates par­ti­cu­lar­ly with me, in rela­tion with what I have experienced.

Essentially, they ask this big ques­tion : « Who am I ? ». And, essen­tial­ly, they bring this rea­li­za­tion : « Probably not the one I believe ». Indeed, in a very basic way, I could des­cribe my mari­tal situa­tion, my pro­fes­sio­nal situa­tion, and eve­ry­thing else I think I can define myself. Except that once you start doing per­so­nal deve­lop­ment, the ans­wer can no lon­ger be so basic…


From one identity to another


Thus, this ques­tion has alrea­dy recei­ved dif­ferent ans­wers in my life. Indeed, I rather consi­der myself as a being in search of evo­lu­tion, I seek to broa­den my per­cep­tion of myself and life. For example, a few years ago, when I saw myself as a very uncrea­tive per­son, I dis­co­ve­red that it was just a limi­ted idea I had about myself. The rea­li­ty is that I can ful­ly express myself through art and that gives me a lot of joy.

But even though, in a simi­lar way, I have later found new defi­ni­tions of myself — so to speak — it ended up beco­ming a new men­tal vision of who I am. A new iden­ti­ty that I’ve become atta­ched to. In fact, the very pro­cess of « see­king to become someone else » belongs to the dyna­mics of men­tal. So even though I know I can move from one defi­ni­tion to ano­ther, « I » remains fun­da­men­tal­ly iden­ti­fied with itself. In other words, « I » can have seve­ral aspects. But does it have an exis­tence of its own, apart from these aspects ?


Beyond identity

That’s what I think. Precisely, my belief for years has been that I don’t limit myself to this or that vision of myself. I have lear­ned through various books, tea­chings and work­shops that I am more than my iden­ti­ty. I’ve for­got­ten who I real­ly am, I’ve for­got­ten that I’m One with Everything. And I’ve been loo­king for years for a way to remem­ber that so I can touch that unit again.

My belief is that I am fun­da­men­tal­ly not my men­tal, which thinks, ana­lyzes, eva­luates, remem­bers and anti­ci­pates. I am not sim­ply my thoughts, which constant­ly define and rede­fine my iden­ti­ty, or what I take for such. I’m not just this ego, which was built with and around these para­me­ters. I am, in essence, more than that.


Consciousness and unconsciousness

When mental absorbs consciousness

But what am I ? Consciousness, did I heard and read. What is conscious­ness ? What are the links bet­ween men­tal and conscious­ness ? Let us first consi­der what hap­pens to the vast majo­ri­ty of us : we func­tion on a very limi­ted mode of conscious­ness, because in rea­li­ty our men­tal absorbs all our conscious­ness.

It is as if conscious­ness is level­led by men­tal, as if it com­ple­te­ly iden­ti­fies with it. In other words, we live in uncons­cious­ness. We believe that we are only our thoughts, senses and emotions.

When conscious­ness starts to emerge, it gra­dual­ly emerges from uncons­cious­ness. In fact, it would be more accu­rate to say that it is moving to ano­ther and more subtle level of uncons­cious­ness. But, essen­tial­ly, it remains uncons­cious. Why ? Firstly, because it is still more or less caught in the men­tal nets and its deri­va­tives, name­ly condi­tio­ning, cau­sa­li­ty and deter­mi­nism. Thus, by see­king to evolve and detach from men­tal, it only main­tains itself in a men­tal pro­cess of beco­ming. Secondly because the ripple effect of men­tal is such that it conti­nues to drain conscious­ness into the pro­cesses and dyna­mics it knows and masters.



« Keep tal­king » could be the mot­to of men­tal, because it still holds the reins. And because the dyna­mic of cause and effect that it induces remains, in fact, always present. This is cer­tain­ly the rea­son why after all these years of per­so­nal work to try to define men­tal and go beyond its limits – at the heart of uni­ty – it all remains a bit hazy for me and, somew­here, distant.


When consciousness seeks to free itself

If I am unable to real­ly expe­rience uni­ty, it is pre­ci­se­ly because I still uncons­cious­ly believe that I am my men­tal, and I am trying to find this for­got­ten uni­ty with my mental.


« And when I say that you for­get, I mean you can no lon­ger feel that state of one­ness as a rea­li­ty that flows. You may believe it to be true, but you no lon­ger appre­hend it as such. A belief can cer­tain­ly give you com­fort. However, only expe­rience can set you free. »  [4]


How to live such an expe­rience ? Is deci­ding to expe­rience a state of uni­ty enough to expe­rience it ? What a com­plex issue ! Because it brings into play, among other things, the notion of choice. This notion is dis­cus­sed in depth in the article Does free will exist ?  Here, to sim­pli­fy, I would say that deci­ding to live in a state of uni­ty pre­sup­poses at least the belief that it exists. That is what makes it a neces­sa­ry condi­tion. Without this belief, what can moti­vate us to want to live the expe­rience ? Without this belief, what will the men­tal do with an expe­rience that is total­ly forei­gn to it on the day it per­haps pre­sents itself ? It could sim­ply miss it, or worse, deny it. Thus, we can consi­der this belief neces­sa­ry for the very crea­tion of the condi­tions of the expe­rience.

However, it would appear that this is not a suf­fi­cient condi­tion. Otherwise it is like­ly that many people, inclu­ding me before my stroke, would have alrea­dy had this expe­rience. Add to this the fact that this belief can become a men­tal quest – « I » is loo­king for a way to live the expe­rience – and it loops again and again and limits itself. 


When experience is the only way out

The expe­rience of uni­ty in ques­tion is pre­ci­se­ly beyond belief, beyond the thought pro­cess. Thought has usur­ped the place of true per­cep­tion, which only takes place when thought stops. But even if thought deci­ded to end its own pro­cess, it would still be a deci­sion of thought. So what could stop this pro­cess if thought itself can­not ? Can we ever get out of the move­ment of men­tal ?

knife-and-buddhism« The blade of the knife can­not cut itself » Buddhists say. By ana­lo­gy, trying to get out of men­tal by using men­tal is not only impos­sible, but it turns to be as absurd as coun­ter­pro­duc­tive because in the end it only streng­thens it. Mental sees itself as an enti­ty sepa­rate from eve­ry­thing and it feeds on this sepa­ra­tion, wha­te­ver it may be. This is why wan­ting to sepa­rate it from itself by using it in vain gives it more impor­tance. Secondly, to actual­ly expe­rience uni­ty is not in the inter­est of men­tal at all. If there is uni­ty, there is no more sepa­ra­tion and the­re­fore no more space left for it. And this is too great a risk for the iden­ti­ty it defends no mat­ter what.

If it is not pos­sible to leave this pro­cess by force of will, if the very nature of this pro­cess pre­vents it from going out of itself, are there condi­tions under which it can sim­ply be sus­pen­ded ? In other words, can pre­sence just hap­pen ? Eckhart Tolle tells us that dan­ger or beau­ty can put the men­tal on hold.


Altered state of consciousness

Unawareness of danger

When the men­tal freezes, what is left then ? Consciousness ? Is men­tal just a small aspect of conscious­ness ? Could the brain be able of ano­ther acti­vi­ty, an acti­vi­ty that is inde­pendent of any men­tal pro­cess, but which could never­the­less act on it ?

It would seem that consi­de­ring all of this ques­tio­ning has been the chal­lenge I set myself on this eve­ning of December 2013.


« If you’ve ever found your­self in a life or death situa­tion, you know it wasn’t a pro­blem. In fact, men­tal has not had time to pal­ter and make it a pro­blem. In case of real emer­gen­cy, men­tal freezes and you become total­ly avai­lable in the present moment. Then some­thing infi­ni­te­ly more power­ful takes over. » [5]


So, what was at play bet­ween my men­tal and my conscious­ness that night ? Let’s go over the course of events again.

8:00 pm — The break of an aneu­rysm has just cau­sed blee­ding in the right hemis­phere of my head, in the meninges. I feel a violent and sud­den hea­dache that warns me that some­thing unu­sual is hap­pe­ning. The inten­si­ty of the pain com­ple­te­ly focuses my thoughts on this state of affairs.

Although my body doesn’t send me any other wor­rying signals, I pre­fer to sit on the lit­tle side­walk right next to it to wait for James : if I have to faint, I’ll fall from a lower height. It occurs to me that I may have the first migraine in my life, but how do I know since I’ve never had one ?


A limited database

My men­tal, unable to be satis­fied with the approxi­ma­tion of this pos­si­bi­li­ty, seeks ano­ther hypo­the­sis. It must be said that in some unex­pec­ted situa­tions, such as the one I was in that night, it can be as use­ful as it some­times is in eve­ry­day life. Thanks to it, I qui­ck­ly assess my other symp­toms : at this stage, none. I don’t have para­ce­ta­mol in my hand­bag and even if I did, I have a hard time convin­cing myself that such a drug could stop this acute and sei­zing pain. 

However, the pos­si­bi­li­ty of having a stroke doesn’t cross my mind at all. My men­tal is pro­ba­bly sim­ply unable of sus­pec­ting this diag­no­sis because in its data­base at the time, stroke is syno­ny­mous with : para­ly­sis, numb­ness, dis­tur­bance of balance or vision, and dif­fi­cul­ty expres­sing one­self ; howe­ver, I have none of these symp­toms, I am thin­king clear­ly, I feel able to unders­tand what I am being told and express myself as I usual­ly do.


Helplessness of mental

What I don’t know yet is that menin­geal hemor­rhage is a form of stroke whose main cha­rac­te­ris­tic is a sud­den, extre­me­ly intense and long-lasting hea­dache, which is pre­ci­se­ly the symp­tom that is mani­fes­ting itself in me at that moment. However, this symp­tom alone can lead to neu­ro­lo­gi­cal defi­cits (speech, vision and hea­ring pro­blems) depen­ding on the loca­tion and pro­jec­tion of the aneu­rysm, as well as the dura­tion and inten­si­ty of the blee­ding. In fact, when a hemor­rhage occurs in or around the brain, the entire brain is at risk because of the increa­sing pres­sure in the skull. 

the-limits-of-mentalKnowing nothing of that, my men­tal conti­nues its usual work, it searches, ana­lyzes, com­pares… The truth is that it can­not relate this strange sen­sa­tion to any other. No mat­ter how hard it searches its data­base, nothing matches, no known condi­tion that comes close to it, no equi­va­lent expe­rience to weigh up in order to know what to do… In the end, all it manages to find, in spite of itself, are its own limits.


A strange fear

Then, fear begins to win me over. Strangely, I also feel a cer­tain detach­ment from this fear. I have an unu­sual awa­re­ness of it, so to speak. It’s as if I can observe my fear, as if I reco­gnize that the fear is there, but it might as well not be. Like I’m not sure I unders­tand why it is in me. As if, overw­hel­med by this situa­tion, I ente­red into this fear because I had found nothing else to do ; because it is the usual and ratio­nal reac­tion that mani­fests itself in such cases ; and because at this very moment I am all alone, sit­ting on a side­walk, and I could poten­tial­ly lose consciousness.

The fact is that not only will I not sink into uncons­cious­ness, but the awar­ness I have of myself will some­how expand. The state of emer­gen­cy in which I find myself is on the verge of tip­ping me over into an unfa­mi­liar « time » : the here and now, the presence.


The power of the heart

Precisely, my conscious­ness swings from my head to my heart. Then I become unable to focus on the hea­dache that assails me because that the power­ful sen­sa­tion ema­na­ting from my heart magne­tizes all my conscious­ness. I can still feel my pain, but it’s like in the back­ground, almost secondary. 

Then, some­thing that is not of the order of thought, some­thing grea­ter takes place in me, like a power of abso­lute sere­ni­ty that ema­nates from my heart [6] and which, if it were trans­la­ted into words, would affirm to me : « Whatever hap­pens, it will be all right.” This fee­ling pre­vails without prevailing. 

It is an ener­gy very dif­ferent from what I am used to, which does not try to be right, which is sim­ply there. My men­tal has no hold on this fee­ling of pre­sence because it is no lon­ger there : pre­sence has sim­ply eclip­sed it. In a flash, my thought flow and emo­tions are sus­pen­ded.





« What actual­ly hap­pens when you become conscious of the Being is that the Being becomes conscious of itself. That is Presence. » [7]


The moment pre­sence mani­fests itself, it simul­ta­neous­ly coun­ter­ba­lances my fee­ling of fear and stops my men­tal. At that moment, I am my conscious­ness out of sync with my emo­tions and thoughts. As if my conscious­ness is no lon­ger focu­sed on my men­tal. Therefore I am there, more than ever, conscious, present, but I am not my men­tal, I exist out­side of it, in uni­ty with Everything. I see myself as a lar­ger ver­sion of myself. This state of grace lasts a moment, an eternity.


An unprecedented situation

A shock to the brain 

At this point, I don’t know any­thing any­more. My conscious­ness is no lon­ger iden­ti­fied with my men­tal, time has no value or even mea­ning, my heart is open, the « pene­tra­ting vision », as Krishnamurti calls it, mani­fests itself : 


brain-and-consciousness« (…) When you per­ceive some­thing in a com­plete and abso­lute way, this total per­cep­tion is dif­ferent from the frag­men­ta­ry per­cep­tion that has cha­rac­te­ri­zed the func­tio­ning of the brain until now. When there is total per­cep­tion and total action, it inevi­ta­bly affects the brain cells. (…) It’s a shock to the brain, which is confron­ted with a com­ple­te­ly new situa­tion. » [8]


In fact, this « expe­rience in the expe­rience » has simul­ta­neous­ly pro­du­ced seve­ral new things for my brain :

  • I had a dread­ful hea­dache, which lite­ral­ly besie­ged the phy­si­cal space in which my men­tal func­tions ; there was a race against time bet­ween my men­tal which was trying to unders­tand the situa­tion in order to know what to do, and the per­ma­nent threat – if I lost conscious­ness – that it would have no phy­si­cal sup­port in order to be able to dedi­cate itself to this task.
  • Feeling so threa­te­ned, it blind­ly sought to defend its sur­vi­val, to prove that it was use­ful. The men­tal believes it has the solu­tion to any pro­blem. Whereas it only makes pro­blems, which end up fit­ting into each other like a frac­tal pro­cess. Then it tries to solve them, but in the end only manages to make new ones. Thus, at that point in my expe­rience, it was increa­sing its acti­vi­ty ten­fold, and the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of its acti­vi­ty was cres­cen­do : the more it tried to unders­tand, the more it tou­ched its hel­pless­ness, and the more it wan­ted to regain control.


A strange paradox

  • Then a strange para­dox arose : my bio­lo­gy was concre­te­ly in mor­tal dan­ger but my men­tal, in its fren­zy of acti­vi­ty, took up all the space and did not allow the conscious­ness that was not com­ple­te­ly iden­ti­fied with this pro­cess – thanks to the work of per­so­nal deve­lop­ment ! – to access the infor­ma­tion that my body kept sen­ding it, so it put itself in danger.
  • the-brain-of-the-heartEventually, just as the phy­si­cal pres­sure of the blood rup­tu­red the aneu­rysm and pou­red into my brain, my men­tal acti­vi­ty came under pres­sure and even­tual­ly gave way. Like the breach that has been crea­ted in one of my arte­ries, a breach has been crea­ted in my men­tal pro­cess. At the moment when my conscious­ness sepa­ra­ted from it to ema­nate enti­re­ly from my heart, it made it per­ceive the vani­ty of its attempts to grasp and unders­tand the situa­tion. Even being afraid made no sense, as if it was real­ly just an illusion.


End of mental, end of conflict

  • At this moment, there was no more conflict. My men­tal wasn’t figh­ting any­more, whe­ther it was against the fact that the situa­tion was get­ting out of hand, against the fact that the eve­ning was pro­ba­bly rui­ned, or against the fact that this sort of thing shouldn’t hap­pen. There was no more conflict because there was no more men­tal. There was no more « me ». And that is why the heart, the authen­tic per­cep­tion, the pene­tra­ting vision, mani­fes­ted them­self.

Paradoxically, the « detach­ment » of my men­tal occur­red in a moment of dan­ger, without my awa­re­ness of that dan­ger. Or maybe I knew my life wasn’t real­ly threa­te­ned, because in rea­li­ty it never could be. Only the men­tal believes that it has a life and a limi­ted life span when it has only living condi­tions. Whereas the Being is, in the words of Eckhart Tolle, « unboun­ded and indes­truc­tible » [9].


Consciousness of the heart


The first times after this expe­rience, I thought that at that moment I had become aware of my men­tal. But if I look clo­se­ly, I’ve been aware of my thoughts, my pat­terns, my men­tal constructs, my emo­tions for a few years now. I’m lear­ning how to deal with them, how to stop being trap­ped and locked up by them. With more or less ease and effi­cien­cy, I am gra­dual­ly deta­ching myself from all this. So it wasn’t real­ly an awa­re­ness of my men­tal that hap­pe­ned that night.

In fact, it wasn’t until I read Eckhart Tolle’s tea­chings and then Krishnamurti’s ones a few months later, that I rea­li­zed what real­ly hap­pe­ned : my conscious­ness, through my heart, became aware of itself. And this is not the same point of view at all.

We func­tion in a very limi­ted mode of conscious­ness when our men­tal absorbs all our conscious­ness. It is this strange fusion that com­ple­te­ly dis­torts our per­cep­tion of life. To become one with the Being com­ple­te­ly rede­fines the notion of fusion, or let us say that it is put back in its right place. Consciousness that fuses with Being is a heal­thy fusion, men­tal that takes over conscious­ness creates a per­ma­nent and insa­tiable search for fusion, because it is arti­fi­cial and based on separation.


As close as possible to the point of no return

What I have expe­rien­ced has made me real­ly feel in my body and cells that I exist beyond my thoughts and emo­tions, « I am » some­thing other than my men­tal, some­thing that comes from the heart and is « infi­ni­te­ly more power­ful ». I came as close as I could to the limit beyond which I could not bring the pro­found rea­li­za­tion of this expe­rience back into my incar­na­tion, into my body, here and now. Finally, this expe­rience led me to esta­blish a new rela­tion­ship with myself. Otherwise, conti­nuing my jour­ney on this Earth would pro­ba­bly have been too dif­fi­cult for me.

So that’s how I can des­cribe my « expe­rience in the expe­rience ». My inner expe­rience at least. Because if the pre­sence mani­fes­ted itself inside me that night, it also lite­ral­ly mani­fes­ted itself out­side. In order to unders­tand what I mean, we have to go back to the way things happened…


A larger version of myself

I am here, more than ever, conscious, present, but I am not my men­tal, I exist out­side it, in uni­ty with Everything. I feel in a lar­ger ver­sion of myself. This state of ple­ni­tude lasts a moment, an eternity.

Then, through thick and thin, convin­ced that it was right and that it could not let any­thing but itself exist, my men­tal qui­ck­ly took control again. It imme­dia­te­ly iden­ti­fies itself with the « wha­te­ver hap­pens, it will be all right » emit­ted by the conscious­ness ema­na­ting from my heart. Then I tell myself that it can’t be very serious, that this hea­dache will pass. At that moment, eve­ry­thing goes very fast, the urgen­cy of my body pushes me to act, while alrea­dy, I feel sup­por­ted by grace.


Key points

  • Mental dyna­mics is based on four main axes : emo­tions, know­ledge, thought and time.

  • Mental absorbs all or part of consciousness.

  • Only the expe­rience, that enables conscious­ness to become conscious of itself, can disen­gage it from the men­tal. Then the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­cess bet­ween the two stops.




Notes and references

[1] According to WIKIPEDIA
[2] TOLLE Eckhart, Le pou­voir du moment pré­sent [The power of now], Québec : Ariane Editions, 2000, p.25, free trans­la­tion
[3] KRISHNAMURTI Jiddu, Se libé­rer du connu, Paris : Le livre de poche, 1995, p.103, free trans­la­tion
[4] TOLLE Eckhart, Le pou­voir du moment pré­sent, op.cit., p.20, free trans­la­tion
[5] Ibid., p.47, free trans­la­tion
[6] See also the article on quan­tum bio­lo­gy to bet­ter unders­tand the links bet­ween heart and brain.
[7] TOLLE Eckhart, Le pou­voir du moment pré­sent, op.cit., p.63, free trans­la­tion
[8] KRISHNAMURTI Jiddu, Les limites de la pen­sée, Paris : Le livre de poche, 2006, p.143, free trans­la­tion
[9] TOLLE Eckhart. Vous n’êtes pas votre men­tal [You’re not your men­tal]. In : Eckhart Tolle’s teachings



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