The awakening of Timothy Conway
NonDualityMagazine: It says on your bio that you had some sort of "awakening." at age 16. That you had some kind of non-dual experience, and realization that "God alone is real" That we are all made of this divine spirit. However it doesn't go into much detail in what exactly occurred. Can you please tell me in detail what exactly happened. For example, what did you see? What did you feel? What did you do, or experience for this awakening shift, this opening glimpse to occur?
Timothy Conway: (…..) That initial spiritual awakening or life-changing opening about which you ask actually happened quite literally "out of the blue." I was standing in the back yard of my parents' home in my 16th year, gazing into the blue sky over a lovely vista. The home was a couple of blocks from the crest of the Santa Monica mountains off Mulholland Drive in the Sherman Oaks foothills, and it had a sweeping view of the San Fernando Valley spread out to the north.
I had been quite ill for several weeks with a bad case of strep throat. And for many months before that i had suffered a situational depression and teen identity crisis over the fact that a series of knee injuries and unsuccessful surgery had ended any hopes of a serious career in sports-- and sports had been my "true religion" since 7 years of age. So i was sad, seething and resentful over my "fate"-- a teenage knot of silly selfishness. My dreams at night had taken a very dark, often nightmarish turn, filled with ugly beings and events. Moreover, the Jesuit Catholic high school i attended in downtown L.A. had us reading some of the French existentialists, Camus, Sartre, et al.-- so that "absurd" sense of life had crept into the psyche. Despite the teachers trying in lectures and other assigned readings to instill in us a Christian sense of a meaningful life, I really felt there was no reason for living and i actually several times seriously contemplated the best ways to end my life.
The strep-throat illness kept me bed-ridden and homebound for over a week. When i finally had no more excuse not to return to school, i re-emerged into society, but it seemed like an existential bad dream, bleakness all around. Family, friends, fellow students, strangers, all seemed to me to be just going through the motions of life, not really happy or fulfilled. I would look at them closely and see only a deep resignation or even despair, masked by an outer busy-ness and an addiction to what Erich Fromm would call "having" and "doing." Samsara by any other name.
One afternoon in Feb., 1971, within several days of returning to my school routine, i felt that my physical energy was really sagging because of the recent illness and lack of exercise. So i went out into our back yard, did some of my usual callisthenic exercises (jumping jacks, running in place, pushups, etc.) for about 10 minutes or so, and then i just stood for a while gazing out over the busy valley below and out to the distant mountains and especially up into that blue sky-- as blue as it could be for a Los Angeles day.
And SUDDENLY this life of "mine," without having done ANY spiritual practices or questing or anything, was just opened WIDE and drenched with a shower of pure, powerful GRACE. It literally felt like the "me" was instantly replaced by an overflowing surge of unearthly blissful joy and radiant good cheer, extreme well-being rooted in a solid sense of unshakable Being, and the most unspeakable Love. This was a formless, shapeless, spiritual affirmation from within. And i instantly felt that "my life" was entirely and irreversibly changed. Everything had just instantly shifted from being "all wrong" to all right, from being "incomplete" to quite complete. It was clearly an awakening from a "2-dimensionally flat" type of intolerably mediocre existence into an unbelievably rich, deep sense of FULL ALIVENESS.
At this point it was entirely clear to me that we are made of God's Love, Joy, Peace, Holiness, and Power. We are nothing in ourselves, but as appearing, feeling persons we are sourced in and entirely composed of the Divine Supra-Person, the Divine Being.
This was no mere concept, but the most vivid Reality i had yet experienced to that date.
Now John, this was primarily a nondual, formless intuitive realization that flooded through as an all-engulfing, all-pervading oceanic bliss-peace-love feeling, to use a common term. "Radiance" might be a better word. But you ask what i "saw," and i'll say that, in addition to the earthly scenery on display arising within Awareness, there was in fact a subtle vision that appeared very rapidly after this flooding-awakening. The vision, which came from "on high" as i turned a bit to look up to the eastern sky, was subtle and ethereal, not occluding my vision of the neighbor's high fence and shrubbery. There was a tangible visual sense of all our gorgeous spiritual friends and guides in the Light, our guardian angels, kindly ancestors, the ever-blessing saints and sages, Mother Mary and Jesus, all of them intermediaries of Grace from the infinite Divine Source, all just showering down Grace for whomever might be open to this Grace.
It should be noted that i never took any kind of social drugs, hallucinogens, or the like. I never even once smoked pot. You asked what i "did" for this awakening. Nothing. I lost interest in life and i got very sick. Then i engaged in a brief period of exercise that afternoon to get some of my physical strength back. One might say that the exercise had turned on some basic endorphin chemistry, and the sunlight was triggering serotonin, etc. I would agree. Yet i had always been an extremely active and athletic boy, spending massive amounts of my youth involved in sports and exercise outdoors at the parks, beaches and playgrounds. And anyway, a mere biochemical cascade of neurotransmitters from a very short period of exercise would not have such a permanently life-changing effect.
After this, I was smiling most of the time and so happy in such an intense way that my mother suggested within several days that i had likely had a "spiritual experience" and that i might want to read about Jesus in the gospels. Catholic kids don't get encouragement (unlike evangelical Protestants) to read the Bible on their own. So i sat down that night and began to read just the four gospels, starting with Matthew.
And over several days i read all the gospels and then re-read them. Only later would i read the epistles and other texts. It was clear to me, reading the gospels, that Jesus was living this amazingly God-drenched mystical life of Spirit, and that he had been here on earth to invite us into this same Divine Life, via the way of denying or melting oneself in God, that is, "losing one's life for the everlasting Life." Months later i attended some born-again Christian bible-study classes, but almost all of those folks seemed to be cherishing a different Jesus-- a Christ about whom you had to believe the atonement doctrine concerning his death on the cross and various notions about the Trinity, etc. But my experience of Jesus during that first mystical afternoon epiphany and ever afterwards was of Jesus--along with all the other "friends in high places"--as intermediaries for the Divine Reality of Grace, Bliss, Vitality, Love and Light, the one, single I AM THAT AM which was right inside me as the real "I" prior to the phenomenal, personal "me."
There were interesting personality changes and even physical changes that came in the wake of these weeks and then months of ongoing mystical experiencing. For one thing, i became really interested, sincerely interested, in fellow beings. Whereas in that existential nightmare of the previous period people had seemed two-dimensional, tragic, and boring (to themselves and to me), now i knew that, regardless of whatever they might feel on the surface personality level, in their depths they, too, were made of this same Divine Being-Life-Light-Love-Joy that was the essential Self right here within "me." And people responded-- it was like God's Love in "this one" was connecting to the Divine Love in the dear fellow person. I began to really enjoy people and vice versa-- new and old friendships developed and deepened. Not just human persons. Our family's two little dogs and cat and i became far closer and more sensitive to each other. I would look into their eyes and see Divinity. We would meditate together-- i found them even more spiritually magnificent than "myself"--more peaceful and majestic and natural. I even spent long minutes on many Spring and Summer nights that year and in later years sometimes just staring into the eyes of little bugs that might have found themselves on my desk-table for homework. I bought a little magnifying glass so i could look at them more closely and lovingly. Everyone and everything seemed suffused with the Divine Reality.
A palpable change was a social fearlessness that arose out of this new way of Being. I had been a painfully shy boy, so shy that i was benevolently forced to join the speech club by my mother and the kindly nun who served as my elementary school principal at St. Paul the Apostle school in the Westwood suburb of Los Angeles (where i grew up from age 5 onward until we moved in my teens up to the Sherman Oaks house). It had always been very painful to have to stand up in front of others and speak. Now i just so thoroughly LOVED everyone that i felt one with them and it felt much more natural to share with them. There was a big shift from feeling like a watched and judged object to being one with the Source of seeing, and i saw the Divine emanating as each and every one i met.
I also noticed from the spiritual opening that so many complicating desires just fell off. The old self emptied out, replaced by a very FULL satisfaction, contentment, bliss. I would sit for long periods just joyfully appreciating the intrinsic beauty of a tree, or the "suchness" of the tactile sensation of an old upholstered chair under my hand. It was clear that all objects arise out of the Pure Void of God and are miraculous appearance.
And a new yet familiar energy dawned. I didn't know anything at the time about qi or ki or prana-shakti energy (a topic about which i would later write my M.A. thesis in 1983), but back then in the early 1970s there would be the spontaneous urge to sit or stand up very straight to better allow all this energy in the spine and body, and especially in the hands, which now seemed to be conduits for this energy. Without motive, i often found myself touching people in a caring, nurturing way-- holding their hand longer during a handshake, putting a hand on their shoulder or back. Each living being became so dear and precious, and the energy animating us seemed to want to circulate through both of us and cherish both of us.
A great sense of WONDER also pervaded consciousness, like experiencing life for the very first time. I could no longer be bored by anyone or anything, but was sincerely interested in everyone and everything. Each moment in time and every circumstantial place felt entirely SACRED, made of God's Light and Love-- no matter how "ordinary" or "banal" it might seem to worldly opinion. The very fact that we are all alive together on this really interesting planet--and who knows how many other worlds to be experienced in other states-- was just utterly magical, then and now and every day in between. I recall sitting in traffic gridlock on the L.A. freeways coming home from school and the dull paintjobs and chrome trim and red brake-lights of the cars in front of me and around me were positively revelatory of the Divine presence. Not to mention the wondrous human beings sitting in those cars.
I would often laugh aloud over what a miracle is this manifestation out of the formless, unmanifest Divine One.
I began to keep a spiritual journal soon after the major first opening, and filled it up pretty quickly with descriptions and musings on all the ensuing mystical experiences and realizations and insights. I had not seen that journal for decades and only re-discovered it about a year ago. It's fascinating how much depth spontaneously came through without my ever having read about any of this stuff other than the mystic passages from Jesus in the gospels and some of the Christian epistle literature in the New Testament. I can sense some Christian conditioning in some of what i filled that notebook, yet it's obvious that a much bigger, vaster spirituality was trying to express itself, but limited by language and, i will honestly admit, some occasional tendencies toward a sense of "spiritual uniqueness," a danger about which the sacred traditions have warned. It wasn't narcissism or megalomania, but a subtler sense of having been picked out of the "madding crowd" for some special witnessing to God as the true Reality behind all of our conventional realities. It took a few months for the kind of careful self-critical witnessing or mindfulness to come in, helped by an incipient study of the world's spiritual literature beyond the Bible.
Meanwhile, a mystical little old Italian math teacher at Loyola High School confirmed this new, nondual spiritual orientation. One day he had said something in class which piqued my interest-- i thought, "maybe he's someone i can talk to about this." Because back then i had NO ONE to talk to about any of this and i had no good books to read. (My loving parents were actually pretty conventional people and our limited little family library mainly had books on Hollywood, the arts and sports on the shelves.) I told Father Colossimo that i wanted to ask him about religious experience. He told me to meet him after school. After classes ended, i went over to the rectory and he met me on the steps. We talked for just a brief moment and then he shifted our conversing to the hallway inside. And then he took us into a big quiet, unoccupied living room area. For i had said that i was aware how the Church's basic theology teaches that God is "up there," separate from "us" down here, but that i was feeling that this separation or division does not seem true experientially. Father Colossimo, who had been looking more and more interested and enthused during our conversation over the previous few minutes, now peered right and left to make sure no one was within earshot lest they hear "heretical"-sounding things. He then said, with his face lit up in mystical ecstasy, "My dear Timothy, in the mind of man, yes, there is separation between man and God. But in the mind of God,..." he paused again to quickly scan to and fro to be sure we were still alone, "in the mind of God, IT'S ALL GOD!!" After a deep pause while this statement resonated in our hearts, he said, "I think our Lord Jesus was here to show us this truth." Which i took to be his summary of what Christian life is really all about-- full God-realization, the realization that God ALONE IS, that all is made of God, that all IS God, God in disguise as the beings and worlds of experience, with no room for a separate "me”
In an interview for The Sun magazine (the April 2003 cover story-- reproduced in full here), i've shared some more biographical details, such as almost becoming a priest, and the tale of my younger sister Kathy's drowning in Maui, Hawaii, in August 1974. The latter event was terribly wrenching for my parents and other family and friends, but was made far easier for me on the personal level because of the riveting dreams i enjoyed of Kathy over the next several nights: she would appear, beaming radiantly, and telling me amidst glorious celestial light that she was still terrifically alive and unimaginably happy and that no one should worry or regret her passing-- that we were always together as one in Spirit, and that our priority in life is God-Realization. Kathy's passing psychologically underscored for me how precious this earthly life is as an opportunity to fully live a spiritual life consecrated to loving and serving God and one another, without mediocrity or compromise or distractedness, and that we shouldn't waste our time on non-essentials. As Jesus said, "He to whom much has been given, much is expected." I felt that i had been given this HUGE GIFT of an initial and ongoing series of spiritual awakenings, and that i should never squander it.
It also became clear that one can and must live this spirituality within the world, in an "extraordinarily ordinary" way, without trying to draw attention to oneself with fancy dress, titles, affect, hype, hubris, or excessive emotionalism.
I had already blown away my parents and sister the days and weeks after that initial opening by speaking so mystically that i knew inwardly one must either go off and live in a monastery or hermitage, or else one must find a way to relate to people "naturally" so as not to bust their circuits with overpowering Truth-telling. For instance, one early evening my sister and i are sitting down for dinner with my mother-- my father was still off at work, for he ran his own Hollywood literary agency and often was conducting interviews, pitching story ideas at the studios, etc., until 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. So my mother asks me, "How was school today, Timothy?" I gaze lovingly into her eyes and say, "Well... that was back then in the past. This is NOW.... This is the only moment.... And yes, I'm really, amazingly FINE right NOW. Can't you also feel God's Love right inside you and all around you? Isn't everything so SACRED??" She appears somewhat uncomfortable, looks at my sister, makes an excuse to leave the table, goes off to stealthily call my father, and then comes back to the table for more conversation, which elicits more "God-talk" about the mystical HERE-NOW. Within 20 minutes my father storms through the door, his quick Irish temper blazing: "What the F--k is going on here? Son, ARE YOU ON DRUGS??!" I had to laugh and quickly reassure him, and also my mother and my sister--who had both been conversing during these weeks about the possibility that i might be getting high on drugs-- that i had actually never used such substances and never would use them. And that i was simply "high" on God and life. (Actually, early on i learned the great value of being clear, not "getting high.")
So after these kinds of social experiences, i realized that i needed to learn everything i could about the language and psychology of spirituality to best communicate it with people in a largely conventional way seasoned with unconventional forms of communication, both styles serving to help open people to their own mystical depths. I also sometimes sat across from a person and invited him or her in radical empathy to intuitively "exchange viewpoints," so that "i" was the so-called "other" person, and "he" or "she" was "i." Clearly, just one God-Self was playing all the "soul-roles," and it seemed crucial to develop as much empathy as possible for the supposed "other," who is simply this God-Self in disguise.
Original interview here