My Third Grade Class Picture
I'm seated on the left side

Sometime in my third year of elementary school, my family moved to a 360 acre farm in western North Carolina.  It was about 18 miles north of Morganton, situated at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains approximately 20 miles east of Linville Falls.  To the northeast and to the southwest, the mountains were essentially uninhabited for 25 miles.  Brown Mountain (of the famed “Brown Mountain Lights”) was visible to the northeast, and Table Rock, on the rim of Linville Gorge (now a wilderness area), was visible to the southwest.  And, going away from the mountains, our closest neighbors were over a mile away (our driveway was 0.9 mile long). The location, and the farm was a country boy’s dream.  Over a mile of trout stream, Rose’s Creek, ran through the property, a large pond with largemouth bass and bluegill was only minutes from the house, and literally thousands of acres of forests and mountains to explore, provided fishing; hunting of deer, squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons, trapping musk-rats, mink, rabbits, foxes, and raccoons; and hiking and camping without leaving home.  And, the farm, through the years (and the 4-H Club) gave us the opportunity to learn self-sufficiency as a necessity:  animal husbandry (milk cows, beef cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens, honey bees, cats, and dogs), gardening on a scale to totally provide for 5 people, truck farming tomatoes, making molasses, fruit production, and raising the food for the livestock.  Shearing sheep since the eighth grade provided money for clothes, to help the family, and with the sale of my flock after graduation, to pay my way to college.  With all this going on, I still managed to be an Honor Student, and play basketball, and run track (though I was not great in either) three of my four high school years.  Before graduation, I drove a school bus two years, worked at the Table Rock Fish Hatchery, worked at a sporting goods store and worked at construction work two summers.
In the midst of everything, when I was fifteen, I had an experience on the mountainside………something like this………
I had gone hiking alone into the forests behind our house, in an area I had visited many, many times.  The area was totally familiar to me, as much as our very back yard.  The June day was quite warm, and after more than an hour of brisk walking, beoming thirsty prompted me to drop off the ridge I was traveling along to visit a spring where I had previously placed a can for drinking.  Instead of using the can, I got down on hands and knees, drank deeply of the clear, cold water; and stood up.  I was lost.  No, I WAS LOST! 
I stood very still, looked around for something familiar; and saw nothing I had ever seen before!  I knew that I had walked into this place.  I knew this place was supposed to be very familiar to me, but NOTHING!  I knew that I knew where I was, but absolutely nothing around me looked familiar.  One of our beagles had followed me when I left home; where was it?  I called, and I called; figured I could follow it back home.  It was nowhere around.  My final hope disappeared. 
(Understand, I was a kid of fifteen.  I had traveled these woods and ridges many, many times.  They were as familiar as the back of my hand much, much farther than I was from home.  All I did was get a drink of water!  But, I was lost, just as if I had been dropped from an airplane into the middle of a jungle somewhere.  And, I had brought no survival gear at all.  And, worst of all, I knew that I knew exactly where I was.  My senses were totally oblivious; like they had just shut down; nothing made any sense at all.  But, at least I could “see”, but I definitely wasn‘t seeing anything familiar.) 
I ran up the ridge to my right; nothing.  I ran down again, and up the other side, nothing.  AGAIN, up, down; again, up, down.  NOTHING!!  I was hot, sweating, thirsty; but, that spring didn’t interest me!  I WAS LOST!! 
I stood by the spring, trembling, trying to get control of the fear that was becoming very real to me.  I had never been afraid of being lost in the woods before, even when exploring new territory.  I knew how to find my way through the woods, hills and mountains.  I knew the only thing I could do was to go to the top of the ridge, and wait for something to happen.  FEAR, a new emotion, was overwhelming me!  I could not control it.  I began crying…..I mean c-r-y-i-n-g.  I could hardly see to find my way to the top of the ridge.
On the ridge, I found the stump of a tree that had been sawn down with cross-cut saws…it was about 3 feet tall and as wide across.  I climbed up and sat down.  I cried, and I cried, and cried some more.  I was totally hopeless.  I had gotten myself into something I could not understand.  I knew that I knew where I was; but, my eyes couldn’t see where I was; my brain had stopped functioning in a cognitive way.  I trembled, I literally shook all over; I cried freely, no holding back; I started talking to something, someone, I knew not what or whom.  And, I talked out loud; there was surely no one around to discover my craziness; and, I didn’t care if there had been.  I probably wouldn’t have seen, or even responded to them in the midst of what I was experiencing.
I don't remember what was said.  I was certainly in no condition to do any mental recording of any conversation.  I could only sit with my head in my hands, and cry; my mind racing with thoughts of which I was only slightly aware; my body having given in to the fear and trembling.  There was no concept of time; I had lost all concept of place: it didn’t matter.  I was lost; I was scared out of my mind.  I just sat there; crying, trembling, talking to who knows whom.  (Up to this time in my life, I could vaguely remember being taken to church by my parents way back when….  Then my religious instruction consisted of one week a year when my maternal grandmother would make sure her grandchildren would visit her every summer for one week while her church was having Vacation Bible School.  Rarely did I attend church otherwise.)  I didn’t really know to whom or what I was talking; but, I figured that if there was someone or some thing out there, they were my only hope of finding my way home!  I slid down off the top of the stump; got on my hands and knees beside it with my face on the ground.  Still crying and trembling, I started talking in earnest.  I needed help, and I needed it now! 
It seemed like an eternity before now came.  Just how long, I have no idea.  I only know that somewhere along the line; sometime in the process… there came a gentle embrace, almost like Mama’s comforting touch, of LOVE mixed with a sense of peace even more overwhelming than the fear which was fading from the picture.  I had never felt like this before: a sensation of the warmth of a physical embrace that translated into love without any reason to be loved; and, peace, a peace that was physical, a peace that was spreading throughout my body like a lotion being absorbed through the skin and touching every part of my insides.  The crying had stopped; I had run out of tears.  The trembling was replaced with shivers of pure delight.  I just stayed where I was; on my knees, my face in my hands on the ground; it felt so, so good; I didn’t want it to stop.  Finally, I just had to move.  I stood up. 
The world had changed!  Before, the woods were hot, dry, with almost no air stirring.  NOW!!  It looked like a thunderstorm had passed through, washing the dust from the trees and air, cooling the breeze, and leaving the sky a marvelous bright blue and clouds like cotton.  Everything seemed to shimmer with color, almost fluorescent.  It was vivid, alive!  The green of the leaves were so green I could feel it.  I could feel everything; everything my senses could be aware of was translated into “feeling”.  Even the browns and grays were vivid.  The whole world was alive!  Birds, squirrels, rabbits; even insects, were much in evidence, and were more alive than I had ever experienced before!  I could FEEL every single thing that was going on before my eyes.  But, it wasn’t just my eyes; every sense organ was singing with feeling.  Memory has done such a lousy job of recording it; I would have to go back to the experience again to feel what I felt then.  AND, I KNEW EXACTLY WHERE I STOOD, both physically and spiritually. 
Joy, a joy that all the gifts of everyone in the world could not bring, flooded into my being.  It wasn’t happiness; it was joy!  I found myself in a state which could only be described as ecstasy.  Glory was all around! It moved when I moved; it stopped when I stopped.  I was in a new world!  Never before, and, rarely since, have I experienced such complete, total absorption into creation.  And, it continued with me until I was in sight of the barn about 100 yards from the house!   
When, I returned home, I found that I had been gone almost five hours!  I had not been aware of the time, but, I didn’t care.  Never again has the experience been repeated in totality.  Surely, I have found myself in this experience several times since; felt the joy, the peace, the wonder.  But, with each new experience there has been a definite awareness of my humanity; an awareness that, as long as I would be in this body, the totality of union with Creation would be tempered with the knowledge of my place within creation.
My scholastic interests shifted from the sciences and mathematics to religion and philosophy, although I continued to take all the math and science courses offered in school.  That part of my education provided the knowledge I needed to earn a living as a construction engineer, a millwright working with heavy industrial equipment; but, most importantly, being able to make things with my hands (anything…I could find the means to do!).  Skills, like carpentry, electrical work, mechanical repairing, metal fabrication, and even the writing, came from various jobs  which that knowledge allowed me to pursue.  But, the real lessons came with the living. 
Experience is the great teacher; and, the tuition paid is the highest of all educational institutions.  Its costs are in pain, in frustration, disappointment, hunger, homelessness, being misunderstood, and aloneness.  “Aloneness” is not loneliness!  Loneliness is when you cannot live with yourself.  Aloneness is the realization that you; all by yourself, without family or friend, even without enemy; are solely responsible for the quality of your existence.  “Existence” includes your life amongst the peoples of the whole world, the natural world, and your relationship with the Creation.  But, the rewards of experience, whatever those experiences may be, when cooked in the cauldron of your relationship with the Creation, yield love (love, without any expectations), joy (joy, that will allow you to embrace death), peace (peace, regardless of any circumstances), confidence (confidence, that you are what you are without any need to prove anything to anyone), and most of all, desire, (desire to share the glorious vistas of life lived to its fullest).  There is not a moral law in existence which can mandate, motivate, or even support these things.  And, most assuredly, there is not one that will justly punish you for this manner of living. 
Since then, I have sought out Man's knowledge of this experience.  All major, and many minor, religions were the objects of my studies, both in their orthodoxy and their mysticism.  The orthodoxy is the generally accepted practices of the religions.  The mysticism is the underlying reality of the religions.  And, every single orthodox religion has its mystical counterparts, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Tantric Buddhism, Aboriginal religions of the Africans, Asians, North & South American Indians, and early Europeans.  Christians, understand that many religions came into existence long before Jesus the Christ, appeared on earth.  Without them, man would have self-destructed long ago.  Every single one of these religions have a code of ethics, a law, to govern members’ conduct with others; and all of them are basically the same as those of the Old Testament “commandments”.  And, yes, today, Christians are living by a code of ethics, a law, in spite of the fact that what Jesus taught was to free us from “the law”.  Instead of doing what He said to do, we are trying to become “perfect through the (practice of) the law”. 
Many of the now “secret societies” are offshoots of the mystical counterparts of various religious beliefs, but have generally degenerated into a system of “teaching mysticism” (which cannot be done), resulting in another set of moral codes, mental exercises, or “disciplines” to try to improve the individual and society.  Some of the mystical counterparts are still “a finger pointing to the moon”, but most inquirers mistake the finger for what it is pointing at; interpreting their teachings either literally, or within their preconceived notions of what is reality, or what they have been taught by the orthodox religion of which they are part.  And, this applies to Christianity as much as the others. 
The validation of my earliest experience through my studies of religion resulted in one major observation related to the church:  While the orthodox churches can, and do, disagree on doctrine and tradition; the mystical concepts of their participants are uniform across all doctrinal and traditional differences.  The results of the mystical experience, regardless of the religious belief of the participant, are consistently the same.  
Religious life around the world will be richer for everyone, if only, those who have not had the experiences of their mystic counterparts, can be shown that there is only a difference in degree, not a substantial or absolute difference; and, for the mystics to likewise understand that their orthodox counterparts are no less religious than they.  But, you, who are spiritually minded, consider this:  but for the grace they have received, how truly wretched would those lesser beings be without the measure of grace which they have received; even those we consider totally irreligious!  Orthodoxy, don’t belittle the evangelicals for their methods.  Evangelicals, don’t limit entrance into the kingdom to your methods.  Mystics, don’t believe for an instant that you have it all. 

Along with the study of the various religions came increasing interest in philosophy and psychology.  Philosophy was a gateway into the thinking of many people outside the church establishment, even though most have roots in various religious systems, or their own thinking proved a basis for “religious thought”.  We all have a “philosophy of life”, some basic assumptions, which guides our general attitudes and actions.  Sometimes, we make it immutable, set in stone, and it becomes the basis of some very perverse prejudices which lead us into rather uncivilized activity, often cloaked within very socially acceptable behavior. 
Psychology, then, became a way of better understanding the whys and wherefores of our assumptions in terms of our mind.  A wonderful study of religious experiences, with a very empirical/psychological outline is The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, who never embraced orthodox religion, and, as far as I know, never recorded any mystical experience; but nonetheless, recognized the validity of religious experiences. 
What I thought were adverse circumstances in my own life also drove my inquiry into the realms of parapsychology, and the occult.  From firsthand experience, I can state that both deal with entities which, in many cases, convince the practitioner/inquirer that they are communicating with the dead or previously existing personalities (sometimes their own).    Some experiences with the supernatural are valid; but all experiences must be tested over time by the results produced in the life of the inquirer/practitioner.
And, right now, neuro-science extends an even better understanding of why we act and react the way we do.  An excellent introduction into its applications is Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales.  Spiritually minded individuals will come away from this book with profound applications for their religious life, and their everyday life experiences, also.  I would call it a ‘must read’; and, with the world conditions being what they are, the sooner, the better even for teenagers. 
Unfortunately, we often forget who we really are; we get caught up in the mundane affairs of family, school, community, society, and the world at large.  We lose ourselves to our circumstances, our inadequacies, our emotions, our desires, our striving to be what we think we are supposed to be. 
Yes, even after an experience such as I had, all these things happened to me.