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The Roadtripper’s Guide to the Galaxy

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This just in from the weird department: Somewhere between the highway rest stops of a road trip, my friend and I made the strange discovery that we both separated our lives into three different levels of experience, and that our accounts of them were strikingly similar.

Level One lives in the conversations and experiences of everyday life. There’s nothing wrong with this level, but there’s an invisible barrier between you and something deeper that you can sense but not see.

Level Two is a more meditative level. This is where the people who get labeled “dreamy” live. A conversation here wanders away from the polite social script of a Level One, to land suddenly in the more ethereal space where words flow effortlessly between two minds, meeting briefly in the middle, mixing gently, before returning to their cerebral homes. These conversations leave one feeling peaceful, understood, and a little less alone. The best brand of Level Two can even restore hope in the world and the self.

But Level Three is another universe. Even someone who experiences transcendent moments on the regular doesn’t come here often. A Level Three will change a person forever. Like the two previous levels, it can be experienced alone or with another person. When alone, it looks like this: Say you’re walking to the subway and everything around you looks pretty standard, but suddenly you feel like you’re wearing a new pair of eyes, as if someone you can’t see has just put them on you and everything is different.

Nothing seems negligible; everything is luminous and renewed. You notice everything. The people moving up and down the stairs of the subway are composed of different shapes and colors. You realize that the shorthand we use kills things. Their skin isn’t beige; it’s red and blue, and there are even tinges of green.

The shapes of the buildings are not arbitrary; they are lines that meet and separate. They speak to one another and to you, asking you not to ignore the way things go together when you think they don’t, and don’t when you try to make them by thinking they do.

Everything unifies. The gleams and reflections of the streetlamps, the headlights, your newly discovered eyes, and something unseen that you somehow know is newly lit inside you, all meet in one node of white-hot sensation. The fruits of the fruit vendors are the same as the rods and cones of your eyes where all that light is being transformed into electrical signals.

A shared Level Three looks like this: You are talking to someone and they can receive these signals. This isn’t the average conversation where you have a thought, communicate it, and then wait to see what percentage of it has been lost in the shoddy game of telephone that passes for talking. Rather, everything else falls away till you are firing impulses like buckshot directly into the other person’s brain; and neither of you will ever be the same.

Our road trip discovery of a similar taxonomy of experience was one of these rare moments. As my friend drove, the electricity of our Level Three mixed with the radio signals and the sunset outside, urging the car onward.

About Caroline Hagood