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(I decided to post this because someone asked why we are afraid to die. I’m not. I’m not afraid of death, never have been actually, though at times the mode of dying made me a bit nervous. But as said in Conversations With God, I think it was, dying is the easiest thing you’ll ever do. I believe it. So here’s my experience to tell you why.)

Not this crude leather; luminous beings are we.
                                                                       Yoda

In the beginning, I died.

Day of the death skull Stock PhotosI didn’t realize for many years that I had died. Maybe that’s why it took so long for it to rise up into my conscious memory. Since the end of anything is always the beginning of something else, and because death in any form has a mythical or archetypal significance, it gets our attention. Death is a good place to start.

I was alone in the house so there’s no one to verify the event. There was no wailing siren on a speeding ambulance, no EMTs urgently pumping on my chest in an attempt to make my heart beat again or inflating my lungs in an effort to breathe for me. No one called a code blue and I didn’t find myself floating in a corner up by the ceiling watching people in an emergency room feverishly shocking my body to bring it back to life. I didn’t move through a tunnel toward the light and there was no meeting with a spiritual light/being of great power. In other words, there was none of the good stuff so thoroughly depicted in “standard” near-death experiences.

Skeptics say, “Then how do you know you died? If none of those things happened and you’re not dead now, how do you know? How can you say you died?” One person has called my experience “only” a spiritual awakening. Even if that were true, for me it would still be impressive enough. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Recovering Royalty Free Stock PhotoI was 50 when I died. Talk about an actual midlife crisis! I was sitting in my recliner in the living room because that’s about all I had the energy to do. Most of my muscles were board-hard and I ached deeply all over. Even just a light touch could cause excruciating pain. I felt so brittle that every movement seemed like it would crack or break me somewhere. It hurt to move but it hurt when I didn’t move, too. Pain was a constant; the only variable was how much of it.

Fibromyalgia. An innocuous word merely meaning painful muscles and connective tissue. Oh, but the reality is so much more. There’s often a host of various seemingly unconnected symptoms, all of which may come and go with no discernible cause or regularity. This inconsistent and perplexing picture has commonly led to a “diagnosis” of hypochondria and/or psychosomatic disorder with patients often feeling as if their very real distress is dismissed.

If there are no other “legitimate” diagnoses, treatment in such cases is generally ineffective and once again the patient is often made to feel as if she (it’s usually a woman) is somehow at fault or lying or at least exaggerating. The fundamental and invariable symptom, though, has always been unexplained and persistent pain. After about ten years of struggling with worsening symptoms, I had finally accepted early retirement on disability. This was not the Healthy happy runner city running at sunset Stock Photolife I’d expected. I’d done all the right things as far as diet and exercise. I ran, I lifted weights, I counted calories and fat grams.

I did all the things I needed to do to be “successful.” However, the stresses of “doing” so much built up more and more until finally all the stress lines converged, at which point I crashed and burned in a complete collapse. Coming from a long line of what I’d always described as “sturdy peasant stock,” I’d always thought I had more than enough physical strength and endurance to outlast anything. My sense of abandonment and betrayal was utter. Who to blame?

For a long time all I wanted to do was to “get better,” to go back to work when I got “well.” I didn’t want to change, I just wanted to go back to what I had been, to life as it had been, to make it all work out the way I’d planned. Instead, all I could see was that I’d failed. All of it, wasted. So when I died, I was deeply exhausted. This was a bone-deep weariness that I now recognize had the grayness of death around it but I certainly wasn’t thinking in those terms then. I was a morass of confused emotions, just totally bewildered and at a loss to explain what was happening to me. I should have been strong and healthy and vibrant. I did all the right stuff. Why did the stuff seem to work for others but not for me? What was going on?

I would drag myself from my bed in the morning after a painful night of nonrestorative fitful sleep that left me feeling more tired than when I’d gone to bed. I’d sit in my recliner exhausted and in a mental fog for most of the day until I dragged myself back to bed at night, still exhausted. Unable to move or think normally, desperate, I startled myself one day when I exclaimed aloud, “I can’t do this anymore!” I don’t even know what I meant by “this” but it didn’t matter because no one heard me and nothing happened. At least that’s what I thought.

Did you ever have a memory of something you know you never did, something you know you never dreamed? Well, some years after I said I couldn’t do it any more I had this memory pop into my head. I nearly overlooked it but it popped up again some time later and once more I quickly noticed it and ignored it. It was tenacious, though, and it kept irrupting more and more frequently until I finally paid attention and fully looked at it.

In this memory I’m rapidly approaching a group of several people in robes whoPunakha Dzong, Punakha, Bhutan Stock Image seem to be awaiting my arrival. I’m waving and eagerly calling out, “I’m home! I’m home!” I’m so overwhelmed with relief and love and so many other emotions that my chest feels full to bursting and I can hardly breathe or speak. One strange thing I noticed was the pervasive and overwhelming sense of love and welcome. I was surrounded by, I was infused by, Love. These people were glad to see me. I was loved extravagantly and I could feel it. That astonished me. I had nothing in my life to compare it to. I’d never experienced anything like it. Each time this memory replayed I felt the same awesome and vast feeling of being loved and wanted beyond comprehension.

What finally blew me away was when one day during yet another recurrence of the memory I suddenly realized that these “people” weren’t people in robes as my first impression had been. They were spheres of sparkling electric blue light trailing faint diaphanous white swirls like wispy clouds beneath them. What really shook me, though, was when it finally dawned on me that if they looked like that, then I must look like that, too!

Abstract underwater composition with jelly balls, bubbles and light Stock PhotographyI know this all sounds like a dream but it didn’t feel like a dream. This event had a feeling about it that was realer than real. When I “woke up” to it years later, it still had this feeling of being a real experience. If you want to think it was a dream, that’s OK. But I’ve been awake and I’ve been asleep and I’ve had dreams. It was not something I woke up from as from normal sleep.

I know this sounds terribly woo-woo and now you’re asking, “So what does this have to do with dying?” I started to try to figure out where this memory could possibly have come from and when it might have happened. If I had a memory then at some point I obviously must have had an experience to remember. I gradually came to accept that it, whatever it was, had actually happened but what was it? I think that I literally died when I declared I couldn’t do “it” anymore. Not only was I in pain and drained of energy, I felt that strange exhaustion, different from the fatigue that had become way too familiar over the previous years. I’d innocently said occasionally, before I realized what had happened, that I felt like I was “gonna die of tired.”

I decided that final exhaustion, though it had an actual physical component from many years of relentlessly driving myself, wasn’t just physical. I now believe that it was a result of spirit—or chi or life-force or prana or soul, call it what you will—leaving my body. I clearly remember inertly sitting there, sunk deeply into the recliner with my head leaning against the back and noticing that I was having to remind myself to breathe. I wasn’t struggling to breathe, I wasn’t making any undue effort, I just didn’t feel any desire or need to breathe. I’d breathe out and after a while, even though I didn’t feel any urgency to breathe in again, I’d do it because that’s what was supposed to happen next. After doing this a few times I remember one time I breathed out and I Beautifull woman taking a deep breath at the sunset Stock Imagedon’t remember breathing in. If you don’t think this is unusual, ask yourself how often you remember your breathing at all, much less 10 or more years later. Even if you’re doing a meditation where you deliberately pay attention to your breathing, do you actually find cause to remember each breath the next week? I remembered. Anyway, I breathed out and at some indeterminate point I recall lifting my head, and there I was, sitting in my recliner, in pain and back to life as usual.

I have no proof of what might have happened between breathing out and “waking up” from a “nap” but I believe that’s when I created this memory. I still haven’t called to mind any details beyond my recollection of being welcomed by the “ball-people” although that memory continues to blow me away even now. That, and the overwhelming Love. I believe these were souls welcoming me Home when I died. But there’s so much more other experiencers describe of which I have no recollection, like tunnels and powerful beings of light.

Perhaps I didn’t remember this event for such a long time because I had to learn more about what happens when we die so the memory would have some context for me when I did remember it. Or maybe I had to become strong enough so the memory of this homecoming to overwhelming love wouldn’t inexorably draw me back before I was “scheduled” to return. I remember only the souls that met me and, most especially, the Love that surrounded and penetrated me.

I’ve also hSpiritual light in cupped hands Stock Photoad lots of naps and dreams. I’ve recorded many of those dreams and studied quite a few of them in depth, but never again has anything like that happened, in a dream or otherwise. Most of my dreams are prosaic and contain standard physical world images, highly significant symbolically, maybe, but never bizarre in the way this memory is. Neither have I had any cause to take note of or to remember my breathing again. Whether this was “merely” a spiritual awakening or an actual NDE doesn’t really matter to me. I have no doubt that something momentous happened.

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It’s a chancy thing, deciding when to post and when to wait. At the risk of posting too soon after my last post, I decided to go ahead because this post is so closely related to the previous one that I didn’t want to risk having you forget what I’d written about before. If that’s a problem, forgive me, please.

I said in my last post that when we pass the last gate to the uWho cares emoticon Royalty Free Stock Photographynderworld or, to say it another way, are relieved of all that egoistic stuff we thought defined us, our dark night of the soul can show us we weren’t who we thought we were. But if we are not who we thought we were then who are we? Ah, that question is the crux. We’re ready for the real discoveries to begin.

Who am I?

This question begins the conscious dropping of our defenses and the opening Fresh hard boiled eggs with shell. Stock Photographyto a new level of awareness. With our egoic resistances at the ramparts it’s like being encased in a hard shell that not only keeps out those myriad things we all fear but it also keeps us from growing any larger. The shell cramps not only our style but our growth. Once those oppositions are out of the way and the shell is shattered or dissolved we’re open to an influx of new values and ideas, new ways of thinking, of living. We’re able to undergo expansion in many directions.

This shell-less vulnerability is exceedingly alarming for those who are strongly attached to the ego’s restricted view of itself but at the same time it provides a sense of freedom that’s exhilarating. Maybe we’re flying instead of falling.

What if the shadow-dragons we fear so much, the same dragons and beasts that in myths and fairy tales are actually princes and princesses waiting to be released from their enchantment, what if these dragons are nothing more than parts of ourselves that want only to be seen and loved for who they are? What if everything that we fear and hate, even that which seems to be outside of us, is actually only a part of us wanting to be loved? What will happen if we release that dragon? Playing house.. Royalty Free Stock Image

Love, both that which we desire to give and that which we yearn to receive, is hidden deep in the core, in the heart of our pain, grief and loss. The heart must be broken in order to release it. To release something doesn’t mean to get rid of it, though, as the phrase is so often used, but to open up what limits it and thus allow ourselves to feel it. To release it is to free it. Then we become large enough to contain love without restriction.

What allows us to potentially make this fearsome yet thrilling expansion?

Woman face profile in pink flower bud Royalty Free Stock PhotoPartly it’s as Anaïs Nin writes, “…the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom,” and partly it’s Wisdom, our innate wisdom, our Soul’s wisdom, which has orchestrated this descent into the underworld. Wisdom knows when the time is right.

Here we can begin to understand the symbolism of Enki’s little nonhuman creatures from his kingdom of Waters and Wisdom that will provide us with food and drink. When we’re no longer willing to suffer the pain of restriction but we don’t yet know what it takes to bloom, Wisdom provides us with the courage to brave the depths of the unconscious and it helps revive us when we (egos) have been hung on a hook. Water symbolizes the unconscious, an uncontrolled and fluid world of uncertainty, a condition the untransformed ego finds terrifying in the extreme.

It’s also the world of incredible creativity where we needn’t learn to think Think outside the box Stock Photosoutside the box because there is no box. In this free flowing world of ambiguity the ego must surrender its false and rigid claim to identity and invulnerability or go mad, be shattered, in its efforts trying to maintain it. That’s why a guide or skilled support person(s), or at least information, can be so important. They can help us to remain grounded even as we step out into thin air.

We can depend on the faithful servant, the remaining part of our ego consciousness from the upper world, to get assistance even when all seems Monument valley Stock Imagelost. This is when many of us go to physicians or religious teachers, to counselors or therapy or support groups, or perhaps to a wise friend. Remember that not all descents are exceptionally dramatic or intense so varying levels of support are fitting. Even with these diverse sorts of assistance, though, we still must make the Journey alone. As the old gospel song says, “You got to walk that lonesome valley by yourself.”

We must find the ability and the courage to “go with the flow” of our Perpetual stream with tower Royalty Free Stock Photowatery unconscious until we’re able to simply accept what is, and eventually come back, now a healed, or at least a healing, and whole being of both light and dark. As with Inanna, we’re no longer completely separated from our dark sister. Now we understand her and our connection better and thus have better understanding of ourselves.

The Journey has only partially commenced, though, when the ego is fully stripped of all the tools with which it tries to control life, when it finally says, “I can’t do this anymore,” when it acknowledges that it’s done all it can – and it’s not enough. It’s quite necessary for the ego to be strong enough to surrender its illusions about itself, to not know and to be OK with that even if it’s uncomfortable.

The ego is destined from birth to be the sturdy intersection that can withstand Rays of light against a dark background Stock Photothe dynamic interplay between the light and dark energies, the interface between the spiritual world, which is in our mysterious unconscious, and the conscious external physical world in which we live day by day. I see the ego/self in a subordinate partnership with the Self, acting as a sort of translator between the unconscious and conscious worlds. It’s the put-upon middle manager who must absorb stresses from both below and above, mediating between the demands of both the executives and the labor force in order to get the job done.

Interestingly, I had a many-times recurrent dream (the only recurring dream I’ve ever had) that described this very situation but, as a beginner in interpretation, I didn’t understand it right away. Actually, I didn’t understand it until just as I wrote that previous paragraph.

In this dream I’m a member of a guerrilla group though it’s never clear whom we’re fighting. Indeed, we never do any overt fighting. We’re always just Balloon with mask in crime Royalty Free Stock Photoscoming back from a foray or preparing and planning to go out on one. In this dream I’m always the second in command to a charismatic and powerful leader. Strangely, in our dim, dark world I never get a clear picture of him even though we work very closely together. He comes up with concepts and aims and it’s my job to implement them with and through our troops. The leader and I have an exceptionally unique and intimate relationship. Its strength is surprising.

I’m also surprised to see that, even though I’m initially uncertain about my ability, I’m actuaGround troops Royalty Free Stock Photolly very good at my job. I’m able to motivate and persuade our followers in whatever way is required. As I revisit this dream now, I realize that the “I” that I am in this dream represents my ego who took orders from my commander, my Higher or Authentic Self, and got things done through the “troops” who represented various aspects of my conscious self that interacted with the “real world.” I (ego) mediated between the “executive” and the “labor force.”

Perhaps the similarity between my earlier dream and the Inanna myth has become apparent now, while my guerrilla dreams were telling me what would follow. It’s as if some part of myself was telling me what to expect as I set out, all unknowing, upon my Journey. I would be stripped of all I thought made me who I was, which did pretty much happen in my “real” life. I had to relinquish nearly all those things I’d worked so hard to build up, to develop, to gather together so as to be safe and secure.

But, as Helen Keller said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature… .”

So, in the one dream it’s apparent that I’m leaving the area of collective slPopcorn Royalty Free Stock Photoseep and mirage, (the “public building”) and entering what appears to be a public park but which turns into a personal terror. Even though I may have some uncertainty at the beginning, I’m confident. Once embarked, though, I’m not able to turn back. I can only continue onward even though it may be more difficult and unnerving than I’d bargained for. Alice, a wise friend puts it thus: it’s like you’re popcorn; once you’ve popped, you can’t unpop. You are forever changed, from a hard shelled restricted state to a much softer state.

In other words, once you begin to birth your Authentic Self, once you begin the Journey, no matter with what slight consciousness, once you’ve burst the hard protective popcorn (egoic) shell, you can’t stop the process and you can’t reverse it. My Inanna-dream message only took me to the point of ego identity divestiture; it didn’t tell me what to expect next. Maybe it was at this point that I declared, “I can’t do this anymore!” Or maybe that’s because not even my dream-maker could say what would be next. Who could be sure what my ego would do? Would it survive?

Then again, if I’d been able to interpret my guerrilla dreams more accurately, maybe I wouldn’t have been so confused.

And still yet again, what kind of an adventure would it be if the outcome were a foregone conclusion?

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I’ve always felt love toward the animals in my life (though it’s a bit more difficultIn rural areas, children who love animals Royalty Free Stock Photography with my current dog, but that’s potentially another post; I’m sure she’s here to teach me something) and maybe toward the people in my life. Loving people, though, has often had a dangerous aspect of one kind or another that probably prevented me from loving as much or as well as I might have.

A lot of people feel this way about their animals, I think, especially when the posts on Facebook are taken into account. From cat photos to snarky pictures of “I like animals better than people,” it seems I’m not alone in the way I feel about animals.

For most of my life I felt guilty about that. I mean, people are the top of the line, Charity wristbands Stock Imagesright? We’re supposed to care about them more than anything else. Well, I care about people but more in the abstract than in the particular. I support charities that help the unfortunate and that feed hungry children and that protest bombings of civilian homes, etc. I open my pocketbook and at least a part of my heart.

But it’s a lot more difficult for me to open my heart, if not my pocketbook, for specific people in my life. I’m not sure when this sense of danger in loving people came into my life but it was very, very early. I can remember times when I was preverbal – yes, I can remember that far back – and the sense of danger was already there. But not toward the dog and cat and horses that were a part of my life on the farm. We moved from there when I was just past three years old. Only the cat came with us and then because he sneaked into the trailer. The dog was gone, the horses sold. And there went my opportunities to learn to love. Too painful.

We grow up looking for love, being told that we all look for love, believe that we Looking For Love Royalty Free Stock Photosneed love, believing that we can’t live without it. All of this is more or less true. But sometime in the past decade or decade and a half I had an AHA moment. It may have been forestalled as a result of the pain and rejection I felt with the divorce, or it may have been held off as a result of being too busy to think about things like love, or maybe it held off just because I wasn’t ready. But it happened and it was an epiphany.

I realized it wasn’t to get love that I was hoping for, it was to give love. I didn’t feel it was safe to give my love to the people I should have most wanted to give it to, like parents. And, of course, the divorce just verified that, so it took me a lot longer to understand love than it might otherwise have. My love was rejected and thrown back at me and me being me, I didn’t have enough courage to say, “Well, it’s his loss,” and go on with my life of finding someone to love. I found someone in spite of myself, though,and it’s challenging.

Horse lover Royalty Free Stock PhotoBut I never had to be concerned about giving love to my animals, whether dogs, cats, or horses. They all received it without judgment or complaint and, of course, gave it back. You haven’t been hugged until you find yourself being hugged by a horse, by the way. We’re told that we love animals because they love us unconditionally. That’s probably true. But they also accept love unconditionally. How many people can we say that about? Not me, for one. I don’t easily let love into my life. It’s painful to let yourself be loved and then have that love ripped away.

Unconditional Love Royalty Free Stock PhotosSo now I’m trying to learn how to give and receive love unconditionally. I’m like most people, darn it, in that I don’t do a very good job of that, I’m afraid. I am afraid. Literally. I’m still afraid that if I give my love it will be rejected and thrown back at me. That if I accept love wholeheartedly my heart will be torn out. But that doesn’t mean I should give up. It takes courage to give love even if it’s not recognized or returned but that’s what we’re here for. To learn to give love. Getting love is nice, is important; giving love is imperative.

It’s difficult in these times to give unconditional love even in the abstract, what with polarizing politics and judgmental attitudes about any subject you can think of. It makes me want to be a hermit. I can’t do that, of course, and still make an effort to love unconditionally. It’s not likely that I’ll be loved, either, then.

Happy baby boy learning to walk on grass Stock PhotographyAnd maybe I don’t have to do it perfectly all at once, though that’s my default position. Maybe if I just keep on trying, keep on stretching, keep on learning, it will be enough. At my age I’m still a baby at learning this stuff.

Ancaro Imparo. It’s a phrase allegedly attributed to Michaelangelo that means “I am still learning.”

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