I had this dream 12½ years ago. It impacted me strongly at the time and left a permanent memory trace because of its transformational nature. I was prompted to write about it by a blog post I saw with a similar theme of awakening consciousness and healing. The post, Dreamspeak: Ancestral Healing, is the story of Toko-pa Turner’s dream visit by her Holocaust survivor grandfather, in which he apologised to her for passing on the effects of the trauma that he was only able to cope with by keeping it to himself. My dream visitor was my maternal grandmother and though the circumstances differ, the theme of unprocessed grief resonating down through the generations and the longing for completion – which appears to be as desirous from the other side as this one – is similar.
I am in my dining room and Grandma Sweet is sitting at the table. She is young, attractive and very happy, so unlike how I remember her. I tell her I realised some time back that my hands are just like hers and put my left hand against her right to demonstrate. I say I have a photo of her that shows it very clearly and go off to look for it.
I rummage around in the pile of family photos but can’t find it and wonder if I’ve thrown it away. When I find it I realise it is her wedding photo – a fact I had forgotten. Her husband is sitting on a chair and she is standing with her left hand resting on his shoulder. It clearly shows the distinctive line of the thumb and the long fingers.
I think to myself that Grandma might like to see what has been happening in the family since she died, so I put her photo aside and start sorting through the rest to make a selection. In the process, I misplace her photo and have trouble finding it again. When I do, I look at it and realise ‘Oh, Grandma doesn’t need to see these, she knows everything that’s gone on.’ It was quite a revelation.
As I emerged from the dream, I was overcome by a sense of deep compassion and love for her that took me completely by surprise. Our family had lived with Grandma until I was 11 and I remembered her as a bitter and miserable old woman, frequently bedridden, always complaining and smelling of citronella. According to her she had a bad heart but according to Mum the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with her. I never liked her as a child and was further influenced by her antagonism towards my mother and the stories Mum told of her oppressive childhood. When I awoke, my perception of her was instantly and permanently transformed.
I had the dream just a few days before my divorce was to be finalised, so that made some sense of losing the wedding photo but I had no clue as to why it would be Grandma as she had never remarried after her husband died, as I had. At this point she had been dead 42 years and was part of my distant past. Why was she showing up now? I also wondered about the significance of the hands – why had they been made such a big deal of?
I posted the dream to the forum I was on at the time hoping for some clarity from other viewpoints. One of the suggestions was that I might be ‘handling’ life like Grandma and that had a certain resonance because at that stage in my life I was feeling very fragile and barely holding myself together. The unexpected ending of my second marriage had derailed me just as life was beginning to settle down after all the upheaval of my first husband’s death. The fact that Grandma was so happy and youthful in the dream gave me hope that the future would be brighter and I concluded that the message of the dream was just that – you will be happy again.
Because the framework within which the forum operated considered that everyone and everything in a dream represents something about the dreamer, I missed entirely the fact that this was a spirit visit from Grandma. As such it had a healing power that went way beyond the scope of psychological insight because it came from the deeper part of the psyche that Jung called the collective unconscious – a sphere of reality beyond that of the personal unconscious. In addition to reflecting my personal attitudes and beliefs, Grandma’s appearance in my dream was showing me a greater perspective – a viewpoint from beyond the physical time-space world. Although I lacked the knowledge and understanding of the Jungian approach to dreamwork at the time, the numinous quality of the dream ensured that it would continue to gestate in the depths until its wisdom and meaning came to fruition.
As a result of the dream I decided to research the family history and was shocked to learn that Grandma’s husband had died of cerebral syphilis. The story we had grown up with was that he had sustained a head injury in a fall from a cart and never recovered. Grandma was only 37 and was left with 5 children, the oldest being 13 and the youngest only 18mths old. I also learned that she had lost 4 children in infancy, including one who had been born more than a year after her husband’s death, with no father’s name cited. Poor Grandma! I could only imagine what shame and grief she had to bear, on top of trying to survive with no means of support. By the time I came on the scene in 1950 she was 60 years old and no doubt had been well and truly worn down by life.
I framed the photo that had been in my dream and kept it on my bedroom dresser where it served to remind me of the strength and resilience I had inherited through the motherline. Grandma Sweet may have lost her sweetness through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune but her survivor spirit was an inspiration to me. When I moved house several years later I packed the photo away. It was a fitting gesture to moving on, as it had been her death that had resulted in my mother moving with her daughters away from the mining town that had been our home with its stifling atmosphere, oppressive conditions and lack of opportunities for women.
It was only recently that I got a new perspective on the significance of the hands in the dream. The Toko-Pa Turner blog post referenced at the beginning of this story appeared on the Depth Psychology Alliance Facebook page I follow and I posted a comment: I had a dream of my grandmother once. She said nothing but I was shown a photograph of her in which I recognised my hands were the same as hers. A lifetime of antagonism towards her melted away. I love what Amy Beth Katz said about our ancestors returning in our dreams. That is definitely my experience.
Amy responded with: You have healing hands, Gloria, don’t you?
My immediate reaction was ‘No way!!!’ but the intensity of my denial surprised me and so I began to wonder ‘why so adamant?’ I had worked as a massage therapist many years ago and had also done Reiki but neither were really my thing, so that didn’t fit. Then I thought about the fact that through all the dark times, starting with my late husband’s cancer diagnosis 20 years ago, writing was what kept me sane and helped me work everything through. I did dialogues with dream characters and other figures from the imaginal realm, cathartic rants that I ritually burnt, worked and re-worked a book (still a work in progress), wrote about my experiences with hypnotherapy, wrote up my dreams and explored them through writing, participated on the dream forum and journalled religiously. Writing has, without question been the most healing thing I’ve done with my hands but it was mostly self-healing.
Then I thought about this blog – from the very start my intention in writing about my dreams has had healing as the focus, as that has been a constant thread in the dreams. I initially decided to blog my stories because I’ve always loved reading other people’s stories and been helped a great deal by them but I have been stalemated for over a year because of that insidious voice of self-doubt: It’s too hard. It’s too personal. You’re not a writer. What’s the point? Who cares? Who wants to read it anyway? People will think you’re nuts (well, I thought I was myself at one point so that would be no surprise). Why don’t you just go and enjoy yourself? And the most crippling of all – uttered with a sneer of course – ‘Just who do you think you are?’
As I pondered this, I remembered a story my sisters and I had grown up with. Mum had won a writing competition at school and received a prize. When she proudly showed it to her mother – Grandma Sweet – Grandma became very angry and told her not to waste her time on nonsense like that. And so she didn’t, instead following in the path of domesticity that was laid out for her as a woman of that time and place and social status. She ended up like her mother, a ‘deserted wife’ with 5 young kids to raise. My impression of Grandma was that she was a mother and homemaker by nature and that her great misfortune was in the tragedy of her husband’s early death. Not so my mother; having to conform to the domestic life was a disaster for someone with her free spirit and resulted in a lifetime of nervous breakdowns with the inevitable trauma to her daughters as we were split up and bounced around among relatives and neighbours.
When I think about this dream now I picture the gesture of putting my hand against Grandma’s as a ‘high five.’ It wasn’t really like that in the dream and yet the image is very compelling. I do feel her dream visit was a blessing. I am sure she would approve of what I’m doing and I know my mother absolutely would. My mother and grandmother couldn’t tell their stories and suffered accordingly but I can and am grateful for the opportunity to be able to do so and intend to make the most of it.
Healing is a wonderful Australian film based on a real life program in which prisoners in a minimum-security facility assist in the rehabilitation of injured raptors. The film is set at the time of the inception of the program, which coincides with the arrival of the main character, Viktor Khadem, at the prison farm. He is recruited for the construction of the facilities to house the birds and is thus involved in the program from the ground up, metaphorically creating a template for the fresh start he is preparing for in his own life. The theme of the injured birds being rehabilitated for release back into their natural environment is reflected in the lives of the inmates preparing for integration back into regular society. The contrast and similarities between those involved in the program and the injured birds is explored with sensitivity and empathy.
The avian star of the movie is a magnificent Wedge-tailed Eagle named Yasmine and the close up opening scenes of her soaring through the air are breathtaking. Most of us only get to see these giants of the skies up close in captivity, or on road trips. The sight of Wedgies feeding on road kill is familiar to anyone who has spent time traversing the endless stretches of roadways that criss-cross this vast continent. The elegance they exhibit when fully airborne is in stark contrast to their clumsiness as they beat a hasty retreat from their meal and lift their massive bulk into the air when a vehicle approaches at high speed.
Part of the appeal of the film for me was that it resurrected the memory of a powerful healing dream I’d had 6 years after my husband’s death and after seeing the movie I felt inspired to share it.
This is the dream:
I’m walking alongside a road when I see some feathers on the ground. I look at them, wondering if they are from an eagle. I spot one that I know is an eagle’s feather. I show it to a man who appears nearby and as I do, it transforms into a giant feather that reaches right across the road and touches a pine tree on the opposite side.
At that moment a car comes along and I lift the feather like a boom gate to allow it to go by. Inside the car are three young men, all laughing as if enjoying a joke together. They look familiar but the car whizzes by too quickly for me to identify them. Just as they pass, the end of the feather breaks where I am holding it and I see that inside the shaft is a spiral structure, which I assume gives strength to the shaft.
I am awestruck trying to imagine the size of the bird that this feather must have come from. In my mind’s eye I see it flying over, slowly and silently observing all below.
I was quite perplexed by this dream as I couldn’t identify any of the characters and yet I felt I knew them. The man who materialized at the roadside with me I recognized as the same one who had been on the bus with me in my original vision and who showed up in just this same way in many dreams. Over time I came to regard him as a kind of companion/guide. He didn’t speak but it was as though the act of showing him the feather caused it to grow. I felt that it was a significant dream but didn’t know where to start, so posted it to the dream forum I was on at the time with the comment that I thought feathers might indicate a message from the spirit realm but didn’t know what the message was.
Later, I resumed the book I had been reading the night before I had the dream, Hello From Heaven, which was about after death communications – ADCs. There were some stories of unusual encounters with birds that bereaved persons felt were messengers from their deceased loved ones and as I was reading, my mind drifted onto the dream. Soon I was absorbed in a treasured memory of an encounter with a trio of Wedge-tailed Eagles, presumably a pair of adults and a juvenile, that my late husband and I had been privileged to share. The 16 acre property we lived on had panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and I had just come from the house when I spotted them spiralling slowly upwards out of a valley, one above the other, on a thermal. I called Roger over and we stood together watching them.
Initially we could see them clearly with our naked eyes but as they rose higher and higher they became harder to see, so I went to get the binoculars. We stood together silently, passing the binoculars back and forth and as we watched, the first one left the thermal and glided off in a straight line. It then began circling widely until the second one joined it and finally, when the third one reached them, they headed due east at a constant altitude. By this time they were barely visible even with the binoculars and we soon lost sight of them. With the spell broken, we went back to what we had been doing.
As that memory faded, another incident came to mind that occurred on this same property. We had a large shed we wanted to use to collect rainwater from but the three huge pine trees adjacent to it were constantly dropping pine needles into the gutters. They also posed a fire hazard to the shed and so on that basis and taking into account that they weren’t native to the area, we reluctantly decided to cut them down.
There is a bit of skill involved in tree felling but we had removed a few smaller pines by this time, so didn’t anticipate any problems. The first two fell without incident but the third one refused to topple. Eventually Roger decided to get the tractor out and pull it over using a very long rope and while he was organizing it, I went and got my camera. This was a pre-digital SLR with a mechanical lever to advance the film and as the tractor started to inch forward, I put my eye to the viewfinder to take a shot of the scene while the tree was still standing. It started to lean ever so slowly but took so long to fall that I was able to wind the film on and get another shot with it mid way before it finally crashed to the ground.
I took more shots of the whole scene. There was now light and space where previously there had been a great wall of dark green and the three majestic trees lay in a row amidst shattered branches and hundreds of scattered pinecones. By this time the noise from the chain saw and tractor and the sound of crashing trees had faded into silence and as I lowered the camera and surveyed the scene, tears began to roll down my face. Roger came over and said, “Did that make you feel sad?” I nodded my head and he said, “It did me too.”
Now a whole cascade of memories began crowding my mind, triggering an upwelling of grief but just as it threatened to overwhelm me, I heard a voice inside my head say, “Don’t pine for me!” I knew instantly that this was the message of the dream and it was coming from Roger. In a flash I also knew who the figures in the car were: Roger was in the driver’s seat and with him in the front was my sister’s husband, Kim, who had died two years before him. Kim and Roger had worked together in their teens and Kim had introduced Roger and I. In the back of the dream car was my cousin, Ray, who had died the year before Kim. Three young men, all in their forties, dead within three years of each other but if the dream was anything to go by they were having a ball and right in that moment I envied them. It had been a very difficult 6 years since Roger’s passing and at the time I had the dream I was at my lowest point. I felt more like the felled trees than the soaring eagles.
I was a bit mystified by the message at first because although I knew I wasn’t fully over my grief, I wouldn’t have described it as pining. Then I remembered a quite dramatic incident from the night before I had the dream. In the book Hello From Heaven that I had been reading, there was a story of a young man who had been killed in a helicopter crash appearing to his mother, telling her he was happy and imploring her to let go of him. As I read the story, I began to wonder if there had been any resolution to the visitation I’d had from Roger 4 years earlier in which he had asked me to speak to his mother because she wasn’t letting go of him. I began mentally talking to him, asking if everything was O.K. now and if not to let me know if I could do anything to help.
As if on cue, there was a loud bang from the adjacent room. The cat that had been asleep on the bed in the room came flying out with her fur standing on end and I leaped up from my chair sending the cat on my lap flying for cover. I went into the room to investigate but couldn’t see anything amiss. It had sounded similar to a bird hitting the windowpane but besides being unlikely because it was nighttime, the shutters were down, so it didn’t make sense.
Needless to say I felt more than a little disturbed by this. Was Roger saying he is not at peace? The subject of his prior visitation had been dropped from any conversation with my mother in law soon after it happened and she had since moved interstate. I no longer had much contact with her and besides, spirit visits were a subject I was somewhat wary about myself at the time, so didn’t feel inclined to broach the subject with her again. I did the only thing I could think of and said a prayer for her to find peace and closure. That night I had the dream.
As I reviewed the whole unfolding saga from the pre-dream incident and the dream itself, to the memories it evoked and the message I received, it became clear that ‘don’t pine for me’ was more like ‘stop worrying about me.’ The visitation I’d had previously from Roger was unmistakably real and had convinced me once and for all of the survival of consciousness but because it was a plea for help with no satisfactory resolution rather than a message of reassurance, it had raised more questions than it answered. My search for understanding is what had led me to reading Hello From Heaven .
Although the dream helped me let go of the concern and sense of responsibility I had been feeling on Roger’s behalf, I was still left wondering about how unfinished business for those who have passed on is dealt with. This had never been a concern when I believed that death was the end of the story. Eventually, I would make an in-depth study of a wide range of beliefs and viewpoints concerning what is generally referred to as the afterlife but in the meantime, I decided my main priority was to sort myself out. Regardless of what I learned about what happened after death, I didn’t want to be dealing with unfinished business on my deathbed or taking it with me if I was going somewhere else, nor did I want to leave any mess behind for anyone else to deal with if I could help it. I had an intuitive sense that it was best to deal with the problems I had while I was alive and I still hold that viewpoint.
One aspect of the dream I could never come to any definite conclusion about is whether or not I was seeing the spirits of the three males who’d died or whether they were regular dream figures. Was it a case of my dreaming mind giving me an image that would put my mind at rest? A psychoanalytic approach would certainly see it that way but it didn’t feel right to me at the time and still doesn’t and in the final analysis that is what counts. Dream interpretation is an art, not an exact science. One thing I can say is that the dream didn’t lend itself to the usual kind of psychological analysis of the characters. Even after I realized who the occupants of the car were, I couldn’t make that approach fit. I’ve had countless dreams of Roger over time but this one stands out in my mind as having a very different feel to it.
The presence of my ‘guide’ was an important clue that this was no ordinary dream but there were also the feathers, the pine tree and the spiral inside the feather. Feathers and birds are universal symbols of the connection between heaven and earth, as are trees with their roots in the ground and crowns in the air. Conifers have a special significance because they are evergreen and so are symbols of eternal life. The spiral, which was in the dream itself and repeated in the associated memories of the spiraling eagles and the patterning of the pine cones, is a universal pattern and also symbolic of the link between heaven and earth, as it is ubiquitous throughout nature and the cosmos.
As for what made the loud noise, I never did find out but it certainly got my attention and having had more of this type of incident than I can possibly count by now, I know better than to put it down to ‘just a coincidence.’
All your past except its beauty is gone and nothing remains but a blessing. A Course in Miracles
I recently came across a You Tube video of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) which I was quite impressed with. I decided to embed it as it is relatively short at 42 minutes and apart from the opening sequence, is not overdramatised like some NDE videos are. It reminded me that it was a book about an NDE that gave me my first intimations that my light experience 18 years ago might be something meaningful and not just a freak event. The book was called Saved by the Light and it was the story of Dannion Brinkley, a man who had been struck by lightening and pronounced dead. The incident occurred in 1975 when Dannion was 25 and he has since had 2 more close brushes with death, also accompanied by NDEs and is still going strong.
In the years following my initial exposure, I read countless books, both first person accounts and studies by researchers but as fascinating as the topic was, my interest gradually petered out. No doubt this was due to the fact that I had not actually had a real life NDE. Eventually dreams, Jungian psychology and A Course in Miracles converged to become the path I seemed destined to follow but because the NDE phenomenon was essentially my introduction to spirituality, at least as an adult, I retained a keen eye for interesting stories.
One such story I saw was a couple of years ago when Conscious TV, an internet show I had been following for a few years, aired an interview with Anita Moorjani, a woman who’d had a remarkable NDE when she was admitted to hospital with multiple organ failure and a body ravaged by cancer and went into a coma. When she awoke, she told an amazing story of meeting with deceased loved ones and gaining knowledge and understanding about her entire life, including the factors that led to her getting cancer. She was also told she had a choice about returning to life and that her body would be healed if she did so. She chose to return, made a speedy and complete recovery and now lives a very rich and full life, dedicated to helping others live more meaningful and purposeful lives.
Anita’s book, Dying to be Me is a page turner and a very articulate account of the complex cultural and personal factors that she felt led to her illness. It is also full of spiritual wisdom delivered in a down to earth way borne of her varied religious education before the NDE and the knowledge gained during it. Her story eventually came to the attention of an oncologist with an interest in spontaneous remissions and his assessment, after examining the medical records, was that she should not have survived given the condition she had been in when she was hospitalised.
A few months after learning about Anita’s NDE, Eben Alexander, a Harvard University neurosurgeon made a big media splash with his book Proof of Heaven which recounted his extraordinary NDE experience when he was in a coma for 7 days due to a severe bacterial meningitis infection. His experience was particularly compelling because of the fact that he was an established expert in the functioning of the brain and knew that the fantastic adventure he went on should not have been possible with the severity of the brain damage he had sustained. He too, made a full and miraculous recovery, in spite of having a very slim chance of survival with a high probability of severe brain damage if he did. Although his experience was somewhat different from Anita’s, the outcome was essentially the same and he too has now dedicated his life to spreading the word about the reality of a spiritual dimension and the healing potential of a life lived from a spiritual perspective.
Eben’s adventure in particular provides an interesting parallel with an experience Carl Jung reported in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections (MDR) and recounted here in detail on Kevin Williams’s excellent website. Jung’s experience occurred in 1944, when he suffered a heart attack at the age of 58 and after detailing his experience, he said:
“I would never have imagined that any such experience was possible. It was not a product of imagination. The visions and experiences were utterly real; there was nothing subjective about them; they all had a quality of absolute objectivity.”
He is not alone in this. Many people who have NDEs claim that their experiences of the non-physical realm felt more real than the physical plane they return to and have trouble re-adjusting to the mundane world, as Jung himself also did.
He went on to say:
“After the illness a fruitful period of work began for me. A good many of my principal works were written only then.”
Quite a claim for somebody who had dedicated his entire adult life to understanding the human psyche and who had already made significant contributions to the establishment of the field of psychology. In his book Answer to Job which was written in this “fruitful period” Jung states:
“What most people overlook or seem unable to understand is the fact that I regard the psyche as real. They believe only in physical facts…”
Although he’d had many visionary experiences and encounters with the non-physical world throughout his life, his otherworldly travels when in his near-death state appeared to be in a category of its own. This super lucidity of an alternate reality state is reported by many people who have mystical experiences of all kinds (including the ‘pharmaceutically assisted’ kind). They say that once free of the constraints of the physical body, the perceptual capabilities seem to be radically sharpened rather than diminished. For example, people who are blind in real life are able to see. For Jung, it apparently consolidated his conviction in his destiny and strengthened his confidence in the unfolding individuation process that his psychology involves. He writes in MDR:
“It was only after the illness that I understood how important it is to affirm one’s own destiny. In this way we forge an ego that does not break down when incomprehensible things happen; an ego that endures, that endures the truth, and that is capable of coping with the world and with fate. Then to experience defeat is also to experience victory”
This is one of the insights that Anita Moorjani had gleaned, although worded somewhat differently. In her book Dying to be Me, she states:
“Always remember not to give away your power – instead get in touch with your own magnificence. When it comes to finding the right path, there’s a different answer for each person. The only universal solution I have is to love yourself unconditionally and be yourself fearlessly.”
Two very different individuals, living in very different eras and cultures, whose experiences were separated by more than 60 years but both saying essentially the same thing. For Jung, who had always followed his own path, albeit not without considerable challenges, his experience was confirmation that he was on the right track. For Anita, whose life prior to her NDE had been torn between trying to adapt to her familial and cultural expectations and her own inner longings, what she received was permission to be herself and that is her primary message.
Jung’s book was published in 1962, the year following his death but it was still many years before the term ‘Near Death Experience’ was coined. That didn’t occur until 1975 when Dr. Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life came out. Nowadays, the familiar ‘Near Death Experience’ has been augmented by the term ‘Near Death-like Experience’ and is a closer approximation to the types of experience Anita Moorjani, Eben Alexander and Jung had.
Since the advent of You Tube, these stories of crossing over into the spiritual realm and returning to tell the tale has risen to a whole new level, as it is possible to see the individuals telling their own stories in their own words and these first person accounts are much more compelling than reading about them. While many of the experiencers undoubtedly interpret their experiences within the context of their pre-NDE belief systems, a great many return with a new, or clearer, understanding of their former beliefs or attitudes. Where they didn’t have any prior spiritual or religious affiliations and were atheistic or agnostic, a complete transformation of themselves and their worldview often occurred.
A significant number return with a mandate to share what they have learned and have endured many trials and tribulations from the medical establishment, their religious orders and even family and friends in doing so. Thankfully things are changing due to the sheer weight of numbers and the dedication of researchers. The NDE phenomenon is not something that is going to go away and because those who have them come from such a wide variety of backgrounds, it is shaping up to be a quiet revolution in the way religion and spirituality is understood and practiced.
It is fascinating to observe how the field of NDE studies has evolved. My interest was sparked in late 1996 and though the first book had been published 21 years before, at that point bookstores and media reports were still the only sources of information. With the internet, the whole field has opened up and acceptance has been growing to the extent that only the most closed minded materialist would dismiss what has now occurred to literally millions of people. The rising incidence of NDEs due to increasingly sophisticated medical interventions and the greater freedom experiencers now feel to tell their stories, has led to closer study of the evidence and ever increasing acceptance of the phenomenon. This is due in no small measure to the organisation called IANDS – the International Association for Near-Death Studies, which was started in the late seventies and has grown into a very respectable and influential organisation.
Recently, I came across an internet radio show produced by IANDS and was very impressed with it. It is a weekly show, started in September 2013 with all the episodes archived and downloadable. It is a very high quality show presented by an open minded hospital chaplain, Lee Witting, who had a near death experience himself as a child, which had a positive influence on his subsequent life. Many of the episodes have a guest, either someone who has had an NDE, or a researcher or investigator discussing various aspects of NDEs and their context within spirituality and religion in general. There are also discussions of related fields such as After Death Communications – ADCs – which is a particular interest of mine, having had many personal experiences.
From a current Internet Radio show to a video that was produced before the internet became a household commodity as ubiquitous as television and radio, the fundamentals of the knowledge and messages received haven’t changed significantly over the years. This video was produced in 1993 and apart from the obviously slightly dated appearance of the film, it could just as easily have been made today.
I have watched it several times but I’m not sure exactly what ‘Shadows’ in the title refers to. In Jungian psychology the shadow is what contains the unacceptable or unacknowledged parts of ourselves, both positive and negative, that surreptitiously drain our energy. Looked at symbolically, a shadow is formed when a solid object blocks the light. Perhaps what the filmmakers are implying is that the fear of death is the ultimate shadow – that which blocks us from expressing the light within, which is our true essence. One of the most powerful and common messages that experiencers bring back is that our life has purpose, direction and meaning and continues on in some form and that is a message worth spreading. Daniel Brinkley’s mantra is: “You are a great, mighty and powerful spiritual being with dignity, direction and purpose.”
That’s a much more palatable message than that we are all born in original sin and are destined for heaven or hell depending on what kind of mood the Almighty is in when you stand before the pearly gates. As much as our rational selves reject these archaic notions, they live on in both the personal and the collective unconscious and it takes some work to change the programming.
At the end of the video, Ann Horne, who had an NDE when strangled by her enraged husband, states:
“One of the things that bothers me so tremendously about the metaphysical movement, in lieu of my experience and in lieu of what I was shown, which I think if there’s any message that I can give, it’s not about meditating and leaving your body and taking your light being out of this earth – indeed not. It is about bringing the light into this earth. Stay here. Be an anchor, let the light come in through you into this world. Don’t abandon this world. We need you. We need you here. We need you to be present and we need you to be open with an open heart.”
Easy, huh? I take heart from NDEer Mary Jo Rapini who was asked in her near death experience if she had ever loved any person the way she had been loved there. When she protested that she couldn’t as she was only human, the reply was, “You can do better.”
I have been sitting on an article I began writing several months ago titled The World is Not Left by Death but by Truth. This is a line from A Course in Miracles which had a strong impact on me when I first encountered it but each time I tried to tackle the subject, I would soon become dissatisfied with what I’d written, delete all except a few salvageable fragments and put it back once again in the too hard basket. That I had a lot of resistance to expressing my thoughts on the subject was obvious but I rationalised that there is nothing and nobody compelling me to do it but myself. This is true and yet for some reason I still felt driven to collect and express my thoughts on the matter and it was blocking me from writing anything else, as none of the other dream stories would flow either.
When I read the reports of Robin Williams’ suicide I was spurred once again into action and recognised it as a recurring pattern. Each time I would get motivated to write, it was in response to hearing about yet another suicide, either ‘accidental’ or intentional, a media report, or a personal story. The intensity of my reaction to his suicide surprised me, as it is a subject I have investigated thoroughly and contemplated deeply over many years and thought I had laid to rest. So, I thought I would get what Robin Williams’ death has stirred up off my chest before going on to what I originally planned.
Not having followed his off screen life, I didn’t know about his history of depression and substance abuse, so that partly accounted for being surprised at the news but there was obviously more to my reaction than that. As the stories of his life and the details of his struggles emerged, the conflicting emotions I was feeling increased and finally I had to admit to myself that it was touching a few still raw nerves. I know too well that we don’t react emotionally to anything unless it has some personal resonance within ourselves so obviously there was something to explore.
Although I wouldn’t count myself a fan of Robin Williams, I had enjoyed several of his movies and respected both his acting ability and the calibre of the roles he played in the ones I had seen. Coincidentally, I had recently hired his movie What Dreams May Come because I wanted to have a fresh look at it from the broader perspective I have these days about the whole subject of life and death. I had initially seen it soon after my husband’s death 17 years ago, a time when I was going through my own deep grieving process. My belief that life ends in peaceful oblivion was being challenged at the time by too many inexplicable happenings for me to dismiss them lightly and I suspect that seeing this movie was part of the process of seeking for answers.
It’s a visually striking movie and explores the effects of tragic loss on the lives of those left behind. Robin Williams plays a doctor who has everything he wants in life – a successful and fulfilling career, happily married to his soul mate and with two great kids but tragedy strikes when the children are killed in a car accident. The story follows the couple as they struggle to come to terms with the loss but just as they are beginning to recover, he himself is killed, also as the result of a car accident.
After his death, he is surprised to find he is still alive, albeit in an illusory body and when his attempts to get through to his wife fail, he eventually moves on, ultimately finding himself in a heavenly realm, reunited with those who have gone before him. Meanwhile, on the physical plane, his wife spirals once again into depression and eventually kills herself. Contrary to his hope and expectations, she does not join him where he is; her destination is a realm that reflects her mode of death and mental state at the time. When he learns where she is, he sets out to try and reconnect with her, ultimately defying the odds to save her from her fate.
The movie explores the profound effects of grief and the hopelessness it can engender but ultimately affirms the redemptive power of love to heal and transcend all obstacles. It mixes conventional and unconventional beliefs about the afterlife and contrasts the consequences of death by suicide compared with non-volitional deaths. In doing so, it makes a commentary on what role the state of mind at the point of death has on the destination of the person and it makes for a poignant reflection on Robin Williams’ own death.
As an adjunct to watching the movie again, I reviewed the speech in Hamlet, which is where the title of the movie comes from. The whole speech is an eloquent and insightful account of the conflict in the mind of one contemplating suicide as a way out of a painful dilemma. Initially Hamlet regards life and death as mutually exclusive states, comparing death to the deep sleep state, the state of oblivion, where we are effectively ‘dead to the world.’ In this viewpoint the dilemma is purely a moral one:
To be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them?
But then doubt creeps into his mind: ‘What if death is actually more like the dream state, than deep sleep?’ Our experience of a dream feels every bit as real as waking life reality when we are immersed in it and nightmares especially have an intensity that can be hard to shake.
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause…
Further along in the speech he expresses his fear that those dreams may be worse than what he is facing in life:
But that the dread of something after death, the undiscover’d country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of?
This ‘fate worse than death’ is what was depicted in the movie and had me cringing inwardly at the reinforcement of old stereotypes. To my mind there are enough rational reasons for discouraging suicide and seeking alternative answers without using outmoded fear-based models of hellish afterlife consequences as a deterrent.
When I was 20 my father committed suicide. He was an alcoholic and had deserted the family about 15 years earlier and decided to end his life when his whereabouts became known. When I heard the news, all the anger I’d held towards him for his abandonment and the ensuing hardship for the family, melted away. He had apparently left a note to say he couldn’t live with himself any longer. By all accounts he had never got on top of his alcoholism and though on some level his death could be seen as taking the easy way out, it was obvious that he must have been suffering deeply. By this time I had rejected religion wholesale so I had no conflict to deal with regarding any possible afterlife consequences.
Nor was the threat of consequences a consideration on the several occasions during my adult life where I have thought seriously about suicide myself. On each occasion it was going into therapy that helped me over the rough patches but bottom line was that I didn’t seriously want to die at those times, I was just having a hard time coping for various reasons. However, when I was nearly 50, the visitation experience of my late husband, which came about a year after I originally saw What Dreams May Come, compelled me to accept that there was a continuity of life and it was a game changer. Three years after this visitation, I hit a low point that made my previous lows look like a picnic and I was seriously considering putting an end to my misery. By this time I had accumulated various beliefs about reincarnation and suicides languishing in the torment of the same mindset in which they had died, as in the movie. Eek!
It was a dream that once and for all put my mind to rest. This dream was almost an exact replay of the meditation vision I had of my mother which I described in a previous post. As in the vision, I saw only an image of my mother’s face, but this time instead of looking sad, she was smiling and at the same time had a look of real tenderness and deep compassion on her face. She communicated telepathically, as in the vision: ‘It’s alright if you want to be here now, Gloria.’ When I woke from the dream, my first thought was that she was giving me permission to join her but when I mulled it over in the morning, I realized she was saying that it was entirely my decision whether to go on or put an end to it and that there would be no judgment and no repercussions.
This was a very powerful message that enabled me to let go of any beliefs I had taken on board and also relieved me of the persistent guilt I had always suffered from whenever I entertained the idea of suicide. Most importantly though, it had the effect of throwing me back entirely on myself. Yet, as I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, it felt like something other than my own little will to live that kept me going. Over time, the feeling that I am part of something much greater than my insignificant little ego increased, as did my understanding that doing my own inner healing makes a positive contribution to the evolution of the collective consciousness. That is what now gives my life the meaning that makes me feel it is worth living.
Although I haven’t come up with any definitive understanding of the nature of spirit communication – and not for want of trying – my own experiences and the vast amount of data now documented on psychic activity proves beyond reasonable doubt that it is a genuine phenomenon. The only thing that makes sense to me is that consciousness is not confined to the body, that our physical reality is embedded in a field of consciousness and is constantly interacting with it, whether we are aware of it or not. This requires a shift in perception from viewing consciousness as being a product of matter, i.e. the brain – the scientific materialist viewpoint, to seeing matter as the product of consciousness and integral with it – the spiritual point of view. If consciousness is primary, which I’m convinced it is, then death as we think of it is no different than birth – we emerge out of cosmic consciousness and merge back into it.
Perhaps learning to consciously engage with this field of consciousness is the key to no longer being afraid of the great unknown that death is but that would then also mean giving up any comforting ideas about it being the savior of problems we have in this life. One of my guiding lights has been Jung’s brilliant insights into the nature of the unconscious – personal and transpersonal – and its innate tendency toward self-healing and wholeness. There is something in us, that is also beyond us, that wants us to grow into the best we can be but we have to participate in our own healing and that means dealing with the dreams – good and bad, waking and sleeping – in our current life.
It’s very sad that Robin Williams got to the point where he saw no alternative but to end his life and very painful for his family to have to live with the memory of him doing it in such a gruesome manner and mental state of intense suffering. Since his death I have seen and read much about him and it is obvious he was struggling with a lot of inner conflict. He apparently decided it was the best way out. To judge his actions is pointless. No one can know what it is like to live inside someone else’s mind and body but hopefully much good will come of it.
Most people who develop a long term relationship with this remarkable work have a story to tell not only about their first encounter with it but also about the conflicts that quickly develop once the initial infatuation wears off. If that sounds like a regular relationship, it’s no accident, for the book was written by a most unusual process which involved a psychology professor taking down dictation from a voice she heard internally, which she perceived as none other than Jesus. Anyone who is drawn to it then, is also inevitably drawn into a challenging relationship with this enigmatic figure of history regardless of their religious background, or lack thereof. Because the Jesus of the Course is a radically different figure from the one of conventional Christianity and the popular cultural image, it is a huge challenge to both the intellect and the emotions.
The book is essentially a spiritual path combining meditation practice with psychological techniques, the primary aim of which is to guide practitioners of it to a state of inner peace and thereby into an enhanced attunement with one’s own inner guidance. It employs an ingenious and methodical approach consisting of a theoretical foundation and daily exercises for practicing what it teaches. After 15 years of working with it, there is no doubt in my mind that it is from an inspired and wholly benevolent source. What that source is exactly is beyond my comprehension but my initial encounter with it led to a conversation with an inner voice myself and though brief, it was very compelling and had a deep impact on me. I have also come to believe that the vision I had 2½ years prior to learning about the Course foreshadowed my connection with it.
I first learned of it when a friend gave me a book to read called A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson but I have to say I was put off by her evangelical style and wasn’t tempted to look into it any further. I would occasionally come across quotes from the Course in other reading however and the different contexts in which it was mentioned would pique my interest but again I didn’t feel moved to look any further into it.
Then one night at a Jung Society meeting, which I had been attending for a bit over a year at the time, I bumped into a woman who had once worked at the vet’s where I took my cats. I was very surprised to see her there but she had come because she was interested in the evening’s talk, which happened to be on dreams. In the course of catching up with each other’s news, she told me she was about to start a group studying A Course in Miracles, so I said I would be interested in doing it. The meeting got going before I found out the details, so I planned to catch up afterwards. The talk went on and on and as with many of the Jung talks for me at that time, most of it went right over my head. I hung in only to see my friend afterwards but when it finally finished, she was nowhere to be found. Apparently it had gone over her head too. We had no way of contacting each other, so I assumed that was the end of the matter.
Four days later, amazingly, I bumped into her at my local shopping centre and she told me the group was off, at least temporarily, because the venue had fallen through. I offered to have it in my rumpus room and so we started on June 15th, 1999. My friend ended up not taking the group herself after all but handed it on to a friend of hers who I didn’t know and who was relatively new to it herself. As I knew nothing about it at all, this didn’t seem to be too much of a problem but as I soon found out, it was a case of the blind leading the blind and after 4 months I was ready to throw in the towel. In an attempt to revitalise my fast waning interest, I decided to find out a bit more about it and got onto the biography of how it came into being, Journey Without Distance.
The book described how those involved with it prayed for guidance about the publishing process. There were 4 people involved at this point and they would base their decisions on the information they received. I wondered to myself if that would work for me, so, remembering the vision, I said, in my mind, “O.K. Jesus, you said ‘ask and you will receive’ so I’ve got some questions for you” and proceeded to ask questions. Instantly a voice, which was definitely not my own thoughts, began answering and soon the answers were coming before I had finished asking the question. Then it began giving me information without me even formulating a question. At one point I managed to get in ‘why the short sharp answers?’ and it shot straight back ‘it saves time.’ It also told me that I need to trust the process. Because of the rapidity of the dialogue and the surprise factor, I have no idea what my initial questions were but did manage to record the last part. I had an appointment with my hypnotherapist next day, so I asked, ‘What do I need to work on?’ The voice in my head answered me:
‘Fear of what?’
‘Fear of abandonment.’
‘I’ve already worked on that.’
‘You haven’t worked on your fear of abandonment by God.’
‘What! I couldn’t go to Pat and say that. I would be too embarrassed.’
‘There’s no need to be. She will understand. I have sent you to Pat.’
The last statement left me dumbfounded but I gathered my thoughts enough to grab a pen and wrote down what I could remember. I had to admit that I did indeed find Pat through what seemed to be a series of orchestrated steps. This kind of thing had happened often through my life, as it undoubtedly does for everyone, so wasn’t particularly noteworthy but to be told by a voice in my head that he was behind it, was a bit unnerving. What is remarkable in this conversation is that there was no comment whatsoever on what I now see as an incredibly naïve and arrogant statement that I had worked on my fear of abandonment. When my short lived second marriage ended 3 years later, I would get to confront this issue in all its profound complexity and it wasn’t pretty.
The following day at my hypnosis session, I told Pat about the conversation and to my relief she was quite unfazed. She suggested we try a musical journey to see what came of it but I got absolutely nowhere and it was the most unproductive session I had ever had. Jesus showed up and tried to communicate something to me but I just couldn’t get it. At that point in my life I was still struggling with the whole notion of God, conflated as it was with the conditioning of the past and my own rebellion against religious ideas. My inner conflict created much resistance. Fortunately the Son had never suffered the same hostile reaction as I had towards the Father. As much as I harboured serious doubts about the validity of many of the stories, I was never quite able to shed the deep affection I’d had for Jesus as a child and for that I am grateful. I suspect now that children are able to intuit the truth within the cultural overlays.
The whole experience did serve to keep me persevering with the Course but only for another 4 months. My life was undergoing a lot of changes and since the group had started, the group leader had moved into a house close by, so the group continued at her home. The book sat on my shelf for the next 5 years and every now and again I would dip into it. Gradually, as I did wider reading and life’s continuing dramas had primed me sufficiently, it began making sense to me. I picked it up one day, began reading the text and decided to start the workbook from scratch again. It has been an everyday part of my life since and I have no doubt that it is a ’til death do us part’ relationship. The beauty of both the language and its message and the challenge of its thought system, has a depth that is ever unfolding and quite simply, I love it.
My experience of a voice that sounded very much like the kind of experience Helen Schucman, the scribe of the Course had, gave me greater confidence in and appreciation for what I was reading, although it would be several years before I began to fully trust it. The conversation I had was just a few minutes long, so I can only imagine what it must have been like hearing this voice over 7 years and taking down the dictation, then going through the transcription process with her colleague Bill Thetford as he typed it up. All this while holding down very demanding professional positions and trying to keep the whole thing secret. Mama Mia!
When I came to type up the notes I had made, I put ‘Fear of abandonment of God’ instead of ‘by God,’ and then became confused about what I actually heard. I concluded at the time that it was probably both but in the intervening years I have learned from personal experience that we can neither be abandoned by God, or abandon God ourselves, because God is integral to all existence. This understanding is a far cry from my atheist days – ‘we are all accidents of chemistry, we live, we die, peaceful oblivion, end of story.’ I don’t mean to imply I know what God is because I don’t but I can say that when I was at my lowest point after the marriage break up, there was something other than my own little will to live keeping me going. This ‘something’ I am satisfied to call God. The Course offers the best definition I have come across: ‘We say God is… and then we cease to speak.’
One thing I learned from the confusion over what I heard was not to take anything I read as Gospel, no matter how trustworthy I believed it to be. There is no such thing as a pure channel. Even if the transmission is perfectly pure, it is still filtered through the receiver’s own mind and life experience and the transcription process, as in any translative endeavour, is not an exact science. As the Course itself puts it ‘…words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from Reality.’
I find it ironic now that I was introduced to A Course in Miracles at a Jung meeting where the topic was on dreams. Jungian psychology, dreams and ACIM would eventually come to make up what I would refer to as my Holy Trinity of Healing and they complement each other perfectly. The Course has much to say on dreams, as does Jungian psychology and my worldview has had a considerable shakeup since that night back in 1999. I don’t nod off in Jung meetings anymore for starters and I have long since let go of the kinds of conflict I used to experience in trying to get my head around this extraordinary work. In fact it’s not something that can be understood with the head at all but has to be experienced through the heart. A statement from the introduction sums this up:
The Course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance.
These blocks are our psychological defence mechanisms and being based in protecting the identity we have built up since the year dot, they are not relinquished without a fight.