This dream came a year after attending the funeral of the aunt I mentioned in the last post. She was my mother’s only sister and I was very close to her when I was young. At the time of my birth, my parents lived with my mother’s family and as Aunt was still living at home she became my second mother for the first 9 months of my life. When she married and had children of her own, our two families had a lot to do with each other. I also lived with her family for periods of time off and on until I was 13, due to Mum’s frequent hospitalisations. I loved her very much and remember wishing she was my mother, not because I didn’t love Mum but because Aunt was totally devoted to her family. She was the complete opposite of my mother, who loved kids in her own way but just wasn’t cut out to be a mother and was often overwhelmed by the task.
Unfortunately, the man Aunt married led a double life – devoted husband and father on one hand and serial paedophile on the other. I loved my uncle too when I was young and that made me a prime target for his exploitation. She stayed loyal to him to the very end of his life and even after his death never made any attempt to heal the rift that his abuse had caused in the family. I had stopped feeling angry at my uncle many years ago when I realised that he was clearly insane. My aunt wasn’t but she was totally identified with her role as a mother and she protected that role to the end. By the time of her death, I felt pretty much at peace regarding all that had gone on and had no conscious awareness of any residual blame or anger in me but this dream showed otherwise. As Jung often said, the unconscious really is unconscious. When trauma has been deeply buried, it works its way out of the system in its own time. Perhaps it is never completely erased but eventually becomes a part of the whole rich tapestry of life.
I am to meet Aunt and her family following my uncle’s death, apparently to try and come to some resolution over our long estrangement due to his abuse. When I get to the house, I drive down the left hand side, then make a 90 degree turn to go into the back yard. The entry is a rough track and is cluttered with rubbish and overhanging branches and hard to navigate. The yard is also messy. I go in through the back entrance. There is a woman present who is not part of the family and seems to be a mediator of some sort.
There is a discussion about my uncle’s paedophile activities but the family is in denial. We aren’t getting anywhere so I decide to leave and as I do Aunt suddenly throws her arms around me and hugs me very tightly, as though she doesn’t want to let me go. She kisses me all over the face in an exaggerated show of affection and seems desperate to show me how much she loves me but I am not impressed.
I ask in a frustrated tone of voice, ‘Aunt, why do you keep denying it? You know the truth.’ At first she goes into the same old routine of denial and demurring but then she says, ‘Yes. I did know.’
I feel an immense relief, as much for her as myself and go around telling the others about her admission. There is a mixed reception of belief and disbelief and my initial euphoria turns to a niggling anxiety that this isn’t the end of it.
I leave the same way I came, driving slowly and carefully because of the obstacles on the way out and the foliage scraping against the car. I do a right hand turn onto the street and a little way down I have to turn right onto the main road. As I brake to check the road, the woman who had been in the house appears near the driver’s side window and appears to want to speak to me but she is preventing me from turning and I am pissed! I wind the window down and say very testily ‘Excuse me, I want to turn there.’ I realise I am being rude but don’t care. She disappears and I make the turn, still feeling peeved. End.
When I woke from the dream I was in a foul mood and I couldn’t even begin to make sense of it so I just wrote it up and went out to do some gardening as a way of settling down. It was a perfect day for it but my bad mood persisted and was made worse by a pest control man spraying around the letterboxes not far away from me. He was decked out head to toe in protective gear but the spray was drifting towards me, so I abandoned the gardening, cursing to myself. My mind then started spinning stories of all the terrible things we are doing to the planet through our paranoia and ignorance. In the middle of this depressing inner rant, a light bulb went on and I realised with a start that my overreaction had absolutely nothing to do with the incident but was triggered by the dream hangover.
A few days later I told a friend about the dream and she asked me how I would have liked it to end. I said that I wanted to feel love and forgiveness for my aunt, that I didn’t want to feel so angry, I didn’t like the way it felt. In her pragmatic way she said that if that’s the way I feel I need to just accept it because fighting it is just going to make me feel worse. I knew she was right but I still didn’t feel happy about it because I couldn’t understand why I would still be angry with Aunt.
It was a full 3 months later that I finally understood what my anger was about and it wasn’t a happy discovery at the time. I had been doing a course in Applied Jungian Psychology and we were working on identifying our complexes. There had been a lot of discussion about the negative mother complex and the mother wound and I began to wonder about my own mothering history. I had long since resolved any anger I had towards my own mother for the fact that she didn’t protect me from my uncle but Aunt was the one I had felt most betrayed by. It wasn’t just because she knew what was going on at the time but also because of the way she vilified me in later years when I disclosed about the abuse and how she continued to be the enabler to her husband, thereby continuing to put other children at risk.
With these new insights, I was reflecting on my dream attitude and suddenly saw the situation as if it were a real event. Here was my aunt finally giving me what I had wanted for so long – a simple acknowledgement of the truth – and I wasn’t satisfied. What did I want then? I wanted her to suffer! The revelation that followed closely on this insight was that that meant I must also want myself to suffer. Anger, resentment and blame towards another, no matter how justified it appears to be, always hurts the so-called victim. There’s simply no escape from that fact. When I went deeper into my resentment I had to admit to myself that I was still feeling guilty over the fact that I had caused so much trouble in the family by my disclosure and the way I coped with it was to project it onto my aunt.
About a week later I was sitting with all that had transpired from the dream and got the distinct impression that it was at last the end of a long saga of trying to sort out the complex web of emotions that we had all been entangled in for so many years. With that, the floodgates opened and I found myself sobbing my heart out. I wasn’t crying just for myself, it was grief over everybody’s suffering, even that of my uncle who had been the primary cause of it, as well as for all who had been indirectly affected, especially the children of some of his victims who I knew suffered from the unhealed trauma of their mothers. My outburst of grief once again demonstrated to me that whenever anger is released, grief usually follows and it is the grief that is the hardest to be with. Anger is easier to deal with in a way, because at least it feels energising whereas grief feels so debilitating but it really doesn’t matter in the end. Holding onto any deeply charged emotion takes a lot of energy and there is always a price to pay for that.
At the time of the catharsis I had the feeling that I needed to write about this dream in order to complete the healing but I managed to keep deferring it until another dream recently prompted me to get on with it. In this dream I was talking to another family member who had also suffered at the hands of my uncle but who had never dealt with it. She was sitting in a car and I was on the outside and she was telling me about how depressed she felt. She started crying and at the same time desperately tried to control it. I told her it was good to cry and she said, ‘But it makes so much noise.’ At that moment a woman appeared walking down the middle of the road towards the car and I said, ‘When this woman is past, the road will be clear and you can make all the noise you want to.’ When I woke I immediately realised that this woman represented my aunt and the fear I still had of her disapproval of my speaking up. I realised that finishing this blog post was the way in which to lay that fear to rest and release both of us. It simply isn’t possible to love someone fully while at the same time fearing them and what I really want more than anything is to love my aunt as I did as a child and as I know she loved me.
I think this is what the mediator woman in the dream was trying to get me to see – that Aunt, by her admission, was really asking for my forgiveness and love and that by denying it to her, I was denying that same grace for myself. I now have a much deeper appreciation for the lines in the Lord’s Prayer; ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ As so many wise ones say, forgiveness really is for the one doing the forgiving.
Gloria and Bessie 1983
…the mother stands for the collective unconscious, the source of the water of life…
~CG Jung Individual Dream Symbolism… CW 12: §92
I worked through this dream with Jane Teresa Anderson in the early days of her dream show podcast (link), way back in August 2009. It has taken all this time to unfold fully and though I am in a much better emotional space than I was when I had the dream, meeting the challenge I set myself in it is still a work in progress.
I am in the study of my house with Mary. As we come out of the study, I notice water on the floor. I point it out to her so she won’t step in it. When we reach the dining room I see there is a large puddle of water also pooled on the carpet by the table. I notice an empty glass in the place where I usually sit for meals. I get a mental image of someone picking up the glass, and without realising it is full, spilling it and leaving the trail. I know that ‘someone’ is me but don’t recall doing it. The trail of water leads back to the study through the kitchen and family room to where I first noticed it.
I fetch a towel from the laundry basket and while I’m on my knees mopping up the water on the carpet, I tell Mary about Frank Sinatra’s rejection by his mother. She bursts into tears and I stand and put my arms around her and she cries on my shoulder. She says it reminds her of the way her mother rejected her. I say I am not surprised and then say very gently but clearly: ‘You can’t find love outside yourself, not even from your mother, you’ve got to find the source of love within yourself and connect with that.’
Using the concept of all dream characters representing aspects of the dreamer, Jane and I explored the idea that Mary’s emotional outburst represented some unresolved grief in me concerning my mother’s rejection. This did fit for Mary’s relationship with her mother but I couldn’t relate to it, as I didn’t perceive my mother as being rejecting. As we explored the issue further, I concluded that perhaps my child’s mind had perceived her frequent absences through physical illness and nervous breakdowns as a form of rejection and we let it go at that and went on to explore other aspects of the dream imagery. Days later, the memory of a very traumatic estrangement from my mother that had occurred almost 30 years before, surfaced from the depths and the scene with Mary made total sense.
The estrangement occurred as part of the fallout from my disclosure about the sexual abuse that had occurred throughout my childhood at the hands of an uncle – the husband of Mum’s sister. Although my mother and my aunt were the only ones I had spoken to, somehow word got around and all hell broke loose in the family. It emerged that this uncle’s activities were not only very widespread but also well known. In spite of that, I was branded a troublemaker and a liar and treated like a pariah by all except my sisters. I became the family scapegoat. It’s an all too common scenario for anyone who rocks the boat by speaking up and a powerful deterrent that perpetrators and their enablers exploit. Mum didn’t speak to me for 9 months and when she did reconnect, the subject was never discussed.
When she finally rang me, she broke the ice with the sad news that her precious dog had to be put down. She had been very attached to him and perhaps losing him made her reflect on our estrangement. When that topic was exhausted, she asked if I’d heard Anne Murray’s latest album. We were both big fans. I hadn’t and she told me it was called ‘I’ll Always Love You.’ I knew it was her way of saying what she was never able to say directly and this, together with the news of Sooty’s death and the fact that she was talking to me again had me blubbering like a baby. When I got hold of the album and heard the title song, I played it over and over. It was almost worth all the pain I had been through to hear the opening lines:
Standing by my window, listening for your call
Seems I really miss you after all
Time won’t let me keep these sad thoughts to myself
I’d just like to let you know, I wish I’d never let you go and…
I’ll always love you, deep inside this heart of mine
I do love you…
When I went to see her, we both carefully avoided the dreaded topic but as I was leaving she said to me “I know I’ve been a bad mother, Gloria.” I didn’t know what to say and her words haunted me for years. I wanted to put my arms around her and comfort her and tell her how much I loved her but sadly she was not comfortable with such behaviour and I knew where to draw the line. I also felt that she somehow needed to make that confession for her own benefit and I didn’t want to take that away from her. She wasn’t a bad mother – bad mothers are the kind that hate their kids and want them dead, like so many stepmothers in myths and fairy tales. She was, though, a Puella Aeternus – an eternal child – who in one sense make good mothers because they can relate to the child on their own terms but on the other hand lack the emotional maturity necessary to handle the responsibility entailed in raising children. She was basically unsuited to a role that was her lot as a woman of her time and place and had the added misfortune of marrying a man whose alcoholism led to him abandoning her to the sole responsibility of raising their five children. The odds were stacked against her in so many ways.
Our relationship pretty much picked up where we had left off and Mum died a few years afterwards. Until this dream, I hadn’t realised how much guilt I had been carrying over telling her about the abuse. As kids we were trained to be good girls and not to worry Mum, with the unspoken threat that to do so would result in her going away yet again. From my uncle I was warned not to tell ‘our little secret’ or else I would go to jail and so would he. Together with upsetting Mum, the thought that I would be responsible for his family being without a father and thereby suffering the same fate as mine was enough to keep me silent until I was 30. After the avalanche of hostility that was unleashed on me then, I closed down for another 20 years, until the death of my husband and the many life changes it entailed brought it to the surface with a vengeance. This dream – and many, many others – was a part of the healing process both of the childhood abuse and the trauma that occurred through my disclosure as an adult.
As I worked through the dream with Jane, we looked at the significance of the reference to Frank Sinatra. A few days before the dream, I had read an article about him in which he had stated that he hated the song My Way and that the only reason he did it was because his fans requested it and that it didn’t reflect his attitude at all. Following the thread of the mother theme we explored the idea that children have to go their own way and that made sense in the context of the dream but again it was only later that I recalled a vital piece of information that was a further key to understanding the dream within the context of the mother complex.
One of the most efficient entries into a dream is to consider what might have occurred in the day or two prior to the dream. We had discussed the article about Frank Sinatra but as interesting as that was, it didn’t have any real emotional charge to it. What did have a charge though and totally relevant to this dream was that the night before I had it, I had decided spontaneously to stop going to a Zen style meditation group I had been attending for about 15 months and had emailed the teacher to let her know. This was a very difficult decision to make because I had a deep affection for her. I had no doubt of her sincerity but was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with what I perceived as a lack of psychological awareness and the attitude that meditation practice alone is ‘the way.’ Several weeks after I stopped going, I woke up in the early hours one morning and had an almost desperate yearning to see her again. As I explored the intensity of the feeling, I recognised that it was the same kind of feeling I used to have at being separated from Mum when I was young. I knew then that separating from the teacher was another necessary step in loosening the attachment bonds of the mother complex.
One aspect of the dream analysis I did with Jane that I was never fully satisfied with was to do with the spilled glass of water. I said to her that it had brought to mind the song My Cup Runneth Over With Love and she suggested it might symbolise having an over caring attitude towards others and ‘spilling’ my love indiscriminately. That certainly had validity but I felt there was more to it than that and it was only when I connected the dream with the meditation teacher – my ‘spiritual mother’ – that I was able to join the dots. The two rooms in the dream – the study with the computer and Internet connection and the dining room where I did all my reading – represented ‘my way.’ The connection with the meditation teacher also added another dimension to the water symbolism; because life as we know it cannot exist without water, at the archetypal (spiritual) level it symbolises the life force itself – another name for which is love. The way I understand the symbolism now is that I was unconsciously spilling my life force energy (love) by following a path that wasn’t suited to me. My way home to myself was very eclectic. I studied widely and was involved in various groups but the main practice aspect of it was through a combination of meditation, dreamwork, Jungian psychology and A Course in Miracles. All of these methods have as their common denominator the development of trusting one’s own inner guidance and this dream was clearly demonstrating that very principle.
At the end of the discussion with Jane I confessed that though I agreed with the sentiment expressed, i.e. the need to find the source of love within, I was at a loss as to how to do it. She suggested a dream alchemy visualisation exercise but I never followed through on it. I had by that stage developed my own way of working with dreams and this kind of prescriptive approach, as well intentioned as it was, felt too controlling and manipulative. As the dream unfolded organically over time, I realised that I was on the right path already with what I was doing and just needed to have patience, perseverance and faith. I often felt lost and lonely and still do at times but I realise now that is the price to pay for following one’s own destiny.
The choice by the dream author of Mary as my alter ego was very auspicious. We met through a study group of A Course in Miracles and became very good friends. As our friendship developed, we found many correspondences in our lives, including being born in the same year, growing up in the same town and moving to the same city at the same age and living in similar places as our lives progressed. We are also alike personality wise, with many common interests. The main difference in our lives is that she has children and I don’t. I can’t think of anyone I know who would be a better fit as a reflection of myself. I don’t think it’s coincidence that she shares the same name as the most well known Western icon of the Great Mother. She also shares another connection with Mother Mary – her birthday is the same as the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, the recognition of the purity of the mother of the Christ Child at her own conception. I don’t know what to make of that but this dream seems to keep unfolding.
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.
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 lightning 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. Dannion 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.”
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.