“The world is not left by death but by Truth” is a quote in A Course in Miracles that I came across in 1999, in the wake of a fairly dramatic visit from my deceased husband in which he had asked me to speak to his mother because she wasn’t letting go of him. The visit and its aftermath convinced me of two things: that his consciousness had survived and so had the attachment bond to his mother. Both of these scenarios had caused some consternation when they collided with my previously held worldview that life ended with the death of the body but it was a troubling incident at the time of his diagnosis that caused the ‘Truth’ quote to resonate most strongly within me.
Back in 1996 when Roger first told me he had terminal cancer, I asked him how he felt about it and without hesitation he replied, “It will solve a lot of problems.” His statement reflected the attitude I had long held for myself that death was a way out when life got too hard but it was a shock to hear him voice the same attitude. I had always regarded him as the strong one and capable of surmounting any difficulties, however he had recently begun to see a psychologist, so obviously all was not well.
He’d had a couple of major depressive episodes over the years we had been together and had appeared to pull through them but like a lot of men, he was reluctant to talk about emotional problems and I was not privy to what was really troubling him. From the scraps of information he shared and the gradual unfolding of events, it transpired that it was his estrangement from his mother three years earlier that was causing him the most grief, at least on the surface.
The final falling out had had a long incubation period, as these things do, stretching way back into childhood and involving a complex web of family relationships that are almost impossible to tease apart in any way that is ultimately satisfactory. In the final analysis love and forgiveness are the only way through the pain but we don’t give up our defences without a fight when we perceive them as protecting us. With his cancer diagnosis he stopped seeing the psychologist but he did reconnect with his mother. Though there wasn’t much change in the situation overall, at least they were able to spend some quality time together and I was very grateful to have her help to share the care that he needed.
One day I was lamenting the situation with a friend and he offered the opinion that some folks just know they’re not going to make it in this lifetime, so they check out. He then shared his views on reincarnation and his belief that our relationships are neither accidental nor confined to a single physical lifetime. After listening politely I replied that I didn’t believe in that sort of thing and that as far as I was concerned, we are all accidents of chemistry; we are born, we live, we die, end of story. He didn’t push it any further but what he said had struck a chord with me because of my own ever-present ambivalence about life.
At some level what he said made sense and it planted the seed of the idea that our complex relationships are embedded in some sort of continuum of existence. I eventually did my own deep investigation into the concept of reincarnation because of unusual experiences of my own and though I don’t think the birth-death cycle can be viewed as a linear process as the conventional model of reincarnation portrays it, I have no doubt that the non-physical realm interpenetrates the physical plane in ways that can’t be comprehended with our rational minds.
There is a poem by Goethe, The Holy Longing and it’s poignant final lines come as close as anything to explaining to me the reason Roger ‘checked out’ so seemingly prematurely and my own attachment to an escape clause:
And so long as you haven’t experienced this:
to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.
It is only in following the path that was opened up to me through Roger’s illness and death and the many life changes that followed it, that I have come to understand the meaning of those words for myself. Life is not just about survival and achieving our ego goals but has real purpose and meaning. What has to die are all the false beliefs about who we are, who others are and why we are here; the conditioning we take on in order to be accepted within our family, society, and culture and to make our way in the world. It’s not easy deconstructing patterns and programs when they have become solidified into an identity through repetition. The catalyst for change is usually suffering and it often becomes so intense as to be physically and/or psychologically overwhelming.
When Roger died my world was completely turned upside down. I was only 18 when we met, we had worked together from early on in our marriage, had no children to distract us from each other and did pretty much everything together. In many ways, his family was a better fit for me than my own and so my identity became lost in his. His, in turn, had been lost in his parents’ and I believe it was this struggle to individuate, as Jung called the process, that became too much for him. His death from cancer at 48 was a shock that took years for me to assimilate and it has only been through confronting the identity crisis that it precipitated in me that has enabled me to see his struggles in a different light. This identity crisis is ultimately a spiritual crisis and though Roger was not able to embrace the option of a spiritual path for himself while he was alive, I have no doubt that he was guiding my life in that direction from the other side when he passed over. My dream life opened up almost the instant he died and apart from the healing it facilitated, I received a lot of what I can only call spiritual direction through the dreams.
One particularly powerful bit of guidance came in the form of a type of dream I eventually learned was called a disembodied voice dream, where you wake up hearing a voice speaking but with no memory of a dream. It came at a time when I was trying to find some direction in my life; I had begun a counselling course as a possible future vocation and was also participating in various women’s groups. Somewhere along the line I picked up the practice of doing affirmations and one day I decided to use a forty minute bus ride to do repetitions of the affirmations I had been learning. They were mostly of the self-esteem and confidence boosting kind and I just kept repeating them over and over, concentrating intently so as not to let my mind wander. During the night I awakened from sleep hearing a voice say:
It’s not about self-esteem, the real questions are “where have you come from, what are you doing here and where are you going?”
My well-considered and highly intelligent response was “Huh?”
Next day I happened to see a friend who I knew was involved with Eastern spirituality, so I asked him if he knew what it meant and he said “You come from God and you’re going back to God.” I don’t recall what he said regarding the middle part but the idea about God was not welcome news. At that time the word had connotations of a fickle authoritarian figure who demanded allegiance in the form of suffering and blood sacrifices. Since then my God-image has undergone a considerable transformation and I am happy now to substitute attributes like love, joy and peace for the word God.
I have contemplated these dream questions much in the fifteen years since they came to me and have struggled to make sense of the countless experiences that convinced me that life is indeed continuous. I have come to the conclusion that what I am doing here is learning how to live fully into those God-like qualities that feel so elusive in the everyday struggles of a mortal life. It’s not so much about doing as being and especially being as fully in the here and now as possible and in one sense that makes the question of origination and destination superfluous.
When A Course in Miracles says the world is not left by death but by truth, it is referring to the world we believe is real – the physical world of bodies and dense matter and time and space that we inevitably identify with as we journey through this human life. It is not left by death because what we call death is not the end of life but just the point in time when the soul leaves the body. This is the truth that sets us free. Life is not circumscribed by the events we call birth and death and our little lives here are an integral part of the whole of existence. Coming to a realisation of that for myself has made all the difference in how I view life with all its dramas and has enabled me to accept my own problems and use them for growth and healing rather than constantly trying to escape from them.
Without the spiritual life that was awakened in me through my husband’s death I would not be here today. I am only now beginning to fully appreciate the gifts and blessings that flowed to me from that event because I’ve had to do a lot of healing of my own and went through a very long dark period where I felt like a bottomless well of grief and could see little point in being here. It is only in retrospect that I can see that I have been guided all along.
In 2006 I participated in an Adult Enquirers group attached to the church that I eventually became baptised in and we were invited to write a reflection to end each evening. As I was wondering what on earth I could write, not being given to that sort of thing, a poem began to form that almost wrote itself. I just had to tweak it a bit here and there to make it flow. Many people at the group said they could identify with it and as it pretty well sums up everything I’ve said here, I thought it would be worth sharing. I called it Surrender and it is essentially the story of a soul lost and found. At the time I wrote it, the idea of surrender was pretty scary and it still is in a way but I’m learning to trust that there is a greater wisdom than my little ego that’s really been in charge all along anyway.
I knew You once in all Your glory
When I was unafraid
And had no guilt to block Your light
No tears, remorse or shame
I basked in You, I had no story
To shield me from Your Love
And Your forgiveness and delight
Shone unimpeded from above
Bit by bit, my soul withdrew
I know not how, or why
I slowly turned my back on You
And thought ‘twas You who’d died
For many years my heart stayed closed
But You did not give up
When grief cracked open my resolve
The darkness glimpsed Your love
Once again, I turned to run
But now I could not hide
Your love, Your light were far too bright
At last, my will succumbed