How do I know I am more than my body? How do I know I am energy in physical form? I sensed these truths since I was a young girl. And then one day, I knew them in every fiber of my being. Literally.
I recently reread an essay I wrote a number of years ago, published as “A Girl Who Believed” in the book Held in Love: Life Stories to Inspire Us Through Times of Change, (2009, Molly Brown and Carolyn Treadway). I want to share it with you because it is the physical foundation for how I see death. And it is the spiritual foundation for how I see life.
Mystical experiences – both our own and that of others – can play a significant role in how we navigate death and dying. They allow us to take a quantum leap toward the spirit of who we really are. Though I had adventures with the non-physical world when I was much younger, this specific one was the most transformative because I experienced myself as pure energy for the first time.
For many of us, the closest we’ve come to experiencing eternity is being on hold, waiting to talk to someone at AT&T. But one afternoon at Lake Siskiyou in Mount Shasta CA, I glimpsed eternity in a much more satisfying way.
The sky was a smooth, consistent shade of grey. I couldn’t see the sun’s circle of light through the grey, nor could I see individual clouds. The air was still. And like water running over my hands at just the right temperature, I could barely sense the air on my skin.
Time somehow evaporated, and I didn’t know when it would become tangible again.
Of course, the sky had been grey before. The air temperature had matched my skin before too. This wasn’t the first time I imagined what it would be like if the sun didn’t rise and set, if we didn’t gauge our lives by hours and days.
It wasn’t the first time I wondered how my life would change if humans didn’t need sleep and we were awake all the time.
The difference this time was the focus of my awareness. In that moment – regardless of how long the moment lasted – I allowed myself to experience a moment out of time.
I don’t usually tell people this, but I had what is known as a “shared death experience” when my life-partner Kate died. I know it’s hard to believe, but that night, spirits made themselves known to me.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/karelin
I felt euphoric. The bliss lasted for months. I can still tap into it now.
And this may sound crazy, but I communicate with Kate and my mom and friends who have died and other non-physical beings. Regularly.
Yes, they communicate back.
All of these words are true for me. And they are all variations of some of the most common sentiments I’ve heard again and again – both spoken and implied – in discussions I facilitated this past year and in one-on-one conversations.
I don’t usually tell people this, but . . .
I know it’s hard to believe, but . . .
This may sound crazy, but . . .
That we give disclaimers or hesitate to share real experiences because of what others may think is a fascinating human idiosyncrasy. But what’s even more fascinating to me is what often happens next.
What do a Rabbi, a Buddhist chaplain and former Evangelical Christian have to say about ministering to people who are nearing death? How does each tradition support someone in this state of being?
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/kuzma
These were among the questions posed as part of a recent Choosing Options, Honoring Options (COHO) event in Southern Oregon. The spring series is called “Facing Mortality: The Elephant in the Room.”
I attended a discussion about different spiritual traditions’ views on end-of-life issues. The five people on the panel work with palliative care and Hospice patients.
The presentation – which also included a Catholic priest and Presbyterian chaplain – did get into some specifics about God, impermanence, faith, and natural death versus assisted suicide. But those weren’t the pieces that I carried with me.
What I took away was much more simple. It was something all panelists agreed on. Their main common practice wasn’t based on comparative religion and finding overlaps from different spiritual traditions. Their common practice was based on a simple human act: Listening . . .