By Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.
Article published in Shaman’s Drum Magazine, Fall 1988
A Shaman is a death midwife. She helps Souls cross over to the next experience, and finds lost Souls on the other side as well as in this reality. The Soul connects us to the Spirit. It guides us, and when we lose it, we know we've lost it. We feel "out of it,” off balance or unfocused, "not all here." This indicates that part of the Soul has left the body. Some Shamans see the degree that the Soul is out of the body, perhaps caught by a thread, or half in and half out. The eyes either look dead and dull if a part of the Soul has left or alive and vibrant if it is present. We can nurture the Soul by kindness to ourselves, and try to convince it to return. Or, we can visit a Shaman, whose skill lies in the area of Soul retrieval.
The Soul may reveal that the body is not healthy enough or the ego is not yet strong enough for it to reside within it. It cannot function properly while the body is polluted by eating junk food every day, or while we are denying important aspects of beingness, such as our shadow. When contact is made with the Soul by creating a sacred temple within the body in which it can reside, it becomes a teacher and a grounding force.
Once in meditation I asked one of my inner guides about a physical problem I was having. He asked why I was always so concerned about these things. I said it was because I didn't want to die before I was ready. He laughed and said, "You're always ready," meaning that I bring death close by my concern about it. He said I will eventually understand that death is merely another aspect of life and it is actually an ally because it ends suffering.
In a dream, I see our cat trying to cross a street. She has signal lights in her ears that show what she's about to do. She walks out into the crosswalk where there are two speeding cars approaching. I am paralyzed at first because it doesn't seem like something she would do, but I run out and grab her, just in time to save her from being hit. I sensed upon awakening that it was a signal to us that she was getting ready to "cross over" (die).
Soon after this dream, I learned of my father's immanent death, and I began to have a series of dreams which prepared me for the deep, difficult work that lay ahead of me. In one dreams I found myself learning how to move between ordinary and non-ordinary realities. This knowledge would help me later in assisting my father to make his transition. The skills learned in the dream helped me to be courageous and contributed greatly to the ease with which he died.
On the day of my father's death, I drove to the hospice and began ministering to both of my parents and my sister. Something amazing had happened to my family. Everyone was wide open. There was a refreshing absence of the emotional avoidance games usually played by my family. One of the first things I did was to ask my father if he knew the influence he was having on the family. He said he did.
My father had always been emotionally repressed, and in rare moments he would tell me of his great frustration and pain in not being able to express his feelings. I had, however, always sensed an "otherworldly" quality about him and had attributed his emotional handicap to his discomfort in being human. He once told me that the only dreams he ever remembered were recurring ones in which he flew flying saucers by using crystals as guidance tools. (In ordinary reality, he was an aeronautical engineer who designed vehicles for air and space travel.)
In retrospect, it's hard to explain how I knew what to do in this, my first midwifing experience with death. It was an unique opportunity to trust in forces seen and unseen, and in the hidden power within me and around me. These forces guided me, step-by-step, in exactly what to do and when.
I spent much of my time that day with my father, encouraging him to go to the light that is reported as a guiding beacon by those who have had near-death experiences. I urged him to look for relatives and friends who had dies, and to trust that he would be guided and protected. I also kept reassuring him that we, his family, would be all right and that we were giving him permission to go. That was incredibly difficult because there was a part of me that, quite naturally, did not want him to leave, that wanted him to miraculously recover and jump out of bed and start anew. I sensed with each passing moment, however, that he had chosen death and that I must honor his choice
As I held his hand, memorizing it for the future, I watched his face change and contort and I was mystified and awed. What could have been horrible and grotesque became fascinating. I knew I was watching transformation before my eyes. I knew through the expressions of struggle and pain on my father's face that I had never really known who he was until those moments of incredible and sweet richness. I could experience all of this because I had made a choice to move into a different mode of perceiving and responding. Had I chosen the more typically human and spent my time crying and feeling the pangs of loss, I might have missed this opportunity to serve him and thus to enhance my spiritual growth and awareness.
I remembered that somewhere I had read about a breathing technique one can do with others when they are in stress or trauma. I began breathing along with my father, letting him set the pace. After a short while, his breathing became less labored, although I heard what I assumed was the well-known "death rattle.” I sensed that he had gone into coma to tune out distractions and focus his full attention on the transition. The rattling sound was like that of an engine revving up...or like sounds made by mother and child during the birthing process.
The last few minutes of my father's life were most dramatic. I had taken a break and gone outside. I lay, exhausted, under a tree in order to replenish myself with earth energy. I heard what I thought was a call from a bird in the branches above me. It was not a typical bird call, however. It was the whistle my father used when he wanted to get our attention. I realized later that the whistle was a signal that he was leaving very soon. I got up immediately and went to his room.
The absence in me of terror, repulsion or inability to act was due to the strong intention that I kept. I was determined to be of service to him and to maintain my strength and courage. Even as my father's physical form began deteriorating before my eyes, I saw great beauty and mystery in that process and I took care to memorize how he looked -- his hands typically well-manicured, his day's growth of beard, his right eye partially open, his slacked jaw.
I learned that death, like birth, takes tremendous energy and concentration. The death midwife assists the dying by focusing energies with which the person can leave the body completely, just as a booster rocket helps a missile get clear of the earth's gravitational pull. This gives energy to the dying for "liftoff." The departing Soul then has power and direction to deliver it to the light. As I "midwifed" and directed energy through my hands into my father's body in his last moments, I noticed that it was icy cold at the feet and progressively became hotter nearer the heart. I wondered if the heart was a generator from which the "liftoff" could be facilitated. I became aware of a smoky swirl above his head and sensed it to be the Soul on its exit from the body. As I saw it rise and then detach, I knew the body was dead and my father had gone on to the next dimension. I knew from my readings in near-death experiences that he would be floating above, perhaps not realizing what had happened. I looked up, waved and said, "Good-by, Daddy, go to the light." I raised both my arms heavenward and said prayers which asked that his journey be a good one.
The next morning, stressed to the limit, I meditated with the intention of energizing myself for the duties that confronted me that day. Startled, I heard the words, "Listen to this message!" I sense that presence of a man dressed in white, who informed me that my father was with him and others and was being taken care of. The man explained that while my father was still not quite aware of what had happened, he was not in any distress. The being said that my father would be taken through an indoctrination, which would teach him about his new environment as soon as he was healed of the effect that death has on the energy field. Then I was informed that my father would be contacting me to teach me things I needed to know in my work as a Shamanic teacher. This excited and comforted me. I then became aware of a shadowy, filmy presence -- it was my father trying to put something round, like a coin, into my hand. The guide said he wasn't at full energy so it was difficult to make a physical contact yet. About a year and a half later, I realized the coin was a symbolic gesture for the value that I would come to gain from the experience.
Two days later, I had a dream in which I was shown a beautiful and celestial, snowy-white university building. I was given time to get a vivid picture and was then "flown" rapidly down a side corridor. I knew this was where my father was. One of his greatest disappointments in life was that he never had time to attend a university. I was moved that now he had achieved this goal. The importance of this dream would not become apparent until a year later, when I attended a Shamanic Death and Dying workshop presented by Michael Harner where I learned that the after-death experience of attending some sort of school is a common one.
On the morning of the funeral, I envisioned the proceedings from my father's perspective. I was high above, and saw a casket with a body in it. The accompanying feelings were ones of curiosity and mild perplexity. The body looked slightly familiar. I imagined that my father might be asking something like, "How can I be in two places at once?"
I observed that death polarizes people into two basic camps -- in the first, friends and acquaintances would either avoid me or they would make self-conscious remarks of condolence. In the second were those who had dealt with death consciously and they were able to nurture me unconditionally. They helped me tremendously due to their ease and acceptance of death -- they were even able to joke with me about it and this was welcome and appreciated. The polarization phenomenon is much like the grade school experiment where pepper is shaken into a bowl of water and then, when a drop of detergent is added, the pepper particles all race to the edges of the bowl. There are very few people who, at the mention of death, don't race away.
Before the funeral, I experienced exhaustion. I also felt somber, angry and irritated at everything and everyone. I remembered that I had found solace in the past by singing Native American chants, so I sang and my energy returned. I was enabled then to recognize, thanks to the quick view I had of my father's embalmed hands in the viewing room of the mortuary, that the body was only a container. The waxen effigy was not my father, particularly in the way the mortician had molded him to look. This also reminded me of the importance of remembering my father as he was in life and in dying so I would not turn him into a saint. To do so would be a denial that his meaningful death had ever occurred...that he had never grimaced in pain and exhaustion, that he had never made mistakes in life, that he had never been human.
Days later, benumbed and not able to accept totally the fact that I'd never see him again in this lifetime, I began to talk with him in meditation about my feelings. I told him I missed him and had always missed him because of our mutual inability to bridge the gap of emotion shared but not expressed. I soon felt his presence around me and knew his death was a gift to me and that I eventually would come to understand why and how. I sensed that, although he couldn't give me the closeness I needed in life, he could now communicate with me without the earthly constraints. He indicated that what the being in white told me the day after his death was true -- that he would begin to teach and influence me in ways that would enhance my work as a Shamanic counselor. I began to understand why many creative people dedicate their works of art to deceased loved ones -- not because they are clinging to some unreal memory, but because they are using the effect that death has on them to create new and regenerative life. When I cried and patted my father's crypt stone after the funeral, I made a vow not to let his death be in vain. I took the challenge to move past limitations and to ingest life in huge gulps. Death had ripped me open so I could accept life passionately and with a hunger, no longer needing to know reasons before I could do so.
Feelings of guilt are common after the death of a loved one and I also had to deal with these feelings. I wondered whether a ritual I performed months before my father's death had caused him to die. The ritual's purpose was to help me disconnect from parental ties -- a particularly difficult piece of work. Since I have used ritual quite significantly and successfully in the past, I wanted to create one that would help me to become more independent and self-identified. Now, the question was whether my ritual could have been so powerfully literal that it disconnected me from one of my parents through death. This was a devastating possibility and I began to ask for guidance. My answer came through a loving friends, who posed the possibility that perhaps my ritual not only helped me to effect the desired changes, but that it had also assisted my father in making the final detachment from life that began with the onset of his cancer, and enable him to die easier and more freely, knowing that I had already released him.
Not long after he died, I received a phone call in the middle of the night, and a voice which sounded as if it were coming through a long, hollow tube said, "Noosh? Noosh? Noosh?" and then the line was disconnected. In my groggy state, I thought it was a wrong number, but in the morning I awoke with the startling realization that the voice was my father's and he was using his Polish nickname for me -- Nanoosh.
The phone call was the beginning of many communications I've had with my father since he died. Most of them have come through dreams, but I have also heard his voice counseling me and I have been aware of his presence in meditation.
For the first few weeks, the purpose of his presence in dreams was clearly to establish contact. He would appear and merely say "Hi" or would be checking up on my mother and sister, telling me things to tell them.
After these "practice" contacts, my experiences in non-ordinary realms increased with frequency and quality. They have assisted me in becoming more open and able to receive information from a variety of sources. Since he died, I have learned much from my father, but also from others from other realities as well. They have taught me that experience is created merely by our setting an intention or believing in something strongly enough to give it the energy needed for manifestation. My father has taken me into his world and demonstrated the way things look and feel to the touch. He told me that he experiences things there as similar to the earth reality -- but better. As he guided me to touch various things, I realized that the memory of touch creates an experience in the otherworld that seems similar or the same as touch on earth. However, things in other realities have different densities. Therefore, when I touched the objects, they were much "lighter" than what I am used to -- as if I could put my hand through them. He has encouraged me to keep going, to never give up. And he has shown me, through successive interactions in which I could see his physical form becoming healthier and younger and his emotions flowing freely and uninhibited, how death is a healing force.
Just before awakening one morning, I was aware of my father's presence over my shoulder. He seemed excited and whispered in my ear several times, "What is it you've always wanted to do?" Before I had time to reply , his presence dissolved but left with me the distinct impression that he was going to assist me in whatever it was I had always wanted to do in life. After several weeks of pondering the answer to his question, I realized that there was no single answer because I had always been interested in several things: psychology, Shamanism, death and dying, art, ethnic music, anthropology, and writing. I wondered at the time how he could assist me in all these seemingly diverse areas. As my professional work became more alive and active, however, I began to integrate all of them. I began to realize that the common bond within all areas was my lifelong interest in the mysterious, the unseen and the non-ordinary. Not surprising then, is the assistance I now receive from other realities. And since I now believe that life is created in response to my perceptions and attitudes, by letting go of cherished beliefs -- even for just a moment in time -- I can experience a greater reality than I ever thought imaginable.
During the year after his death I was almost constantly and intensely aware of my father's presence and sensed strongly he was there to support me and tell me he was pleased with my work and my life. I thanked him for being so influential in my writing. I got the sense he had evolved and asked him why he chose to be so unconscious in this lifetime. He said it was for several reasons: one, he was as passive as he was to show me gentleness and to help me become strong, and two, he couldn't display evolved behavior around my mother because she would "drift away." He couldn't explain this but implied it was something I couldn't understand until later. He corrected a lifelong, erroneous belief I had held, based on my mother's having told me I was her child and my sister was my father's. My father told me it was just the opposite: I was his daughter and my sister was my mother's. He said he knew I had a difficult childhood and it was necessary not to intervene and rescue me else I would not have had the motivation to do what I am now doing.
For the first six months after his death, I felt at peace, although I wondered why I wasn't grieving in the typical fashion. I was to wonder about this, until I experienced a delayed mourning reaction, also known as post-traumatic stress syndrome. I became drained and ill, though not with any illness anyone could clinically diagnose. My eyes had no life in them and I feared for my mental stability. My dreams during this period swung from plunges into nightmarish battles with entities who tore my body and belief systems apart to ecstatic experiences of rushing energy and splendorous visions. I became concerned about where my Soul had gone. How could I continue to live if it had exited. My father's death had thrown me into my own death state -- only this was actually a death of old ways and attitudes that kept me from being myself and from doing what I was born to do. All of my defenses were torn away as well as my reasons for not living my life to the fullest and in integrity.
"There is a crack between the two worlds, the world of the diableros and the world of living men. There is a place where the two worlds overlap. The crack is there. It opens and closes like a door in the wind. To get there a man must exercise his will....The man by himself must ponder and wish up to a moment in which his body is ready to undergo the journey. That moment is announced by prolonged shaking of the limbs and violent vomiting. The man usually cannot sleep or eat, and wanes away. When the convulsions do not stop the man is ready to go, and the crack between the worlds appears right in front of his eyes, like a monumental door, a crack that goes up and down. When the crack opens the man has to slide through it. It is hard to see on the other side of the boundary. It is windy, like a sandstorm. The wind whirls around....A strong-willed man journeys shortly. An undecided, weak man journeys long and precariously. After this journey the man arrives at a sort of plateau....On top of that plateau is the entrance to that other world. And there stands a skin that separates the two worlds; dead men go through it without a noise, but we have to break it with an outcry. The wind gathers strength, the same unruly wind that blows on the plateau. When the wind has gathered enough force, the man has to be inflexible, too, so that he can fight the wind. All he needs is a gentle shove; he does not need to be blown to the ends of the other world. Once on the other side, the man will have to wander around. His good fortune would be to find a helper nearby -- not too far from the entrance. The man has to ask him for help. In his own words he has to ask the helper to teach him and make him a diablero. When the helper agrees, he kills the man on the spot, and while he is dead he teaches him." Carlos Casteneda, The Teachings of Don Juan, Pocket Books, New York, 1974, p. 185-186.
When a person is in the process of dying, the senses begin to fade and all energies focus in the mind. Similarly, during the period of physical life, if a person denies and turns off the senses in favor of what seems to be the mind, and in fact, is merely a combination of intellect and ego, that person begins to die. She may even appear as one of the living dead because the senses are repressed to a degree that matches the death process.
Probably one of the most profound catalysts for growth and personal evolution is the challenge that death presents us. We hold the fear of death within us all of our lives and rarely in this Western society are we taught how to deal with it in ways that help us to live well. Other societies have, through their ages-old death rituals and ceremonies, engendered attitudes of acceptance, reverence and respect for the experience of death. But we avoid it in conversation, in thought, in dreams, and even at the moment it presents itself in waking reality. When someone we know dies, we are faced with our own mortality. And, generally, this fills us with fear.
And we are afraid of death because we have very little understanding of what potentials it holds for growth and wholeness. When we glean understanding, such as in an experience like the one described, we are lead from the fear-avoidance pattern to one of an enlightened acceptance of death as another, and profound, stage of life. I, like many others, had always avoided the subject of death but, by walking into the face of it, my life has been radically, dramatically and positively changed for the better. The research that has been done by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Raymond Moody, Steven Levine and others in recent years regarding death and the near-death experience has served to educate those of us who desire to understand what death holds and to be prepared for it. In this article, I share my personal experience of assisting a loved one through the process of dying in the hope that it will uniquely prepare the reader for the death of others as well as her/his own.
Interestingly, the October 1, 1987 Los Angeles earthquake occurred during the same period of time that I was experiencing the belated grief reaction. When the earthquake began shaking my home, my emotional state was amplified and I was terrified of dying. I thought my whole world was coming to an end. What I didn't know then was that my world as I had always know it was indeed ending. My life would never be the same again.
Where an initiate's Soul goes during this intense and wracking experience, I cannot say, except I sense that, in my case at least, it led me into and later, out of my fear of death. As I sought my Soul, I blindly groped in the dark and fell into the pit that held that fear. In panic, I looked too anything that might help me get my bearings. The feelings of disorientation were great and I feared I would never come back to any kind of balance. I consulted the Tarot, which had reliably shown me the meaning of many situations in the past, and I drew one card: the Hanged Man. In this case, this card represents a surrendering to death and resurrection as the Soul leaves the body and then returns. The personality is torn away and a higher power takes over. In the card, the man is pictured hanging upside down, attached to the tree by a snake, a symbol of wisdom, and energy rushes to his head, stimulating greater awareness. In his limited and precarious position, his only task is that of fighting for his life. In his struggle, all of his old realities drop away and he moves into a state of non-ordinary reality where anything is possible and freedom and enlightenment reside. The lines between life and death blur and, if the initiation is successful, the initiate realizes that death is a part of life. He then realizes the importance of living life fully and with passion. Admiral Kirk, in the film, Star Trek III, explains why he risked his life and reputation to repopulate the earth with the then extinct whales: "Had I not tried, the cost would have been my Soul." And whether we resonate to inspiration from modern-day myth or from ancient sources of wisdom such as the Tarot, the Grail myths or the Bhagavad-Gita, the challenge to face death as a vehicle for enlightened living is implicit. I now believe that the fears of death that we carry are far more related to the fear of the death of aspects of ourselves that we fiercely hang onto. These fears are exactly like the fear of death because facing a new way of being without the old to buoy us up feels like annihilation.
In Shamanic philosophy, the experience of being ripped apart and put back together again is essential in the Shaman's development as a compassionate and insightful healer-caregiver. For those who are not drawn toward the healing professions, such an experience offers the opportunity to let go of old ways and transform consciousness. The person is healed emotionally, physically and spiritual because it thrown her into defenselessness and acute openness for the changes that will occur. She cannot direct what happens. Perhaps for the first time in life, forces other than the ego are in full control and direct an initiation into expanded awareness. Oriental philosophy for instance, counsels that the best defense is none at all. By facing the greatest enemy without sword or shield, the victory is won. The initiate cannot direct what happens. Perhaps for the first time in life, forces other than the ego are in full control and direct an initiation into expanded awareness.
During this hellish few weeks, my father's presence continued to visit me in meditation and dreams, sometimes merely to check up on me, and other times to show me what the other side is like. He showed me similarities and differences in life and the afterlife and how perception and attitude affect experience.
As my initiation eased and I moved back into ordinary reality, I realized that I had been permanently changed since my experience of being "hung upside down" and turned inside out. As I look back on it now, I am grateful. And I have become fascinated with the relationship of life and death.
I have made meditative journeys to the realms that exist after death and have learned that those who die either with an understanding of the death process or with the assistance of a midwife do not get "stuck" in what has been referred to as the "middleworld," "purgatory," or by some as the "astral" level of awareness. Perhaps those who are not prepared or guided drift for years after dying, lost in that middle realm, and unable to move on in their Soul's progression. The Shaman-midwife may move into this world to find the lost Soul and guide it into the light.
In explorations of the "upperworld," the higher realms of awareness to which departed Souls may go in their evolutionary progression, it becomes difficult for my human mind and ego to understand and accept experiences there. Energies work in unfamiliar ways, things look different, sound is strange, the physical is diffuse and disorienting to the mind. There is nothingness. There is light yet no light, sound but no sound. I feel insignificant and am moved to review values and priorities. My ego is afraid of not existing. Simultaneously, inner wisdom laughs at such concerns. I know from these experiences that death is not what I previously feared and I am open to new perceptions about life.
The young hero in Karate Kid II tells his master teacher that he always doubted the value of his contribution to his father's life until he helped him die. By offering me the same opportunity, my father gave me a gift, too. He gave me the gift of life.
Shamanic Retrieval in the Middleworld
A close friend of mine died over twenty years ago, and I recently journeyed to the middle world to see if he was there. (Generally, a Shamanic journey includes some kind of sonic driving, such as constant drumming or rattling. This sound allows the person journeying to release ordinary awareness and move into non-ordinary reality. This non-ordinary reality is referred to as either the "lowerworld," the "middleworld," or the "upperworld," depending upon the purpose of the journey.) In this particular journey, I was dismayed to find that my friend was "stuck" in the middleworld. After all the time that had transpired since his death, I expected to discover him in realms other than this. On this journey, I took my power animal (an archetypal symbol for power and protection), Coyote, with me since I have a healthy respect for what can happen to someone who goes unprotected into this middle realm. I have been "bitten" and grabbed at while traveling unprotected there and didn't care to repeat the experience, nor bring anything harmful or bothersome back with me. My friend was disoriented and not coherent, zombie-like. So Coyote and I told him about his death. He still seemed not to understand. I sensed that he needed to see the event of his car crash and death. So we took him to the location and replayed the entire scene for him several times until he began to understand. He became more visibly solid. I asked him where he'd like to go, if there was someone who was deceased and who he'd like to be with. He said he'd like to be with "Mimi," a pet name for his beloved grandmother. (I had forgotten this nickname for over 30 years and I was moved to tears when I heard it because I knew how much she meant to my friend. This was also the proof my intellect would need to accept the experience as significant and real.) Coyote and I took him to the upperworld and were satisfied when he was welcomed by Mimi as well as a being in white. Although my purpose was to help a friend, I realized it was healing for me as well. Twenty-four years ago, he had phoned me in an emotional state, asking for my help with a serious problem. I was irritable and refused to assist him. A few weeks later, I saw his photo in a newspaper obituary listing. I carried the guilt of my refusal to help for this long time. The guilt was lifted at the moment I saw him enfolded in Mimi's arms.
I feel strongly that the ones who have been prepared for death or assisted in crossing over from the earth plane to the next reality are ones who do not get "stuck" in what has been referred to as the "middleworld," "purgatory," or by some as the "astral" level of awareness. With someone to guide us through the dying process, we gain the needed confidence and energy to make the transition. Perhaps those not prepared or guided may drift for years after death, lost in the level mentioned above. This is where the Shaman-midwife moves into this middle world to find the lost Soul and guide it to the light. In that realm, I've experienced the atmosphere as sticky and heavy, and filled with energies and entities that pull and suck energy, and who are clearly "lost." These are those who "haunt" houses where they previously lived because they believe they still live there. This realm also seems to contain a great deal of emotion due to feelings of disorientation and despair. Souls here generally do not know they are dead. They may attach themselves to living relatives and physical structures. They are no different than most of us. In an emotional state it is hard to let go an anything that provides security. Additionally, they tend to grab onto anything or anyone who comes their way and who is not aware of the necessity to be protected while traveling through this realm. (An interesting description of this phenomenon can be found in Robert Monroe's book, Journeys Out of the Body. ) Therefore, it is essential for anyone doing Shamanic journeying in or through this realm to go prepared. I have found the best preparation to be strong intention-setting about the purpose of the journey. Additionally, I use a Shamanic technique which employs an imaged ally, called a "power animal," who has great strength and therefore can do things that the journeyer may believe herself incapable of doing alone. This power animal can also serve as a guide into realms, ideas, and perceptions ordinarily unknown to the journeyer. Thus, the problem at hand may be resolved by the journeyer's being presented with new insights.
As I have explored various regions of the upperworld, as higher realms are called in Shamanic tradition, it has become more difficult for my human mind and ego to understand and accept my experiences there. Energies work in unfamiliar ways, things look different, sound is strange, the physical is diffuse and disorienting to the mind. In these realities, I've experienced nothingness, where there is light yet no light, sound but no sound. I feel quite insignificant and have been move to review my values and priorities. My ego is afraid of not existing. At the same time, an inner wisdom seems to laugh at such concerns and look forward to future encounters there. Even if it means encountering my own death. Aside from my ego's fears of annihilation, I no longer think of dying as a horrible and traumatic event to be avoided as long as possible. It's what we're most afraid of that will heal us. This absence of my previous ideas and prejudices regarding death has opened me to new perceptions about life.