"There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth." —Jalaluddin

Yes... and I've tried a lot of them. Now that the surgeon has forbidden me to kneel and it's nearly impossible to rise again without help, I confine myself to kissing trees and flowers and other higher things. But if I happen to accidentally find myself down there, a kiss is always in order. —Jessica

I should probably warn you that this is going to be a long post, possibly with a lot of explanations along the way.

Recently, I've been reading and watching videos to update myself on the research into death and dying. Scientific researchers have collected so much more data than I realized about the process leading up to actual, permanent death. As a healer who has worked with quite a number of dying people, understanding this process has always seemed important to me. There are now a number of stages and experiences that are expected in this process. As I read and listened, it started to make more sense of something that had happened to me. The following are few of my notes on the process researchers have found, and they are combined with descriptions of my own experience to help clarify it for myself. Writing things down helps clarify them in my mind.

Premonitions and Foreseeing

The first thing that happens in the near death experience — sometimes, but not always — is a premonition of approaching death. This may come any time from hours to months before death comes. In this case, for me, it wasn't so clear as it is for many people. But then, in the end, obviously, I didn't die. Another reason my process wasn't typical may have been cultural, and I'll try to explain how I think that might be relevant as I go along.

The first thing that happened was that I went to get an astrology reading for my 55th birthday. It was my custom then to get two readings around my birthday in October, one astrology and one more like spiritual counseling. I liked to find someone reputed to be really good for these reading, preferably someone who knew nothing about me. In this case I found a good astrologer and we sat in her office going over my charts — a natal horoscope, a solar return chart, and a progressed chart. This many years later, I don't remember much of what she told me except one thing. She said several times (with emphasis) that I really needed to take this year off work. She said it quite adamantly. I couldn't afford to do so, but I did agree to do what I could to take more time off, to rest more, to not push myself so hard. I turned out to be not very good at it although I tried. Perhaps things would have been different if I had taken the time off.

One of the things I had wanted guidance for from the astrologer was my work. For the last year or two there had been a feeling that it was time to make a radical change, and I couldn't see why that should be needed or which direction I might need to go. What I was doing — healing, counseling, and teaching — was very satisfying and rewarding. It even seemed to be something that the world needed. But it also seemed, in a way, to be too easy, too predictable — not challenging enough, not teaching me enough even though it was still demanding and often physically and emotionally exhausting work. But there never seemed to be time to think about this or about finding a new path — there was just a push in the back of my mind that it was time for a change. However, being "needed" was apparently addictive.

A Training Program

Sometime around then I also started having a series of almost-repeating dreams. In the dreams, a middle-aged native american man and an older native american woman were trying to teach me to stop the wind. Sometime one, sometimes the other, occasionally both would stand me at the edge of a ravine about five feet deep with large rounded rocks in the bottom. They stood me with my back to the ravine and then showed me how to stop the wind. They demonstrate by doing so, which didn't seem all that helpful. One or the other would stand beside me, set their feet so they were well-balanced on the ground, face the wind, relax, casually raise both hands as you might if you were wordlessly telling someone to stop — and the wind would promptly cease.

They then indicated that I was to do the same. Very few words were ever exchanged. So I'd stand there and try to be more balanced, more grounded, more determined and focused, and sooner or later, over I went, blown into the ravine. It hurt. They'd help me climb back out, dust me off, pat me on the shoulder, and I'd wake up exhausted and sore.

These dreams were spread out, sometime a few days apart, sometimes a few weeks between. I seemed to be making little or no progress, but when I said so, they always responded by saying I was doing well, I'd get it yet, and we'd keep trying until I did. Somehow, even when I woke up exhausted, I was resigned to this and never argued with them. I am not always so amiable, but it felt as if this was something inevitable, something I must learn no matter how I felt about it.

Eventually, after a few months, I finally got it and stopped the wind. I can't describe what I did and won't even try to do so. Like spiritual healing, this "stopping the wind" is not something you do, but something you are. It's kind of a wu wei thing — actionless doing — a way you hold yourself while allowing energy/action/force to effortlessly flow through — or not. Once I'd got it, and they'd shown their approval, I woke up, feeling both relieved and triumphant. I'd done it — and that dream and those people never returned.

Now, as far as memory serves, I have never dreamed about Native Americans before or since. Most of my dreams at that time were of Scottish things, magical or mundane. Though I was born in Oklahoma on my grandparents farm in what had not too long ago been Indian Territory, I have minimal knowledge of their culture. I may always wonder, "Why them?" But I think I know now why I was given that training — the "Why that?" of it all. No... that's wrong. I don't really know why — I only know the effect it had a few months later.

Time Off

Remembering the words of the astrologer, and trying to be better about taking time off, I found it difficult to say "No" to people who wanted help. However, late in the spring I began arranging to take six weeks off in the summer. All of my clients had ample warning and were give the phone numbers of people they could call if they had urgent needs for counseling or healing. No classes were scheduled. My plan was to spend three weeks winding down while catching up on paper work in a leisurely way and then three weeks having a holiday. I lived in one of the most beautiful and magical places in the world, and my intention was to mostly sleep at home and take as many days out as I wanted, roving the countryside but not being gone more than a day or two at a time — picnics, a little camping stove in the back of the car, pub lunches, long walks, sitting on hilltops, meditating in stone circles and ancient churches, doing all the things there was seldom time and energy for. I didn't get to do any of that.

The first morning of my six weeks, I woke up totally exhausted, fed the cats, and went back to bed. It was a two-story house and getting down to the kitchen and back up the stairs seemed to take a very long time, bumping into doorways and walls. I finally got back upstairs, breathless, and collapsed onto my bed, where the cats and I had a long nap. When I woke up again, I felt even worse. I called a friend in London, Elzabeth, the best psychic diagnostician I know, who told me firmly that I wasn't just tired, I was exhausted! Further, she said, I had pneumonia and had probably been walking around for with it for months. I was to go to bed and stay there.

That agreed with my own inclination. At that point in my life, I hadn't seen a doctor for years. Hadn't been sick enough to need one. The best thing, I felt certain, was to just go to bed and get over anything that was wrong, which rarely took more than a day or two. I already knew that most antibiotics just gave me nasty "side-effects" without helping much, pain meds made me really ill, and I rarely responded as expected to any conventional medication — I had (still have) a knack for finding side effects no one had ever heard of before. I attributed my general state of wellness to daily meditation and self-healing energy work as well as my practice in healing and spiritual counseling others. Luckily, I had scheduled my six week break and could just go to bed, rest, and get well and still have holiday time left. At least, that was my plan.

Without my knowledge, other things were happening. Elsabeth, as we had agreed she would, called a few of my close friends to let them know I needed distant healing, and they phoned a few others, who... well, word went around much more widely than I would have expected. This flood of healing energy may well explain why I felt like I was floating above my bed rather than resting upon it. Mostly, I was either napping or dozing, halfway in or all the way out. The only time I felt awake and present was when someone was there with me. Much of the time I seemed to be waiting in a wide doorway.

The Gate & the Wind that Blows between the Stars

The doorway was a very peaceful place to be — except for the persistent wind that blew. It didn't blow hard or fast, but like the current of a deep, wide river it never stopped. I was almost sitting on a wide marble slab, floating just an inch or two above it. (At the same time, I felt as if I were sometimes floating above my bed, not touching it either.) The marble floor was part of an arch or gateway. I don't know if there were walls or not — just a marble pillar on each side of me, forming a wide passage. There seemed to be things, sometimes whispering, flowing through the gateway around me and into the brightly-lit thick mist on the other side.

Near the beginning of all this, just before Eileen arrived, I heard a Voice I'd heard before. This was a Presence that had come at other times, usually in dreams — but not normal dreams. It always gave me loving and powerful guidance. This time, as usual most lovingly, it started out by telling me that I was going to die of pneumonia. This didn't seem to upset me at all. My only response was that then I'd better find homes for my cats quickly. But the Voice said, "Oh, no! Not now. Sometime between two and about thirty years, depending on how well you take care of yourself." I mumbled in confusion that it seemed that I didn't know how to take care of myself. The Voice said firmly, "Don't worry about that! We'll help!" And then the Presence vanished.

So I knew that I was supposed to stay put, floating, not resisting, but not moving either. It was up to me to maintain a state where the wind didn't move me, but that seemed very easy to do. Worrying wasn't a part of this, just wondering — and it wasn't exciting or much of anything else, just peacefully resting there day and night, though night only seemed to happen in my bedroom, not in the gateway where there was always bright light coming from the other side. It seems odd to me that I can remember all of this in such detail, as if it were a week ago instead of decades.

Visitors — Helpers and... um... Some Other Helpers

Early on, about the third day of this, Eileen came up from Cornwall to look after me. I wasn't interested at all in food but we found that warm turkey broth went down nicely at first. She answered the phone, looked after the cats, and did a great deal of hands-on healing. While Eileen was there, Elaine came once or twice to sort out our plans for a Mind, Body, Spirit Expo at which I was supposed to be present in a couple of months. There were few other visitors — I lived quite far out in the country, though I worked mainly in Glasgow. But, as the days went on, there were other visitors, who seemed to be more or less local people, if they were "people" at all.

Sitting at the Gate, Talking to the Other Side

Later on, while sitting in Death's gateway, waiting peacefully for whatever future was coming, I had another interesting discussion with the Voice, who seemed to be just on the other side of the gateway, unseen in the bright mist there. He asked me, "So, what have you learned about yourself? How have you grown?"

(I'm saying "he", but it was neither him nor her. Nor does that Voice have any accent. I had heard this Voice several times in preceeding years, and it had taken me awhile to understand that Voices like that are not made with sound waves, but pure thought. My own thoughts are neither so disciplined nor so orderly. Mine are not perfect sentences nor perfectly grammatical. So in these rare conversations like this one, the Voice is absolutely clear and I sound a bit muddled to myself.)

I already, long ago, had had a "mystical experience" that had shown me beyond all doubt that the multiverse is all one thing, all one being, that the idea of separation is just an illusion we have at certain states of consciousness, certain levels of development. I knew that the all one thing was the bedrock of being, and that what I really wanted to be was to be a healing presence in the world. Now, waiting there in the gateway, I was secure in absolute love and cradled in peace, resting a continual flow of healing energy, which seemed to be all that I'd needed. So we had no need to talk about that or for me to experience it again. Once done, it always stays with you and gradually changes your behavior. It takes a long time to develop the character strength to always do what you know you should, and I'm still blundering and learning that.

However, I didn't expect this specific question that the Voice had just asked. He didn't seem interested in reviewing my life or in how much good or harm I'd done to others or myself — just in what I'd learned. It brought me up short, and I fumbled around a lot trying to answer. Fortunately, the Voice seemed to know what I didn't and was able to help me articulate some of what I'd learned. Even then, in my fuzzy pneumoniac state, I realized that this review was for my sake, not his and meant to help me focus as I lived on.

Mulling this over later while I was recovering from all this, it made sense. What we do to others (and ourselves) is based on our understanding of them (and us). The more clearly we see, the more appropriately we will respond. And the more we have learned about our own fears and glitches and about the connection and human spirit we all share, the more compassionate we become. After I got better and more back into the normal world, thinking about this did clear up a lot of questions in my mind regarding the purpose of life. It gave me a simple yardstick to measure myself by — have I learned anything about living compassionately today? Was there a better way I could have handled anything?

Of course, this isn't at all about learning facts and figures. It's more a kind of learning that we might call "wisdom" rather than "knowledge". It's about learning why we do certain things in ways that are harmful for ourselves or others. Once we understand the underlying attitudes and beliefs, we have a better chance of changing them. On the other hand, the more we discover the benefits of behaving with compassion and kindness and understanding, the happier we and others are as we put this into practice.

It seems to boil down to: The fewer inner conflicts we have, the less traumatized by life we are, more bedrock-deep joyful we are, the better we behave in the world. We go from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. Simple to understand, but tricky to carry out.

The Other Visitors

During that time I had visitors who came to help me in other ways. In my normal health I'd have found them quite unusual and exciting, but in that illness they seemed perfectly normal and natural. Nowadays such helpers are well know to common in the near death research literature, and it's also usual for them to be calmly accepted as friends and kin by those they visit.

One of mine was an elderly woman, very small, maybe a bit more than four feet tall. She was well-wrapped up in a scarf, a heavy woolen shawl, and a long woolen skirt. Now I am thinking "In August?" but at the time I didn't think of that at all. Nothing seemed the least bit strange about any of these visitors. She came quietly into my bedroom, accompanied by an even smaller man, who wore a cloak covered with tiny brownish-gray feathers, like the feathers of a wren. I felt I knew them both but couldn't quite remember who they were just then, but that's another (and longer) story.

She was carefully carrying a cup in both hands. It had something like steam foaming out of it. She told me that it was the medicine I needed and put the cup and its holder in my hands. The cup was very odd and so was the medicine. The cup was a thick bowl, without a handle and rounded on the bottom, which was why it needed the carved wooden holder to hold it upright when one put it down. It was about the size of a teacup. Both the wood and the cup were black with age except for a hint of gold showing through the black around the cup's rim. How long does it take for gold to tarnish that deeply black? It was very heavy — in my weakened state I could hardly hold it up.

I had no idea what was in it and couldn't even see the contents for the steam or smoke or whatever it was coming out of it. It looked like the way dry ice smokes, but it wasn't cold, and and it had a faint herbal odor. It really didn't look drinkable, but she said, "Just drink it down, dear — just knock it right back!" I lifted the cup to my lips and tilted it, not know what to expect, but as it entered my mouth there seemed to be nothing to swallow. Instead, it seemed to diffuse inside, leaving a tingling sensation, a sense of soft light spreading through me along with that unidentifiable scent of something wild and fresh. She took the cup away, and while the old man lifted me up (which seemed to be astonishingly easy for him), the woman fluffed up my pillows and straightened my sheets and blanket. Then he put me gently back in the cool, fresh bed and they left, going out of the bedroom door and softly shutting it behind them.

The other visitor I remember clearly was a very large man. Early one morning while it was still dark, but just before dawn, he opened the bedroom door and came in. He had to bend his head and shoulders and stoop to get through the bedroom doorway. He seemed to be about eight feet tall plus the antlers. He came around to bed to sit on the side next to the window. I felt the mattress sink under his great weight. He, too, was familiar to me — this time from dreams and wild places in the Scottish hills. He said nothing at all, just took my hand and held it silently as we waited through the dawn to full sunrise. Then, as the first direct sunlight shone through the window, he got up, patted my hand, and went back out, closing the door behind him. He came back every morning at the same time for quite a few days. The most of the rest of the time, I just sat above the cool marble floor of the gateway in the mist, restfully waiting.

These people who visited me fit with Scottish legend, though what they did was not typical of the traditional stories. I'd read a lot, and in many cases felt the tales deeply. I'd also spent a lot of time in magical places, meditating, sometimes staying there overnight and dreaming. They stories weren't all sweetness and light, but the feeling of my own encounters (mostly with "faery") were that I was safe and cared for. So it's not surprising that they are the ones who showed up to help and comfort me. Nearly twenty-five years later, when I think of it, I can still feel that "drink" acting inside of me. And I have thought about how the wee hours of the morn up until sunrise are said to be times people are likely to die, and wonder if Himself came to hold my hand then to anchor me in this world?

Turning Around

Somewhere around this time, Eileen had to go home, but it had been arranged that Martina would come up from London and look after the cats and me. Martina was a nurse, an acupuncturist, and a healer, well equipped to look after me. She arrived on the train, and then Eileen went home to Cornwall on the next train south. I'll be forever grateful to both of them. At about this time — I don't remember which came first — something else changed. Sitting in the gateway, I felt something began to gently tug me back to earth, toward my bedroom. It wasn't abrupt — it seemed like the wind gradually stopped pushing me toward the other side, and I, relaxing, slowly began to drift back in response to a gentle tug from earthward. It felt like something had happened or been decided, I never knew what.

You know, I'm going to stop here. I thought that this experience was complete in itself, but it isn't. There is a growing realization that there has been a long thread running through my life and this part is where there was a knot, a tangle, a place where the thread might have broken. It took more people than I'd realized to see that it didn't break. There have been other tangles, not as severe as this, but the thread keeps going on. I've written briefly about some of the memorable bits, and have tried before (unsuccessfully) to write some of the longer, more dramatic parts. Looking back, much of the meaning of the thread is obvious. Looking forward, I have no idea where it is going. I'm not even certain if it has an end or if this thread is the awareness, the living consciousness that eventually will move on to other lives. I'm still learning from the past, trying to untangle the present, attempting to understand what my next "right action" ought to be — the best path to follow — if there is an "ought" or a "should". More likely, there is just a process, just learning, just growing. Looking back, it is surprising to me that so much of this experience is like the current scientific descriptions of the near-death experience, and yet this one seems to have been more about not dying.

Part of me wants to sit on the porch, listening to the whisper of the trees, the singing of the birds, the hum of Earthmama while I watch life going on. Another part of me realizes that I know a lot of useful stuff that might be helpful to some other people, which is what these pages and my other writings are about. Mostly these useful things are not so much actual facts or knowledge, but processes of growing or methods of inquiry. They are things that others might look at and then look at their own personal experience and hopefully find new understanding and wisdom there. Lastly (or at least it seem last at this moment, but almost certainly it isn't), I feel just now that ever since I drifted back from that marble gateway, I've been drawing in a single long, deep breath and I'm finally ready (or almost ready) to begin exhaling that second breath. A second wind. If my previous on-going thing in the world was to be a healing presence, and my first long breath was to do what I could to heal body, mind and spirit both of myself and others, then this second breath may be about integration, deepening the wisdom of myself and hopefully influencing or helping others to move in the same direction. Or it might be something else, like watching flowers and feeding squirrels and birds. Who knows?

There was quite a bit more I could have added to this, but perhaps I'll do some of it later. The first time I tried to write some of the other part, I just couldn't seem to bring myself to tell it as truth, thinking no one would believe it. Indeed, I wasn't certain if was truth or dream. But then when I tried to write it as fantasy fiction, my computer blew up with a bang and black smoke rose out of it. If I try to do it again, I'll want to use an old, expendable computer. And that's a very big "if" — there are a lot of other things that might be more useful to others. — or me. Re-learning is useful too.

References I found both interesting and useful:

An Interview with Peter Fenwick called "At Home With Peter Fenwick"

Peter Fenwick ""Experiences surrounding near-death and dying"

Peter Fenwick "Dying Healed"

Pim Van Lommel 'Consciousness and The Near Death Experience' Interview by Iain McNay — includes much info on non-local consciousness.

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