‘What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.’ Colette
***image1***In late 2002, a shaman by the name of Ross Heaven helped me to die. With about 14 others in his shamanic workshop, he directed me on a ‘journey’ to meet Death and to die. For those unfamiliar with shamanic journeying, this involves lying down, closing your eyes and directing your consciousness by a drumbeat to either the lower, upper or middle worlds. You can then access information or obtain healing from the entities you meet on these ‘journeys’. Much like advanced meditation or creative visualisation, it is a magical process and one that I have found to be physically beneficial and spiritually uplifting. It is the closest I have come to ‘playtime’ as an adult. While there can be serious and even, at times, dangerous elements to journeying in this way, the sheer breadth of experience you can obtain makes it the most powerful tool for spiritual transformation I have encountered to date.
On this particular journey I found myself in the bluest of skies, with fluffy white clouds above and nothing but more blue sky and white clouds beneath me. As Ross directed us toward meeting Death, I saw a black man with dreadlocks and laughing eyes and sunshine glistening on every pore, approach me. He came up to me and hugged me and asked me how I was. I felt a great warmth emanate from this being and I, in turn, felt a great surge of affection for him. Then Ross asked us to look back and see all the people that had been important to us in this life: parents, siblings, partners, children (anyone and everyone who had been important) and to say goodbye to them. He stressed the importance of really thinking about what we’d say if it really were the last time that we were seeing our loved ones. What regrets did we have? Who would we apologise to? Who would we forgive?
I thought long and hard but I could only think of telling everyone I had known how much I loved them. I had no regrets. There is something very different between saying you have no regrets and knowing it. I felt as though I really could die tomorrow and it would be fine because I had lived well. I had led the life I had intended to. As I didn’t have much regretting to do in the exercise, I spent the time talking to Death, who assured me that my mobile was still on even though I was certain I had switched it off. After the exercise, I checked and Death, as he’s wont to be, was right. It was on.
***image2***This experience was extremely liberating for me. I could now see what lay ahead and I had made a pretty good inventory of what had happened so far. Although I had emerged somewhat smugly from the workshop, crowing about how I had no regrets, I found myself in floods of tears a few nights later as I remembered something that I had erased from my memory many years before. At the age of about seven or eight, one of my best friends had been a boy named Anthony who lived next door to us. We did everything together. We went to the park and climbed trees, arguing about who could climb the highest. We had picnics consisting of warm squash and cheese sandwiches that my mother had made for us. We collected conkers and passed notes on string between my bedroom window and his (both looked out onto the graveyard where we would often spook each other with ghost stories). We were, in short, the best of friends.
As we grew older, I started to notice that friends from school would tease Anthony and I with silly taunts about him being my boyfriend. I don’t know if you remember what that painfully awkward age is like but to be accused of having a boyfriend at age eight was akin to some unspeakable horror. I immediately stopped ‘coming out to play’ with Anthony. One day I was walking to the local shops and Anthony was outside kicking a football against the wall. He saw me emerge and ran down the road after me.
‘How come you don’t come out to play no more?’ he asked, with genuine concern in his voice.
‘I’ve just been really busy,’ I lied. Both he and I knew that there wasn’t an awful lot that an eight-year-old could be busy doing. It took me a long time to forget the sorrowful look on his face as he said to me: ‘So you’re not my friend any more?’
No amount of denying it to Anthony could have made the lie a truth. I was no longer his friend because I didn’t like the uncomfortable feeling of taunts from children not yet mature enough to understand the concept of platonic friendships between boys and girls. It seems like such a small thing to feel guilty or upset about but here I was, twenty years later, bawling like a baby because I was haunted by the look on Anthony’s face when he realised I’d never come out to play again. No regrets, indeed! There were a host of other such incidents, some small and some big, that came bubbling up out of my psyche in the days that followed. I bitterly complained to Ross Heaven about the can of worms he’d opened up with his do-gooding, head-screwing, bloody workshop. He smiled the smile of one who’s seen it all before.
What all this emotional angst taught me was that none of us are perfect, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves of the contrary. I don’t know what problems (if any) you are currently facing, I don’t know which demons you harbour or how many skeletons there are rattling in your closet. What I do know is that we have all done things that we’re ashamed of and we’ve all experienced emotions such as guilt or fear or embarrassment. This is part of the human condition and there is no shame in it. You have to be prepared to get humble and live with your faults, maybe even fix one or two of them occasionally.
***image3***I hope you will start on the path toward living the life you want to live but I need you to know that there is no miracle pill. You cannot do it with self-help porn. If you’re unfamiliar with the saying, ‘self-help porn’ is when you read self-help books and articles from the viewpoint of a voyeur and you never make the leap into applying anything. I know from whence I speak because I behave in that way with cleaning websites and decluttering books. I have about 20 such books cluttering up my bookshelf and adding to the mess on my shelves. I like reading them because it gives me an image of the way that life could be if I were a tidy person but it is in direct opposition to the reality of how I live my life.
Books will only take you part of the way there. You need to apply the techniques and methods you find in literature. A wonderful book I read recently is Romancing the Ordinary by Sarah Ban Breathnach. It is filled to the brim with recipes and things to do to gain greater happiness. Until I actually tried a few of the recipes, this book was just another book. Now it is a companion and will be thumbed through whenever I need my spirit lifted. As editor of Prediction, a mind, body, spirit magazine, I receive hundreds of books each year to review in the magazine. I know how many books there are that tell you what to do to have a better life. I have read a vast number of them. The thing that most of the good ones have in common are practical advice on how to cope with negative emotions and what to do to promote positive emotions. Yet even this is not always the best approach to take.
I prefer the Buddhist way of sitting with negative emotions until they pass and not try to make them go away immediately due to the discomfort of feeling them. Human experience is such that negative emotions and events occur as often as positive ones. It is the ebb and flow of life and to reject one out of fear is a terribly dangerous thing to do. It leads to imbalance and much more heartache than is necessary.
Remember that living well is not about being perfect or perpetually on a high. Living well is knowing that when Death comes knocking, you’ll just turn back to blow a kiss to your loved ones and will walk away arm in arm with the Not-So-Grim Reaper, knowing that you have no regrets and that you knew happiness.
For further information on Tania and her work, visit www.taniaahsan.com