Death as part of life: the gifts we receive when facing death - Spirit, soul and the sacred in nature - The Wider Web of Life

Shamanism Made Easy: Awaken and Develop the Shamanic Force Within - Christa Mackinnon 2018

Death as part of life: the gifts we receive when facing death
Spirit, soul and the sacred in nature
The Wider Web of Life

Life and death together create what we perceive in a spiritual sense as the whole of life. Every spiritual approach pays attention to death, trying to understand what happens when — and after — the body dies. We cannot talk about the cycle of life — and about shamanism — without addressing these questions. The shaman faces death, embraces it and learns from it.

Unfortunately, the more we separate from the rest of creation, the more we advance scientifically and medically and the more we subscribe to a materialistic world-view, the more we seem to deny and fear death. Fear of dying has, of course, a rightful place in human life. After all, we possess a strong inbuilt survival instinct. The problem lies in our increasing need to avoid the subject of death whilst spending incredible amounts of material resources and personal energy on ’staying young’. When, despite all our efforts, we still have to face old age and dying, we even spend vast resources on keeping ourselves artificially alive. This disowning of ageing and dying, which are part of the natural cycle of all manifest life, keeps us stuck in a restricted body consciousness. It denies us the gifts we receive when we consciously face the fact that we have only a limited time in this body, especially the gifts of developing soul and spirit awareness and expanding our consciousness.

The gifts we receive

I have faced death in various ways. Each experience brought the gift of learning. My first conscious experience of death, which made a lasting impression, happened when I was very young. Looking into the eyes of a dying rabbit, I realized that we were equal on one level: we both wanted to live and we both would die. I learned that death was a great equalizer and this early understanding led to the conviction that all life was indeed precious.

Later, at the House of the Dying in Calcutta, I learned that a ’good and dignified death’ was vitally important. ’Good and dignified’ means, in shamanic terms, to be prepared and ready, with people around us who are catering for our soul’s departure in surroundings that are beneficial to leaving this body. This idea of a good death became even more poignant to me when I worked in northern Uganda as a trauma specialist and was confronted with the indescribable horrors of war and its cruel and traumatic ways of dying.

When my parents died — my father in a dignified way, almost as if he had decided that it was his time, my mother after a heartbreaking period of deterioration, neither ready nor prepared — I began to ask myself whether the fear of death had to be faced.

In my twenties in an ashram in India, I had a frightening dismemberment vision which brought me to the brink of death — or at least that’s how it felt — and much later I went through a near-death experience when my heart failed. Although I survived both, they resulted in the death of parts of my ’I’ as I knew it and in the knowing that there are realities outside our consensus one.

That life is eternal, not necessarily in human form but in a realm of consciousness beyond it, was confirmed to me after participating in shamanic initiations and medicine plant ceremonies. I also know that Bill Plotkin is right when he states, ’You are unlikely to uncover and embody your soul if you are living as if your ego and body are immortal.’6

My own experiences, frightening as some of them were, have given me many gifts. Facing our own mortality is not easy, but it brings to the fore what really matters, forces us to focus and leads us to strive to lead a worthwhile life whilst realizing that life in this body is indeed brief and precious. In this sense, death is a great teacher. My life certainly became more focused as a result of my experiences. I am also more compassionate now, with myself and others. I am more courageous and fear less. I base my choices increasingly on what is meaningful and purposeful, what expands my consciousness and what nourishes my heart and soul, whilst striving for authenticity in the process. Disturbing as the heart failure was, it produced a focused space within which gave me the opportunity to look again at my life and decide what I wanted to let go. I resigned as the course director of a therapy institute, took on less work as a psychologist and focused almost completely on my own spiritual growth and on the shamanic side of my work, which resulted in my first book as well as much writing and teaching about it.

Most importantly though, when we face death, we get to know our soul in the process and we give ourselves the gift of peace, which comes with accepting the cycle of all manifest life, and — so I hope — the gift of dying more whole.