A Story About Dying

It is not often that you get to die. I tasted death once. It was excruciatingly beautiful. The taste of death turned me inside out, the vast emptiness of my existence laid bare. All vestiges of my small self dissolved into absolute darkness. Ground zero, the void.

Honestly I was expecting to see the light. I expected to be visited by divine beings who would hold me and reassure me that everything was going to be okay. That didn’t happen. Instead I was present in an ocean of vast darkness that pervaded everything and the darkness was utterly intoxicating. A black opium spilled through me, drowned all impressions of my identity ’til there was no ‘I’ left in this sea of nothingness.

Death is so difficult to describe because it is the opposite of life. What we describe in this world has weight, form and substance. There is gravitas in this world. In death this is absent. Death is far more real than this world, yet there is also nothing familiar about it. Death seemed to have consumed the world, my life, my humanity, my form and turned them inside out. An upside-down realm where form has turned into its opposite which is a strange nothingness. Here all things that I was familiar with were their opposite, antithesis. As full as life can be with all the things that capture our attention, that fill our world, the air we breathe, the light we see, the people and places and natural space in which we exist, the opposite of this is an emptiness that is simply not anything. What was more strange was that this state was the absolute perfect antidote to life. Viewed from the perspective of death, life was only suffering. Yes, death was the perfect antidote to life, supremely sweet, the centre of existence. The closest to ever being truly alive was actually to die. It takes everything that you know and turns it inside out. Suddenly even life is out of one’s reach, no longer our familiar friend that is always a breath away.

There is a certain madness to death too. Its intoxicating poison dissolves the mind and fragile identity of the small self. This dark magic steals the grounding pegs that tether our identity, its potency instantly dissolving us into the fabric of emptiness. This is terrifying. With no identity to cling to there is just the bareness of the soul swimming in the vast ocean of nothingness.

I had an unnerving experience in this realm. It shook me, literally. In this black void an old woman approached me, chattering about my fate. She held up my essence in a glass jar and studied it, then shook the jar violently and watched it settle. Then she said to a partner in the shadows that there was still something I had to achieve in the world and she tossed me back. At this moment I re-entered my body with a sharp needle delivering a shot of pure adrenaline into my bloodstream. My son was holding the syringe, his hands trembling, tears in his eyes.

My allergy emergency kit brought me back to life. I was still swimming in this other place though, in an ocean of unity, but very quickly my self reassembled in an instant and returned to this world that is no longer real.

The difference between these two worlds is that there is an aliveness and fullness to death beyond this world we call life.

For days afterwards I was forced by an inner compulsion to go into seclusion. I could not stand to be in this world. I only wanted to go back to that place that had felt so supremely alive. One part of me felt like it was still present in that world. The hands of the goddess of death still holding me there. I was still not entirely released from that place. It felt like I was being reborn into this world, bit by bit reassembled here, squeezed from a place that was infinite into a tight and finite body. So I made a place for myself outside our home in the garden cottage, I created a sanctuary, a halfway house between this world and the next, a temple where I burned frankincense and listened endlessly to Ludovico Einaudi piano. My world was pieced together bit by bit in that place as I was reborn into the world again. But this identity, ‘Steve’, was so frail and so malleable. The self still rested so palpably in that other place.

What followed this experience was a few weeks of what can only be described as equal parts bliss and pain. The bliss came from nature, the forest came alive and spoke to me. It was not as though I was observing nature any more, but it was alive inside me and spoke to me from a seamless wholeness of connection. And then something strange happened: I started speaking to flowers. Everywhere I looked there were blossoms and fragrances and the flowers, leaves and forest spoke to me in a way that was palpable and alive. I crafted flower mandalas from the blossoms and leaves. These mandalas were like messages from this other realm, they were like lessons in love that were being given in the form of a mandala. The world I occupied was saturated in love, dripping in a divine nectar that consumed me completely like a lover. I discovered a language of love, a conversation with the heart of Nature through the flowers. Her colours and fragrances sang of this other place, each mandala a blessed conversation with Her. Love notes everywhere.

Then there was the birdsong. I became aware of the birdsong at dawn and I woke up before the first birds started to sing and prayed whilst their dawn chorus erupted. Our forest home is a sanctuary for birds, our house, called ‘Birdsong’ came alive with its name and the birds and I greeted the dawn together. Then I wept and wept until I could not weep any more. Tears of what, I do not know, but they were cathartic and they were purifying. They cleansed me and left me raw and open.

The finale of this divine performance from the other side happened when a giant kingfisher flew past me and landed in a tree. It turned back to look at me and spoke the most beautiful secret I dare not repeat to another soul, but captured the moment in a poem. And then death finally let me go and normality returned to my world. I was not the same again after this. The rigour of a work life helped me retain my sense of normality. Perhaps one day when I am old and resting in a chair all day long I will not return from such a journey.

Tear everything away from me
so that all that remains
is Love

Take it all!
Nothing that I created
can compare with one sweet drop
of your dark Love

I want you, Beloved
to crucify this old self, 
cut it up into a million pieces
and feed it to the Earth
my Beloved Mother

Leave nothing of me behind
but a sweet scent 
that someone one day may recognise
as the presence of Love
pure and Yours

Just take it all!
There is nothing left here
for my sentimentality
I would die as it is anyway
without Love

I am ready for death
I know that it is but
the sweetest belonging
a return to that
which is everything

So take me
I don’t care for any of this

Unless, Beloved
I can die here
whilst still alive
and have the chance 
to share this deepest of Love
into the heart of the Earth

Then my decision to stay
will have been one
that serves You

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