A Means of Living Life More Fully
The writing of this feature is sadly timely for me as,
right now I am mourning the very recent death of my
father. He died just three weeks ago of a very sudden,
unexpected heart attack. One moment he was there, alive,
watching the news and shaking his fist at the television
(in his usual way) about the latest atrocity; the next
he was dead. I was away, staying with a friend in the
city and heard the news late at night. There was no way
I could get back that night so I lay in a strange bed,
sobbing my eyes out. Then, suddenly and assuredly, I
could feel his presence. "Hey, little lady, don’t
cry. Shush now, don’t cry. It’s alright, it’s
alright." I could hear his voice in my head and
almost feel his arms around me. Now I’m not a psychic
person and I don’t do clairvoyance or anything of that
ilk, but sure as night follows day, my father was
comforting me. And that memory still makes me cry (with
a kind of sad-joy) right now as I write this.
Being asked to write this feature by Valerie was a
wonderful opportunity for me to think about our
attitudes to death. My own feeling is that we tend to
live our lives trying to ignore death, to push it away,
to pretend it won’t happen - at least not to us. Yet
the unpalatable and inescapable truth is that we all die
- every single one of us. Our attempts to shy away from
death would be comic if they weren’t so tragic. I
remember interviewing a bunch of people who firmly
believed that they were immortal, that they alone would
never die. They were delightful people, full of vigor
and verve - they were also in the prime of life. A few
years later I bumped into one of them by accident and
inquired after one of his co-immortalists.
"Ah," said the man, "um, er, he died. Car
accident." It was sad but it was also blackly
humorous - of course he died. He shouldn’t have died
so soon but it was a delusion to imagine he could dodge
death. A delusion based on fear. So why are we so
frightened of death?
I think our fears come about because we think of
ourselves in terms of our egos, our personality. Most of
us spend our lives bolstering our egos, surrounding
ourselves with symbols of security and status - we build
a comfort cocoon to block away anything unpleasant or
unsavory. We keep ourselves busy, frenetically busy
(whether that involves working like crazy or vegging out
in front of a television) - we will do almost anything
to avoid thinking about life and, more importantly death
and what awaits us there. We are scared of losing our
friends, our families, our pets, our homes, our standing
in life. The fear comes about because we have not
grasped that as energy beings we are not separate from
life or death - we are not ego-bound individuals
struggling on our own; we are part of the whole, the
universal energy source.
People who have had near-death experiences see
lights, hear sounds, feel themselves uplifted, filled
with transcendent energy, pulled towards a source of
power and light and energy. Ancient traditions such as
the Egyptian, Indian and Tibetan all talk of the various
energy bodies which are released in death, allowing the
soul finally to escape its material shackles and become
pure energy once more. When we die we ascend the Tree of
Life, becoming purer and purer energy as we leave behind
our material shell.
The paradoxical point about death is that it can make
life so much better. If you decide not to shy away from
death but spend time working with the idea of death, you
can invest your life with all the energy which would
otherwise have been wasted in locking away your fear.
Again and again you hear about people who find out they
only have a matter of months, or even weeks, to live.
Instead of rolling over and sinking into depression,
they decide they will make the most of this last time.
Many discover wonderful truths about themselves: they
uncover huge reserves of strength, power, character.
Some find amazing routes to healing and don’t even die
then at all. But all say that the thought of dying
focuses the spirit like nothing else. Of course you don’t
have to wait until the doctor gives you the bad news -
you could start right now….
A YEAR TO LIVE
This exercise is incredibly powerful. Even if you
find it distasteful, do try to put aside some time to
consider the following.
- Imagine you only had one year left to live. How
would you spend that year? What would you do? What would
be most important? What would not be important?
- Would you give up your work or change your job?
- Who would you see more of; who would you see less
- Write letters to all those people you love and
cherish. Tell them how important they have been to you.
Tell them what you appreciate about them. Maybe you
should send these letters - now, before it’s too late.
- Consider those people you don’t get on with. Are
there any people you hold grudges against, anyone you
have an ongoing feud with? Do you want to take this
negative energy with you when you die? If not, now’s
the time to put things to right. Again, a letter might
be best - write down your feelings. Be honest but fair.
Try to understand their point of view. Can you clear
this karmic debt?
- Who could you help in this last year? Who could
benefit from your time, your energy, your money? Why not
try to help them now?
- Review your life. Is there anything you regret not
doing? Anything you always wanted to do? Why not think
about doing it now?
- Did you make any mistakes? Could you put them right?
If not, let them go, don’t waste energy on them. If
there’s something that could be done, why put it off?
You see, death focuses the mind like almost nothing
else. What would you do if you had only a month to live?
A week to live? A day to live? An hour to live? Why not
live every day as if it were your last? Use death energy
to create life - live consciously, enjoy every moment,
don’t have regrets. Try not to put things off
indefinitely. I’m not suggesting we all go out on a
giant shopping spree, or pack up work or ditch a
relationship. But I am suggesting you think about what
is really important. Don’t imagine you have limitless
time. My dad kept talking about what he would do when he
"had time" – the books he wanted to read,
the music he wanted to listen to, the places he wanted
to visit, the gym he was going to go to, the family and
friends he was going to see. He never did those things.
Do it now, don’t let it fester. Before you know it you
might be old and bitter, regretting a lifetime of wasted
We all have pretty much the same fears. The only
difference is how we face them. If we shy away from
them, they grab the opportunity to grow, huge and
faceless in our subconscious. If we face them bravely
and squarely, they can be a stepping stone to huge
growth. Spend five minutes a day solidly facing your
- Start with your small everyday fears. Observe your
fears, watch them - figure out that many of them are
unnecessary or mere indulgences.
- Now move onto the big fears. What is your greatest
fear? What is the worst thing that you could imagine
happening to you?
- Why would it be so awful? See if you can reduce your
fears down to manageable proportions. Most come down to
fear of lack of security (losing possessions, home,
job); lack of love (losing dear ones, not having
relationships), lack of face (making a fool of yourself,
- The key is to remember the ebb and flow of energy.
We are energetic beings living in an energetic world.
When people die they do not really leave us; they are
just no longer in their physical, gross, material
bodies. We cannot reach out and hug them bodily but they
can still touch our hearts. If you lost everything,
would it be so awful? The universe might have some new
lesson for you. Many people who lose everything find
that, in retrospect, it can be a huge push towards
growth. Generally there IS a reason for everything in
My favorite quote regarding death comes from Stephen
Levine, author of Who Dies? and A Year to Live
(both highly recommended). Levine worked with terminally
ill patients for over twenty years. He says, "Of
course, the reason that some part of us denies that it
will die is because it never does….the reason
something within feels immortal is because it is."
From an eastern viewpoint the concept of death simply
doesn’t exist. We just move from one state of being to
another; from one kind of energy to a different kind.
While I was writing about death in my book The
Energy Secret (Element) I had another sad piece of
synchronicity. I had to stop writing my chapter on death
(from which this feature is mainly extracted) to take my
cat, Bear, to the vet. The vet confirmed that she had
total renal failure and that the only kind thing to do
was to put her to sleep. We agreed and I held her,
stroking her and talking to her as he administered the
injection. What stunned me was that I knew the very
second she died. One moment she was Bear, inhabiting her
body; the next "Bear" just wasn’t there any
more. The body had become a shell. Her vital energy, her
spirit, had departed.
It made me remember my first cat, Pip, who lived to
the ripe old age of eighteen. He died when I was about
seven and my mother tried to accustom me to not having
him around by saying he was ill and staying at the vet.
That night I heard a scratching at my bedroom window. I
opened the window and there was Pip. I stroked him and
cuddled him but he wouldn’t come in the house so I
went to sleep with the window open. Years later my
mother told me she remembered asking me why I had the
window wide open in the middle of winter. When I told
her about Pip she couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t
have come to visit me because he was dead. Even had it
been another cat, she reasoned, how did it climb a sheer
wall to a first-floor window? Surely to comfort and
reassure the child he loved? Now, all those years later,
my father did pretty much the same thing. Rest assured
there is an energy that survives death.
WHERE WERE YOU BEFORE YOU WERE BORN?
If the idea of death still frightens you, think about
this question. Who were you before you were born? Where
were you? Look into a small baby’s eyes and there is
usually something strange and knowing in them - if only
they could tell us what they have seen, from where they
have come. We’ve all been through birth: we survived!
We came from somewhere into this body, this life - and
we will depart from this body, this life back to that
place. The mystery is that we cannot remember - although
some people reckon they have been given an insight. The
form of therapy known as rebirthing takes you, through a
specific breathing exercise, back to the original birth
process. Many people find they can go back further
still, to the point of conception. I wouldn’t
recommend anyone use the rebirthing breathing on their
own - you should see a qualified therapist. But you
might find you can achieve similar results with this
- Find a place where you won’t be disturbed and
where you can be comfortable and warm. Lie down and
relax your body, checking each part - from top of your
head to your toes (not forgetting the shoulders, jaw,
hands and all those places you know you collect
tension!) is relaxed.
- Focus on your breath, just watching it for a few
minutes. Notice how gradually it becomes slower and
calmer, slower and deeper. Start breathing into your
solar plexus and notice how that feels. As you breathe
in, know you are taking in new life and energy. As you
breathe out, allow yourself to let go of all your fear -
imagine your fears dispersing like leaves in the wind.
- When you feel quite relaxed and are breathing slowly
and deeply, start to go back through your life. Review
where you are now - what you are doing, who you are
with, how you feel. Then slowly scroll back through your
adult life - don’t dwell or judge; just review.
- Take yourself back to your teenage years. Then to
your childhood. What do you remember? What was
important? Can you recall your first day at school?
Where was your first home? How far back can you
- When you reach as far back as you can, start to
imagine. Imagine yourself as a toddler, as a baby. If
you have seen photographs, put yourself into them.
Pretend you remember.
- You are lying in your pram. Now go back further
still. You are being born. You are being pushed down
through the birth canal, squeezed and pressed into life.
You emerge into the world and open your mouth to breathe
- and scream! Stay with this for a while - how does it
- Now go back further. You are in the womb, warm,
enclosed, surrounded by the gentle waters of the
amniotic fluid. You hear your mother’s heartbeat above
you, the gurgling of her stomach, the sway of her walk.
As you float you can remember all manner of things - you
can easily go back still further to a time when you were
not even in physical form.
- You are in the other place. How does it feel? How do
you feel? Spend some time just being in this pure energy
form. Feel the freedom.
- Now remember why you decided to come back to earth,
to a physical form. From a distance you see your
parents-to-be. What made you choose them? What lessons
did you all need to learn? Your parentage was no
accident - it was a conscious decision. So why did you
make it? Stay with this thought for some time - it may
give you some very valuable insights.
- When you feel you have learned all you can, slowly
bring your awareness back to your breath. Become aware
of the room around you - your body lying on the floor.
Hear the sounds around you. Gently open your eyes. Lie
still for a few moments then slowly get up and stamp
your feet. You may want to have a warm drink and a
biscuit to ground you completely. Record your
experiences in your journal.
Realizing that you decided to be born, that
you decided on your parents and your situation in life,
can be very liberating. Once again we have to realize
that we are in control of our own lives, our own
destinies. We have to take responsibility. Seemingly
terrible things may have happened to us but at some
level we decided to go through these experiences. We
wanted to learn. What lessons are you here to learn?
Will you ensure they are learned before you die or will
you miss the opportunity?
THE DARK PATH
Many spiritual teachings advise that we
"practice" dying, that we walk many times the
path we will take when we die. So that the soul, when
confronted with death, is not unprepared but
automatically follows the process. There are various
techniques and rituals but I like to use a Qabalistic
pathworking based on the work of Dolores
Ashcroft-Nowicki (whose books are all really worth
buying). This path takes the temple of Malkuth as its
starting point and descends to the realm of Hades, Lord
of the Underworld. Although it sounds dark and gloomy it
is in fact, once again, a wonderful chance for growth
and self-knowledge. It is a form of initiation into the
mysteries of Life and Death - we need to be able to
plumb our own depths to be able to enjoy our own
heights. We need to understand that we are all part of a
natural rhythm, that our energy pulses to a universal
pattern. This pathworking teaches us that in order to
discover new life we have to discard the old. We have to
search for the light in the darkest of places.
There is also another purpose for this ritual. I like
to take this journey when anyone I know dies. By doing
so, you can take the opportunity to talk with them, to
finish any "unfinished business". You can also
help them make the transition to their new life - if
they become stuck, as some people do, in fear and
trepidation. It is also a great service to perform this
ritual if there has been a disaster in which a lot of
people died suddenly and unexpectedly. Many such souls
feel lost and become "stuck" in the shadows.
You can help them move across.
Are you ready? Let’s take a visit to the underworld…..
- We start in the Temple of Malkuth. Spend some time
imagining a beautiful temple, with black and white floor
tiles and stained glass windows around the walls. Ahead
of you are two pillars, one ebony and one silver. In the
centre of the temple is an altar, made of two cubes of
wood. On it rests an earthenware bowl with ears of wheat
in it. Also a wide bronze bowl with a pile of silver
coins. Above it hangs a blue lamp with a light glowing
within. Greet Sandalphon, the tall, sombre archangel and
guardian of this temple and approach the altar. Take a
handful of the coins and put them in the deep pocket of
- Between the pillars you see the tarot card of The
World stretched like a curtain. As you watch, the
curtain becomes three-dimensional; the colors swirl and
you walk forwards into it and through it. You find
yourself in a beautiful landscape and walk across fields
of swaying corn, dotted with poppies and cornflowers.
Birds are singing and the sun shines brightly. The whole
world seems beautiful and part of you yearns to sit and
enjoy the bounty of the natural world, then to return
home. But you see ahead of you the familiar range of
mountains, and you know that, once again, your quest
leads you there.
- You come to a fast-flowing stream over which lie
stepping stones, leading to a dark cave. As you walk
into the shadow of the rocks, you feel a chill run over
your body but you continue bravely. You step into the
cave and it seems as though all the light and warmth of
the world has vanished.
- At the back of the cave is one small lamp. A voice
speaks out from the gloom; it is Hecate, the crone, the
wise woman. She asks you why you have come and you tell
her that you wish to descend to the kingdom of
Persephone and Hades. She points to a small opening at
the back of the cave and gives you the lamp to guide
- You squeeze through the opening and find yourself in
a small tunnel running steeply downwards. The walls
close in around you and you feel quite claustrophobic.
As you follow the path, you can feel the living rock
around you, pressing in against you, almost squeezing
you, as if you were being born. The path is difficult:
sometimes you have to crawl along, sometimes squeeze
through narrow stretches. But finally the path opens out
and you find yourself in a vast cavern, lit by
- The ground beneath your feet is fine sand and you
realize you are standing on the shore of a great river.
On the edge of the river is a boat and by it stands
Charon, the ferryman of the dead. Around him throng the
souls of the dead, those who cannot make the crossing.
You pause and see if there is anyone here you know. If
so, you can talk to them and resolve any unfinished
business. When you feel content, say your farewells and
give them one of your silver coins so they can cross the
- If there isn’t anyone you know you should pass out
your coins to the others. Bless them and send them on
their way back to the source of all energy. Keep back
two coins for yourself. Hand one to Charon and get in
his boat. Slowly he rows across the river and you get
out the other side.
- Before you stand gates which swing open as you
approach. In a great hall there are two thrones on which
sit Hades and Persephone, Lord and Lady of the
Underworld. You walk forwards until you stand before the
couple and look into their eyes. Surprisingly they are
not stern or terrifying but kind and laughing. You
realize they are not just the King and Queen of the Dead
but the Lord and Lady of Rebirth. They welcome you with
- Hades leads you to a mirror and asks you to look
into it. Within its depths you see your true self, as it
was before you took bodily form and as it will be after
your relinquish your body. What do you see? What is your
true essence? As you look you realize that beyond our
looks, our personality, our hopes and fears, our
possessions, lies the real us - a timeless,
deathless, energetic essence.
- Persephone steps forward and embraces you warmly.
You feel your real essence shine through as your body
seems to disappear and you and she feel as if you were
floating up and up, towards the stars. Then you seem to
become the stars themselves. You shimmer with energy,
with joy, with love and a pure sense of bliss.
- Gently she breathes on your face and tells you that
it is not yet time to become a being of pure energy, to
rejoin the source of all Love and Light. Softly she
carries you down again to the great hall and bids you
farewell for now.
- Smiling, you take your leave and retrace your steps.
Charon accepts your other silver coin and takes you back
across the lake. You promise the souls waiting that you
will return with more coins for them. This time you find
your way back to the cave very swiftly and easily.
Hecate takes the lamp and smiles gently. You look into
her eyes and can no longer tell if she is a very old
woman or just a young girl.
- As you walk out of the cave your eyes blink to
adjust to the sudden light. All around you the world
seems very beautiful and you resolve to enjoy your life,
and make the most of what is left of it. Before you
stand two trees and between them is the tarot card
curtain of The World, as before. You step through it and
back to the Temple of Malkuth.
- Sandalphon greets you and you spend a few moments
sharing your experience with him and giving thanks. He
reminds you that you should walk this path often - for
yourself but also for the lost souls who have forgotten
their connection to the Source.
Read more of Jane Alexander’s work
on her website: www.janealexander.org
Copyright © 2002 Jane
Alexander. All Rights Reserved.
Jane Alexander is a UK-based writer on natural health, holistic living and
contemporary spirituality. She has written sixteen
books on holistic (and soulful) living, including the
bestselling Spirit of the Home (Thorsons), The
Energy Secret (Element) and The Five Minute
Healer (Simon & Schuster). Her website, www.janealexander.org
is full of tips for living soulfully.