by Dr. Alberto Villoldo: When the mind starts to busy itself crafting a story about how we’ve been wronged, or
daydreaming about what our lives could be like if we could only find the right person or situation, we need to quiet it. We do this through the practice of “no-mind. Fear of death — whether death of the body, a way of thinking, a relationship, a situation, or a dream — must be experienced fully and consciously, and then overcome in order for new, healthy growth to take place. We master our fear of death when we understand that our nature is transtemporal (outside of time) and undying, continuing for all eternity.
Our understanding of our eternal nature cannot be merely an intellectual one. It must be a visceral awareness, a knowing at a cellular level. In many preagricultural societies, there is a rite of initiation to foster this awareness, a symbolic encounter with death in which the initiate experiences the seamless continuity of life beyond physical existence. Whether or not you consciously invite death in a rite of initiation, mastering the fear of death is immensely liberating.
In the West, we no longer remember how to die with grace and dignity. We shuttle the dying off to hospitals where extraordinary measures are taken to prolong life. Families do not know how to come to closure with the passing of a loved one. Many people die in fear, with unresolved issues, not having said “I love you” and “I forgive you,” words that would be so healing for them and their families. We have tried to make death invisible, thinking that if we ignore it for long enough, it will go away.
Death is the ultimate journey of liberation. When neural activity ceases and the brain shuts down an extraordinary phenomenon occurs, a portal opens between dimensions, enabling the dying person to enter into the world of Spirit. When a person has unfinished business in this world, they are unable to step easily through this portal, so it is important that we complete our unfinished business and be prepared to enter infinity. We need to take the steps to journey home as cleanly as possible. The great death rites practiced by the shamanic traditions provide specific steps to bring reconciliation and healing both to the loved ones and to the person dying.
“Dying consciously” means to maintain consciousness intact through the journey of death and beyond. Its purpose is to assist the person who is making the journey beyond death to do so in a peaceful manner, full of light.
When we help someone pass, we help them recapitulate, to tell their life story. We guide them through a path of emotional release to achieve lightness. To the Toltecs, the practice of recapitulation is so important, they treated it as one of the core disciplines of the shamanic training. They used the practice of recapitulation as initiation before someone becomes a shaman, to note which events still have power over them, so they can bring that power back to themselves.
We know that death can come for us at any time. But we don’t need to wait to be on our deathbed to begin this process. We can begin now so that these people or events no longer have power over us. To begin this process, ask yourself:
Was your life a complete success?
If you answer “No,” ask yourself the main reason your life was not a total success, and write it down. Now write down four other reasons.
Next, turn those reasons into wishes.
For my life to have been a total success, I wish I’d__________________.
Finally, name all those to whom you owe an apology, a thank you or an I love you.
And now, take action, blow the reasons your life wasn’t a complete success and your wishes into a stick or death arrow and take them to a fire to release them and free yourself to die consciously. Take time now to make your apologies, thank you’s and I love you’s today.