by Sylvia Farley  (1)

(Some of my writing is very personal and this is more so than most - but I decided you have the right to know where I am coming from - and why.)

I have an erratic memory and have to discipline myself to make associations to remember. Now I am carefully researching exactly what did occur some 20 years ago. Fortunately, I have always kept a diary, since I was about 7 years old. But I have often been disconcerted to find that things of lasting importance were never mentioned at the time whilst other things that seemed of importance then have been forgotten since.

So there was very little mention of the Near Death Experience (NDE) in my diary at the time, although I remember writing a detailed account on separate pages which I tucked into it, and also writing a poem. (I often expanded things on extra pages as there is so little room in a 5-year diary. Now I use full-page journals.) However, over the years, many of these little wads of extra pages have been misplaced.

The only things I can find to substantiate the story are accounts of my hospitalisation - from June 2 - to July 1 1981 at Tameside General Hospital (was it then still Ashton General?) Ashton-U-Lyne, Lancs.), and a bastardisation of the poem which I used later as an illustration of birth and death.

At any rate, before my operation (a hysterectomy and pelvic floor repair, complicated by spinal neural pathology) I had had a number of confused dreams and nightmares and one very clear and shocking out-of-body (OOB) experience. I was in great pain, utterly exhausted and had actually written a poem welcoming death as a lover!

In the first experience, the morning before the operation on June 11th, I had awakened from pain to find myself sitting beside my own body on the bed, appalled by how old and ill I looked. The shock was enough to "snap" me back into my body, where I felt very cold, shivery and nauseus.

For two days after the operation I was confused, delirious and unable to pass water. But on June 16th I had got up and had a shower, ate a kipper for breakfast and felt clear-headed and much better. By afternoon I was in terrible pain, sick and weepy with clawing pains in my bladder and back and legs like molten lead. I dragged myself to the bathroom and ran a hot bath. I was helped back to bed by an angry but sympathetic nurse who cut a tight stitch that had been causing problems, releasing some pus. She then ran off 2,000ccs of urine by catheter and simultaneously, something burst!

I felt a flood of warmth and relief and floated up on it until I found myself up in the top left corner of the ceiling, looking down as nurses and doctors scurried to put screens around my bed and bent over me saying things like "Her blood pressure is dropping fast." " A hot bath, you say... oh, the silly girl..." "Yes, I thought there was a haematoma" " You should never release more than 400c.c. at a time...." and "I think we've lost her."

I was not worried. It was as impersonal as looking down on a rag doll or an anthill which had been disturbed.

Then I felt myself drawn away into a kind of tunnel with a bright light at the end. The light was warm, golden and welcoming and I melted into it, as if i were being enfolded into a loving embrace. A voice that was not a voice said "It's all right. It's all over. You're home now..." but it was not words, more a presence in my mind.

I felt utterly accepted, totally loved. Words come to mind like transcendent, effulgent, - words I would never normally dream of using, but there are no others to describe the wonderful feeling that was like a more intense version of the times in life that I have felt particularly enriched - the birth of my daughter, a fulfilling achievement, a loving relationship.

Then there was impression of another figure. - If the one holding me was a golden youth, his head bent to mine, then the other was a black monk, arms up-raised. He held out his hands and his voice boomed in my head, "No, go back. It is not time."

Again I "snapped" back into a body which was as alien and un-welcoming as a dead fish. I was shivering so hard the whole bed was shaking. I felt cold, sick, deathly ill and could not stop crying. I did not want to be here.

Although I loved my children, enjoyed my job and was happy with my husband and my home, they were on a different plane, one I had left, and I had no desire to come back.

I felt as if I had experienced the ultimate rejection, the worst possible betrayal.

So how has it affected my life for the last 21 years?

It has had a pervasive effect, not at all what I should have expected - no immediate changes, but it ratified a long process of growth in an unworldly direction.

My basic attitudes have changed tremendously, but the outward signs have been gradual and only with hind-sight can I see how far I have diverged from the "norm".

I will never again fear death. When my daughter and other friends have faced radical surgery I have been able to tell them that they have nothing to fear until they begin to feel the love, and then they will have nothing to fear...

Similarly, I was able to talk to my son about his fears when he was serving in the Gulf War.

My attitude towards money and material security has changed from prudence, frugality and the Protestant work ethic, to a much less controlling "laissez faire". "It's only money." "Let go and let God." "If it's meant to be, it will happen." "If it means so much to someone else, let them have it."

I now firmly believe that you cannot give anything away. It all returns, and more. If you live in this intuitive world of eternal supply, whatever is necessary is provided and ways are found to achieve the impossible as long as you heed the promptings of the spirit.

Of course, being human, I often have problems and struggle to impose my own order, until get slapped down, stop trying to lead and simply let things happen. I say I have to be brought to my knees to remember to pray.

From time to time, I am reminded of the unity of all things and the uniqueness of the individual. I have developed my own philosophy, psychology and world-view. But it no longer matters to me who is recognised for doing what, as long as the job is done.

Before I retired, this helped tremendously in my work and now it enables me to add my contribution to lots of things that are happening in the world. It even helps in my relationship with my mother, who has Alzheimer's. If I send her a bunch of flowers, it is invariably attributed to my brother. But since my objective was to give her pleasure, it has achieved its purpose.

I have moments of great joy when I suddenly find myself inside the skin of a coloured friend, admiring the beauty of my shapely brown hands, or feel part of an escarpment, my chalk bones bursting through a wiry matting of straining grass roots. I am the delicate blue light at the heart of a crocus, the scented, waxy goblet of a pink peony.

But I can also be intensely aware of my body, my emotions and the miracle that is myself.

In my counselling work, I use the archetypes of Jung, the sub-personalities of Assagioli and techniques of intuitive art and psycho-drama to demonstrate the inter-linked nature of the ego observer, the interchangeable personal masks behind which one can act, and the outer links to the rest of humanity, the world and "the vast unmind."

I use the same mind-set to pray, to open myself to receive inspiration for art, writing and problem-solving and to control my body.

I have learned to control pain, to alter my body temperature, nerve responses and blood-pressure at will, to influence events by "positive thinking" and "remembered wellness," to meditate and visualise to enable myself to do things that I could never achieve alone.

I can help others by channelling this energy to them, by returning love for hate, by immersing myself in their reality so that I understand who they are and can better help them to see themselves. And I need to allow myself to recognise the truth of my knowledge and act on it instead of trying to rationalise away disquieting thoughts. Whenever I neglect these warnings, it is to my cost.

Conversely, I am vulnerable to negativity and must avoid the trap of allowing myself to potentiate harmful energies by brooding, resentment or retaliation.

Spiritually, I have ceased to believe in any one church. I still touch base with my own chosen milieu, the LDS, from time to time, but also chant with Baptists, sing carols with Methodists, love and respect Hindus, Muslims and Bah'ai and recognise the power of spirit in many places permeated with love and service: churches, temples, mosques and synagogues alike. I feel that all love is of God, whatever we conceive Him to be, and all fear and hate is Thanatos, death and despair, the enemy of life. Life and love are one.

At the time of my NDE, I was not an active church member. I was not a particularly admirable person. I was a "sinner" and often an unrepentant one. But the love and acceptance I received was total, for me, as I was. I can offer no less. I am a part of it all and the people I find the most distasteful are still a part of me. Just as I split off former "murdered selves" and do not wish to be associated with them, so that they acquire power to take me by surprise and sabotage my best intentions, so by alienating myself from my brothers, I leave them to fester in dark corners, whence they can leap out and ambush me and the rest of our world.

We cannot afford to do this.

For me, now, other people, especially children, are the most rewarding aspect of life. I cannot exist without loving links and nothing is more important than responding to the needs of others. But it must be honest, forthright, raw and without pretence. Anything less is such a waste of time.

So I no longer dress up the truth and pretend to be something I am not. I pick my nose. (Not in front of other people - I have no desire to shock, but I admit to doing it in private). I have taken lovers for all the wrong reasons. I have an appalling memory. I am sometimes unreasonable, often lazy and could bathe more often than I do. By admitting these things, I claim membership of the human race. I am just an ordinary, neurotic mess like most other middle-aged women. But I am centred in the mess, know its weakness and its strengths and in the same way I am centred in the world. I do not ignore cruelty, greed and deceit flourishing in an age that confuses merit with marketability. I can understand the fear that drives them. But I have been privileged to see that this fear is groundless, whilst fettered by the realisation that this is not a gift I can pass on.

As a counsellor I can question, reflect, encourage and proffer my knowledge and experience. But what anyone else does with it is up to them.


(1) This was originally published in the You Are Unique website in February 2002,  Sylvia Farley