Reviewed by David Lorimer
I am writing this, appropriately, on the 25th anniversary of my father’s death in 1991, just before our annual Mystics and Scientists Conference – the only one I have missed in over 30 years. In one of the many wisdom stories in this book, a sage explains that a happy life is one where grandparents die, then parents, then children. This does not sound too happy to the questioner until the story is reversed where children die first, then parents, then grandparents. The author found herself in this fundamentally challenging position when her only son died of an accidental overdose at the age of 34. It is this sudden loss and its aftermath that breaks her open to love and has resulted in one of the most profound books I know about death and its relationship to love and life. It is also appropriate that I can hear loud music in the distance (I’m writing this outside in the evening sunshine) as her son Tim loved music and parties. Indeed, his friends arranged just such a party on the anniversary of his death.
A central theme running through the book is the paradox of the death of the body, the ending of individual time, with strong evidence for the continuity of consciousness, in this case through a series of extraordinary dream encounters. As Tim died in his sleep, he was evidently unaware of what had happened and therefore deeply confused. Anne goes to see his body after a couple of days then senses his presence in the room and explains to him aloud that he has died. This proves to be a liberating if painful moment as Tim becomes aware of his new possibilities. Her sense of loss is exacerbated by guilt and remorse as her past and the ramifications of her relationship with Tim come back. It turns out that she left him for long periods during his childhood to pursue her own quest for liberation and enlightenment with Osho. This had a fundamental effect on him, as she learns more deeply during an Ayahuasca trip as she berates herself for being a bad mother – this tension is later resolved partly through a process undertaken during Tim’s lifetime, but also in an extraordinary encounter including Tim and Osho where the perfection of the pattern is perceived and understood. Incidentally, Osho had also appeared to her the day after his death and Tim had written a critical book about the community and his mother’s involvement in it.
We live in a culture that tries to control and deny death, even if it is the one certainty in life. Our individualism has fed the ego’s sense of separation and while we project our hopes onto life, we project our fears onto death. Anne sees death as fundamentally an encounter with ourselves and the life we have created – at a deep level this means soul-making, our contribution to the ongoing life process. And death, as Monika Renz points out in her book that I reviewed in the last issue, is the surrender and dismantling of the ego and where, as represented in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, we face our own self-created demons. In her case, Tim’s death dismantled her whole identity and life, so that she literally died to who she was before. The narrative shows just how excruciating this process was, but the alchemical outcome is a rare level of insight into the dynamics of life and death and the way in which the love we create can transcend death, as witnessed in the many powerful encounters with Tim that she recounts. It is also significant that his father, an atheist, has a dream about him where he is faced with a brick wall. One brick is removed, and through it he sees the smiling Tim. He does not believe that this means anything, and Anne encourages him to take the wall down – it is partly that the mind cannot really understand death anyway.
In one encounter with Tim, he remarks that ‘the art of living and dying is to be totally engaged and committed to life while alive and let it all go in an instant when you die. Some are better at the engagement, others at the letting go.’ In another, he explains that he has quite a lot of un-lived life to get through, and, pointing to a collective of young people who died in wars, he says that they are using their unlived life to try and raise people’s awareness of the stupidity and futility of war. He himself is part of a creative group inspiring musicians and writers – and because they have no ego, it does not bother them that no one knows what they are doing. He also uses some of this unlived energy to help his mother through his death, ‘which is not what it seems.’ His consciousness now flows through different life forms – he belongs to the cosmos. Elsewhere, Anne writes that ‘death ends lives but not relationships. Death can be described as a transformation from matter to energy, actuality to potential, time to eternity, form to spirit, existence to oblivion… our relationships to the dead continue but in a new form. I hope this conveys a few nuggets from the wisdom of the book.
Another extraordinary incident is where on another Ayahuasca trip she volunteers to help her brother, who had died of pancreatic cancer. She locates him in a limbo state where part of him is ready to go to the light while the other part is full of unresolved conflict, that he himself is unable to process. She then takes this into her heart, transforms it and liberates him as a result. It is a moving and inspiring episode. In another vision, she sees 12 generations of her Irish family stuck in the grim business of survival and has the experience that she and Tim have also been able to free them. There is a more specific story about unravelling a relationship with her mother, who presents her with a stone heart. Gradually, they both realise that they have been acting out a family drama which they can now resolve.
There is much more I could say about this epic book, but I encourage readers to make their own deep journey through it and reflect on how it applies to each of us. Perhaps one of the most important messages of all is that love is the bridge between the worlds, because when a person dies, our love for them does not. We make the love that makes us and that also creates what is eternal: ‘we become what will redeem us, forgive us our mistakes and give us eternal life.’ So love creates the deathless while death gives life its precious value. And since love is eternal life, it is in the end even more powerful than death. The book is subtitled ‘a modern book of the dead’ and I think it more than lives up to its title with invaluable insights that can be gleaned from it as a guide not only to death, but ultimately to living our lives to the full.
See also www.dimensionsofdeath.net and Conscious TV interview http://bcove.me/ytd2rygv