Monthly Archives: November 2014

Near Death Experiences and Spiritual Awakening

In some ways Near Death Experiences (NDE’s for short) are considered as their own category of spiritual experiences due to the literature, first-hand accounts and even scientific research that has come to the forefront about them. Although NDE’s can certainly be in their own category and are a type of Sudden Awakening (meaning that a spiritual awakening happens rapidly resulting a whole host of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual upheaval) they are a part of other awakenings. For example, NDE’s occur in shamanic sickness, which is typically one of the first events that occurs during a shamanic calling. In this case the NDE occurs so that the budding Shaman rapidly understands and gains the ability to traverse worlds and communicate with spiritual, natural forces. NDE’s also occur as a result of Kundalini awakenings- in this case due to the amount of processing material, emotions, physical ailments, past sicknesses, and so forth that are coming up to heal or clear at the same time.

NDE’s are likely to occur any time that we get near a point on our spiritual path that we are ready to take the step forward to reconcile our fear of death. Until we awaken to the fact that most of our belief systems, the physical mental spiritual and emotional barriers that we create for ourselves are out of fear of our own physical demise the fact that we are incredibly afraid of death culturally and personally will not be very clear to us. An NDE allows for us to switch identification- from the physical body that is all about “I”… our selfish wants and needs and ME ME ME behavior that pervades most of our culture- to the identification of our soul, which persists after the demise of the physical form.

So what is an NDE (Near Death Experience)?
In most cases it is exactly how it sounds. We physically and momentarily die. We are then brought back by EMT’s, doctors, and so forth by varying machines, or naturally come back to life after momentarily going into a death state. In many other cases of NDE’s physical death does not occur. Instead an illness, accident, or other physical ailment brings us to the brink of death, enough so that we begin to traverse the planes of death, switch identification from “I” to the eternal soul, and experience a profound series of revelations. In some cases we can get a taste of this sort of spiritual awakening (an NDE) through meditative, dream, and other states. In those cases, although profound, the identification has not switched from the physical body and it is not as profound or sudden of an awakening as someone experiencing a true NDE experience.

What happens during a NDE?
We all have likely heard many stories of what occurs during a NDE. Sensations of floating in the hospital room, viewing loved ones, being present and being able to report back about resuscitation attempts and other details while technically dead, viewing a tunnel, white light, white rooms, guides, God, sensations of love, expansiveness, bliss, having a life review, speaking to someone about our lives, and more. Some people have frightening NDE’s in which they view black or they are greeted by scary energies, hell, or guides, or the expansiveness and idea of leaving the physical body behind is too much to handle. What happens during an NDE, although there are common themes, is often deeply individual.

What happens after a NDE?
The integration after having such a sudden awakening and the realizations that come from being dead or close to death, how ever momentarily, completely change the person. At first there is a period of shock in which the person attempts to return to their old life. I jokingly refer to this as a zombie sort of period because the person is simply going through the motions in what was their old life. The shock of the NDE takes a long time to abate- for some people years or even decades. After that period there is often either a desire to talk about the experiences or a complete resistance to talking about it for fear that nobody would understand. The switch of identification from the physical body can be quite a shock and there is often anger or apathy at being shoved back into the body, about being alive, and about being confined to a physical body. Many of the understandings of the NDE remain and the person who experiences one and gets over their shock finds themselves faced with further spiritual awakening, realizations, and the other issues that come with sudden and drastic spiritual awakenings.

Some people who come out from a NDE find themselves wistfully thinking about the experiences and join groups and chat rooms to discuss their experiences. It is difficult to switch back to identification with the physical body so many of the stories and experiences are about the experiences themselves and how wonderful they were. It is a rare NDE’r who is able to integrate seamlessly into their physical body. Most people who experience NDE’s are energetically outside partially or fully their physical bodies. There is a remembering of the joy and light and expansion that the experience gave and it is hard to want to re-identify with physical life, the physical form, and the sensate experience.

Many people who experience NDE’s have feelings of joy and peace from the experience that remain with them. But there is also a great deal of struggle. The three to five year mark is when the greatest amount of suicides occur and severe depression, apathy for physical life, and a desire to go back to the state experienced in death are unfortunately common. At the very least many struggle with relationships, with family, with work and with the other realizations that came from the experience as well as reintegrating in any way with the physical body.

Unfortunately many NDE’rs do not get help. Because others do not have the direct experience people who have not experienced an NDE are in a state of cognitive dissonance, where they cannot or are unable to process the material and realizations NDE’rs have. Many of the groups and societies out there all tell war-type stories of the experiences and can be wonderful resources to have common ground with some people who have had similar experience. But the constant retelling of experiences and the wistful nature as well as focus on the “light” side (meaning the peace and bliss, the aren’t I special, unique, can I sell you my book about my experiences and wouldn’t we all be in the light if we could and not be here on Earth) discounts the intense integration and processing as well as the sudden issues with being on a significant spiritual path where they might have not been before.

Like most spiritual paths, NDE’s have been glossed over. You hear about the light, the love, and the wisdom. You hear about how special people are who have them. Meanwhile the difficulties of the path are not discussed. How to reconcile the sudden awakening of an NDE and still remain a grounded, embodied individual is not discussed. How to even rejoin or come “back to life” after being dead is not discussed. Suicides, depression, and negative experiences during and after NDE’s are not discussed. For those of who have had an NDE and come back to see popular culture and groups about NDE’s and spiritual message boards focus on the profundity and exhalt the NDE while not understanding the difficulties of the experience can be extremely isolating for those experiencing issues after an NDE (especially one that was not filled with love and light). Especially if you are a NDE’r struggling with depression, with reconciling the physical body, and with spiritual awakening and integration symptoms as a result of the experience.

I (Mary Shutan) work with NDE’rs to help them reconcile their experiences, understand them, and move forward with their lives in the physical, sensate world. Even if we have had an NDE we are here for a reason in the physical world, and can learn to integrate our experiences, our wisdom, and our spiritual paths into our daily lives. You can contact me through email if you wish to set up an appointment or can look at my individual healing and consultation services here.

Spiritual and Cultural Appropriation Part 2

One of the more common responses to my last blog, which you can read here, is that we are all one and so should have access to any sort of spirituality we choose. More than that, if we were to look at our DNA each of us would go back to bloodlines that are likely from Native, African, Indian, or other cultures.

While I understand the response and the level of thinking that created it, this line of thinking is a misunderstanding of oneness and the currents of energy that are present in spiritual work.

Let me explain. Yes, we are all one. But we are not all one homogenized blob. We are one… and we are separate. Oneness in new-age circles has begun to mean that we are all equal, that we all have the same knowledge and understandings, and that we should all have equal access to pretty much whatever we want. If we think about this in a non-spiritual simplistic way, consider if you would give a third grader a calculus textbook. The truth is that although we all have access to divinity we are not all equal, we do not all have the same intellect, the same understandings, and we do not all deserve to get whatever we want when we want it.

Plenty of people out of this movement really screw themselves up because they get their hands on a Calculus textbook when they should be learning addition. They feel entitled to the type of work (Tantra, Shamanism, Magick, etc) at the deepest, most powerful level they can find. This is done without the learning of basic principles and understandings, the realization that people have died and bled and gone through all sorts of horrors and initiations to learn this work before them, and an understanding that practices require depth and daily work, sometimes for decades or lifetimes, to practice appropriately.

We do not all have the same knowledge. We do not all have the same capacity to work with some things. Some of us were meant to be Shamans, some of us were meant to study Shamanism for self-help. Some of us have a natural, genetic talent towards folk practices. Some of us come from families where there were practitioners and that knowledge has been passed down to us either orally or through our DNA. We are not all equal, we are not all the same, we do not all have the same talents, abilities, intelligence, and understandings. Yes, we all are divine. But we are all separate too.

All spiritual paths, all spiritual practices have an energetic current to them. This current defines the practices and is like a wave form of energy flowing through it and giving it power. Many people when they appropriate take the techniques of whatever they are studying (I will use Shamanism as an example because it is so prevalent, but you could certainly put in Hoodoo, Tantra, etc here) without understanding the whole current. Without the current there is no power… it is just a facade, a mere shadow of what was intended. Without understanding the cultural reasoning behind the practices you are doing, the cultural narrative, the archetypes, the history of the culture, the emotions it is like you are acting in a really bad play.

Let me use an example here. Hoodoo (African-American folk magic) has become the new “flavor” of the month for spiritual sorts. People who become interested in Hoodoo do honey jars (to sweeten people and situations), vinegar jars (to sour people and situations) and other “spells” because they sound interesting. Maybe these practices work, or slightly work for them. But without understanding that this work comes from a current of slaves who were in desperate circumstances and utilized whatever would help them to not be noticed and was immediately surrounding them in their environment you do not understand the energy that empowers these practices. Until you understand the collective grief, the anger, the cultural narrative, the stories, and the history you will not understand or tap into the power of this work. Until you understand how Hoodoo actually works and how to set up your work amidst ancestors and the other forces that empower the work, you are simply mimicking and appropriating a pale shadow of what this work actually is.

Each spiritual practice is a way of life. It is not a hat to try on or techniques to do. A pipe ceremony out of Native context without an understanding of how and why such a ceremony would occur, what sort of energies would be present at such a ceremony, and the history and cultural narrative of the pipe, the particular Natives you are emulating, and the emotions of such an act is without any sort of power, context, and out of the energetic current that it should be in. It does not take into account the years, the decades, and the blood, sweat and tears that people have gone through to bring power to such a ceremony and truly learn about it in a non-beginner way. If you do not understand the history of the culture, the triumphs and the tribulations, the archetypes, the stories, and have not studied in depth the spiritual practices and energetic current of the form of spiritual practices you are mimicking, if you have not had a daily practice and fully understand the all that is going on with the culture and its ceremonies or practices you are emulating it is cultural appropriation. Beyond that, it is just rude.