“It’s a dream, Mum,” Josh whispered in my ear. I was just starting to wake after six-hour brain surgery to remove a hemorrhaging malignant tumor from my brain stem, the center of the most basic functions of life.
Buddha said “This life of separateness may be compared to a dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning,” and I wanted to experience whatever was happening from that platform of reality and not from the ‘This is really terrible, this is a really big deal, I’m dying!’ one.
I had asked my son to remind me of that greater reality as I woke. I smiled and squeezed his hand. Cognizance. In that moment I was aware that I’d had the surgery, that I was alive, and that it was indeed an epic dream.
My brain was extremely swollen, so much so that I was put back on assisted breathing for a week and remained in ICU for a further week with major problems. I was awake and aware, full of tubes and extremely uncomfortable but at the center of my being I was completely fine.
As a meditator I’ve had experiences over the years of exquisite bliss, clarity, delight, pure awareness, oneness, compassion, awe, love, truth, and openness. Sitting on my cushion they came and went, gave me insights and a little confidence in the truth of things. But nothing could prepare me for a switch of my dominant reality. It wasn’t an out of body experience or a near death experience. It wasn’t a drug-related hallucination or an oxygen-deprived brain or a psychotic episode. I was having an in-body experience of awareness and bliss without the mind chatter. I came as close to death as I’d like to for now, but I wasn’t in the tunnel. However, my poor old brain had been stunned out of its tiny mind!
I found that I was simply present as an organism experiencing sensations, as a heart that loved completely and as a mind that was in direct communication with the wisdom beings who kept me company.
I experienced myself as awareness abiding in a realm where all the prayers, the love and compassion and well-wishing of friends and family were discernible to my Beingness. Somehow, I had landed in a subtle realm of consciousness where my whole body/mind rested in, and was permeated by, a vast golden ocean of profound blessings, where I could see my teachers and other wisdom beings and hear the hum of prayers and mantras being said on my behalf. My attention drifted from the surface activities of mind to the depths and back again in an ongoing wave of bodily being, all within open awareness.
The support of the prayers being done for me was influencing my whole body and mind. I was floating in and as pure light, tangible to my awareness, so safely and completely held that I rested in complete trust. At the deepest level of my being it was an experience of being in good hands. I knew that my life was sacred, precious in itself, that I was loved, cherished, upheld, not for anything that I did, but for life itself. This ocean of blessings permeated every part of me until I was oceanic being, no longer my separate walled-off self. In the depths with refuge, one with all that is.
There were some extremes of pain and discomfort and occasional upwellings of anger, but mostly I was content, peaceful, and even blissful in hell. How come?
I was being held and supported at the deepest level by wisdom beings, beings with vast hearts and minds, some in current human bodies, some not, beings unrestricted by time, space, life or bodily death, and pure energies that respond to need.
My Buddhist teacher, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, who had died seven years before, was standing in the centre of my mind, the centre of my being, ever present, never separate. It was an experience that he never left me, even for a moment. At the very deepest level I was not alone. It’s difficult to explain that, even though I was lying on my back and completely helpless, I felt as though I had a warrior’s bearing, a sense of being upheld, noble and dignified. It’s not that he ‘gave’ me courage but that I was that courage, his courage, my courage, the courage of the heart, to face into, turn into, open into the whole of my experience rather than reject it.
This is not like ‘being brave’; a mask over the top of the fear, but it was an experience of being inseparable from an indestructible essence, a greater awareness that was not caught in the story of Julie. At the same time as that source of love was powerfully present within me, as me, I also felt personally supported and loved. I knew and felt that not only was I completely loved at that time, but also that I had always been loved and cherished through and beyond time, and that all of the ‘I’s that I had ever been were also loved. My regular sense of self felt safe, protected, relieved and had the best of company so in every cell I could relax and let go. I had a sense that “all is well”, not that it meant I would have some great future or even that I would live long, but that all is fundamentally well whatever appears to be happening. A stability and stillness was present in me that I kept coming back to, like one of those inflatable punching bags that keeps bouncing back to center automatically.
The surgery had damaged some of the nerves to the eye muscles so my visual perceptions were chaos; my brain was unhooked from seeing things in the usual way. Instead, when I was resting with my eyes open, but not looking at anything in particular, all of space had a luminous exquisite quality. I was perceiving from a greater dimension of awareness, a seeing that was unobstructed by eyes, a cognizing mind that was unobstructed by brain.
There was quite a bit of pain and discomfort, sometimes it grabbed my attention, like hitting your thumb with a hammer does, and sometimes I could experience it from the greater space as merely sensation, neither good nor bad. With this total support and sense of presence I relaxed in the face of apparent devastation. As I opened to the pain or fear or anger, gratitude came flooding in and the experience that everything was a blessing.
One day, immersed in the all-loving presence, the ocean of blessing, I was aware that there was an edge of the sense of location that is ‘me’, not my skin but a fine edge out in space. It seemed to define the edge of ‘me-ness’ where I could let go, or not, into the infinite. I didn’t know if that meant I was at the edge of bodily death or the death of ‘I’ the identity, or not. I was fascinated. If there was no ‘I’, then what? I hesitated then took the leap and let go completely at the edge of ‘I’ the experiencer into the infinite. I don’t know how long I was in that state and don’t have a memory of it but out of emptiness came first a movement of compassion, an impulse, that shaped a thought that I would stay in this life, this body, in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. This brought me back to a subtle sense of I-ness that was located in my heart. I felt a surge of joy and then, “And I want to have more fun with Josh.”
I’ve heard many stories of people having near death experiences who are sent back. It wasn’t that. I was very ill and had some close shaves but was not currently dying. I was conscious, aware and it was most definitely an in-body experience of heaven (and hell) on this earth, in this body. I didn’t go to heaven but my heart was open in hell. That deep “I’m fine” experience, centered in my heart, radiated through all the unpleasant states of mind and body.
I knew somehow that I would live and I was thrilled to be alive, whatever happened. What a trip. And death would be fine when it came, just a curious letting go at the edge into the unknown.
Check back here Saturday for Part 2 of Dr. Kidd’s article!
Find out more about Dr. Julie Kidd and sign up to receive an excerpt of her new book, The Mind of Healing, at her website — MindofHealing.com.au
Dr. Julie Kidd is a GP and hypnotherapist in Canberra, Australia. For over forty years, she has been practicing medicine in public hospitals, as a country GP, holistic GP, in heart disease prevention and in medical hypnosis. For the past twenty of those years, she’s been helping people with their minds – breaking the cycles of anxiety, fears, depression, insomnia, addictive behaviors, and weight problems. Just over ten years ago, she was diagnosed with a hemorrhaging malignant brain tumor that required drastic surgery and caused severe disabilities. She has recovered and rebuilt her mind and body so that she now lives a happy, healthy life.