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My Life in Death

I am looking at my life at the moment with a feeling of surrender to Mystery of Life. It seems so simple. I have given myself to Life – to that life, love and power that live in us and flows through us. In that surrender I am not tied to anything or to any situation. In connection with the love people ask of me, why hold it back? It is not even mine. This surrender is a kind of death. In other words a lot of things that seemed so important are let go of. A lot of things one grasps are gone. So this death does not mean withdrawal from the world or non-involvement. It simply means involvement without grasping tightly.

As I opened to Life I felt that sense of a transcendent awareness that spans human experience. It absorbs all of human beauty, all degradation, all pleasure, all pain.

In exploring this feeling of connection with the wider awareness I immediately felt a link with my grandmother – my mother’s mother. I felt that somehow she had been an open channel for that transcendence, for that light and love that entered my life. She lit the flame of that inner life in me even though it was troublesome in the following years. I see that ultimately that light is a gift we all have. It is given to us all if we wish it. If we want it, it is there for us. What my grandmother did was to give me a link with the living flame that went back through the generations. That flame of a woman’s love that had kept alive despite generations of hardship.

But in saying that this light is there for everyone, how can I explain that to somebody, or somebody whose heart is hurt or closed?

Looking at this question I feel as if the fundamental issue of receiving this light is trust. Trust that what is being dealt you is not too much. Trust that if you reach for that light there are resources that enable you to meet it. It is not too much. I suppose this issue of trust comes back to the problem we face in learning to swim. Unless we can relax, the principle of buoyancy never becomes apparent. Similarly unless we can sometimes let go of our control, the principle of that mutual support does not become apparent. The life connections that exist outside of our small individual experience cannot show themselves.

A marked change occurred here. At first the words popped up spontaneously – the feelings. ‘Leave the feelings behind.’ Then suddenly I had very strong feelings and images regarding death. This was nothing to do with a presentiment of death. It was a sense of the different facets of death such as decay. I had seen this face of death many years ago. I was referring to an experience in which I felt the presence of two spiritual beings who were the living dead. At that time I realised that to become what they were – channels for a radiant cosmic life – they had died as human beings. All the human passions and desires had died. At the time this was very frightening. The reason being that there were so many things in I longed for as a human man. There were still many fantasies of love and sex that if felt I could not let go of. I wanted desperately to achieve some sort of creative act, or be recognised for some innovation in therapy. To feel that these might be taken away, or that I needed to let go of my need for Hyone, was really frightening. It seemed a terrifying thing to be dead and descends into a crypt, lifeless and without motivation.

Here in the session I felt or experienced a very strong sense almost like a dead body, if it had awareness, might feel in a crypt. This is quite difficult to describe. I suppose what I was experiencing was a sort of ready made or social image of death. The sort of fears we have about it. It had in it the sense of dust, decay and cobwebs – the quiet dead silence of the tomb. But here, right in the midst of death, I had the sense of eternal life, of resurrection. It seemed to me as if you could not have one without the other, and this was the meaning in Christian doctrine where it says you must die to be reborn.

I am not sure if it was at this point that many images of the mixture of death and birth came on me. I had the experience that one needed to be bitten by the snake and die before one can be reborn into that transcendent life. But what came next was a long experience of exploring the view of life arising out of being a biological bag of water, wind, and shit. This went on for image after image of rampant wet sexuality or eating, of seeing nothing in life except physical existence. Again it is difficult to describe because of the huge variety of the images and scenes.

I suppose the underlying thing I was searching for in this series of feelings and images of the very physical side of life, such as eating and fucking, was the question, is this all there is? There was an underlying morbidity in what I saw and felt. But I think this was my view. I wanted to find the transcendental in all the aspects of life, but it was difficult within the way I was looking at these feelings or parts of life experience.

Towards the end of this series I thought, or at least I came to the conclusion, that they expressed the preoccupation with the body and the physical that most of us have in present times. We are preoccupied with the physical and with examining it in detail. We are all trying to arrive at an understanding of the meaning of things, of death, through this minute examination of the physical world.

The longer I was involved in this series of images, the more it seemed ridiculous in the light of everyday knowledge that all things rely on each other, and that everything exists as an integrated part of the cosmos.

The theme of the session then changed. The day before this session I had a long conversation with Brenda, my ex-wife. During this conversation she had described some of the people she works with or cares for in the old people’s home. Brenda had described how frightened some of the people are of dying. Although they had lived a long and varied life, they had still not come to terms with death. In the session I realised I was looking for some way of communicating certainty about the goodness of death to Brenda. I wanted to be able to look her in the eye and tell her she would be cared for.

Death has many guises.

Some of them are ugly.

Some wear the cloaks of disease or decay.

Death has many faces.

It can have the face of a newborn baby.

It can have the face of a young child – your child.

Death can have the face of danger, suddenly appearing. It comes as sudden change.

Death meets you in the form of an old friend

you have known for years,

Who you go with willingly.

Death may catch you as fear.

Or it may come as a beautiful one playing a flute.

It comes in the flood,

At the time of a sudden trial,

Or in the time of torment.

It comes to you as a sudden rage,

As hunger,

Or a creature in the night.

Death is our enemy or our friend.

It is our lover or our tormentor.

What shall we decide?

Tracing it back, when we go into death through the jaws of the hunter, the lion, what do we meet? If we go back far enough we discover not anger or lust, but the lion’s desire to feed its cubs, or to survive. We find ourselves back in, back behind things.

Behind the snake, behind this tiger, behind the human being, behind the decay. If we go back far enough we find ourselves in the awareness of the pack, in the species, in the formative forces of survival and reproduction that lies behind things. We find ourselves in that mystery, in the jungle where the essence of life pervades the various forms. From that place the viewpoint that we are nothing but a physical form, that we are a small cog in the wheels of life, that we must put up with what we have, seems ridiculous.

From that place we look at ourselves and see what a fantastic piece of equipment our body and mind is. As a conscious person we are right in the middle of everything. To say, ‘Oh God, we are nothing but a piece of slime, a helpless pawn in the hands of destiny,’ is ridiculous. We are the culmination of everything that has existed before. We are that growing tip, that exploring awareness, in touch with unimaginable potential. We are everything that can be. What can we do?

Well, we can try to find out how things work. We can ask ourselves, what happens if I think this or feel that? What goes on in myself when I feel fear or happiness? How does this wonderful biological machine, this flow of awareness, work? How does it work? How does it work for you? We can discover generalisations from other people. But we must discover for ourselves the finer points of our own mental and physical journey into time and space.

For one thing, we must not forget where we have come from, our background of living and experience. For instance, in general we have come from a male dominated society. We have emerged from groups in which the male body offered some level of protection. It offered some protection from other groups, other mates, from some fears. To a large extent we still need each other. We still have needs that are fulfilled through the recognition of these fundamental parts of our nature.

I have a strong feeling that I want to write an open letter to my children. I want to say to them, as your father, there cannot help but be a part of you that watches me to see how I manage aging and death. You can’t help but weigh this against who you know me to be in your particular life. What I have meant to you, what I have failed to be, what I have managed to be, will all be a part of that watching.

What I see as I am aging is that as a person, as a social being, even to some extent biologically, when you all became independent; and when my chosen mate, my woman – Hyone – entered the menopause and no longer needed me as her man (or so it seemed to me) I died.

It was a very difficult thing to experience. It led me into a somewhat frantic search for a meaning, for a direction or activity that might hold my wife and me together. I thought that perhaps a new life direction might once more bring back that living and loving link that I felt had once been there. I even dreamt that perhaps if I could find this new activity or direction, it might even be a doorway that some of you, my children, might also find renewal in. I didn’t see it at the time – I was too lost – that search was behind my move to Australia. Unfortunately my dreams and hopes were as crushed there as they had been before I left.

Looking back, it seems that what died was the part of myself attached to the roles of father, of provider, of husband, of companion, of useful participator in society – I was three years out of work. I see it now as a natural part of aging and leaving behind the person that we were and what the world called us to be in past years. I mention this partly to explain, and partly in hope that it may be of help to you when or if you reach those changes for yourself. But I believe such a death, such a powerful change, may not be simply due to aging. Perhaps it is mostly due to changing roles, of a changing relationship with society or ones body. After all, a man can be a father at 60, and take on that role. A woman can, as a grandmother, as my grandmother did, take on the mothering of a child as she nears her own death.

What stands out for me in connection with that feeling of dying while still alive, in connection with the process of aging, is that certain things appear to me to be more important than my own personal life. These things are to be held more precious than ones individual struggles. They are more important than ones personal success or failure.

One of these precious things that I have been fortunate enough to discover buried in the influences of our family, is a tradition, or a living stream, that opens us to the transcendent. Because of this sense of having died in some way, the transcendent side of myself was easier to meet.

I realise that this may not make sense to you, but I will try my best to explain it.

Some years ago, while trying to understand marked tendencies in myself, I discovered that many of the most inherent tendencies were not my own personally. In fact the more I probed, the more I could see they could be traced back in the direct line of succession to my father, to his father, and beyond. I am talking about the tendencies I have, and perhaps some of you have, not to directly identify with the culture around you; not to become identified with any particular political group; to ‘keep your head down’ in social situations. My own digging into this led me to believe that these tendencies had come down to us from many generations ago, passed on unconsciously in the way that mothers and fathers pass on the lessons of life to their children, simply by the way they respond to situations. I believe they have come down to us from a time of social and religious persecution, when that side of our family learned to ‘keep their head down’ to remain alive and to protect their children from religious and political persecution on those who did not conform. (Details of all these probings are to be found in my journals.)

So when I talk of a tradition, I am referring to tendencies or possibilities in us that may be partly or largely unconscious. They may only be brought to the fore by certain circumstances, or by probing.

Two of the most precious things that have become apparent to me in these deep strata are, as I have said, related to a doorway to the transcendent. I was initiated into one of these by my maternal grandmother. The other is a possibility I believe we gain from the Criscuolo family.

The first I see as something beyond me. Within myself I experienced it as the greatest good any of us can receive. We know it by the external name of resurrection.

Our own individual life, our personal awareness of ourselves, has a beginning and an end. We have memories and feelings that nobody else share with us. We might even think of this as living within a strong wall that surrounds our own personality and our awareness. Many people are never aware of anything beyond that wall. This leads to the conclusion that we are separate from each other. Within this wall exist our own personal likes and dislikes, and the only observable connections that we have with others, are feelings of affection we might experience for another person, and the sense of duty that we act upon. But these internal feelings that connect us with others are often quite limited. In general a father and mother are far more linked through their affections with their own children than with the children of others. A person born in a particular culture usually has more sympathies with people from their own culture than from other cultures. These are generalisations, but they are given simply to illustrate a point.

The point is, that if we think of these links of sympathy as a type of landscape, then we each build and exist within this landscape of our own affections and tendencies. This landscape is within the strong wall already mentioned. But occasionally a leap is taken over that wall, beyond that landscape. She wolves have been known to suckle and rear human children. Did the wolf leap beyond her own landscape to do this? Did her love and caring build the bridge from her landscape to the being of the child? Sex itself may form a link with another being through which we take in something of another landscape, another person. Through it we may form links with somebody very different to ourselves. A human being may care for another in a way that takes them beyond the usual limitations of their family, sexual needs, financial gain, and cultural links.

Another way of considering this personal life and its possible links is through the image of an electrical circuit such as we have in our houses. Each room may have a light bulb in it, or even several. The light bulbs may be of different voltages, sizes, shapes, colour and material, but they are all lit by the same electricity. The light in each bulb is not the same as the light from another bulb. It may be brighter or of a different colour temperature, depending upon the ‘body’ of the bulb. This light can be likened to our personal awareness. It is unique and exists in its own area of space and time. This individual existence strangely enough has its birth in the universal electricity. In other words the electricity exists throughout the house and is not itself any particular light or hue. If the light of the bulb looked inward in the right way it might recognise that it exists out of the electricity. Also, if it could know itself as the electricity it could become aware of the other ‘lights’ and appliances existing on the circuit. Although this is not a good analogy it does illustrate what is felt when you touch that transcendent awareness.

I often experience this wider awareness as a reality. It is obviously not particular to me; otherwise we would not have words in our language such as holy, transcendent, or spiritual. I believe these words are attempts to describe an inner landscape that is different to our personal one existing within the strong wall I have mentioned. I believe that, just as our body is an outcrop of a very long period of evolutionary process, so our mind, our personal awareness, is equally an outcrop of such an evolutionary process. I see it as a process that includes the historical development of ideas, culture, and family traditions. It particularly depends upon the development and learning of language. Without the development of democracy in ancient Greece, we might still be living in a culture of slavery. Without the development of rational thought in that same country, we would certainly look at and perceive the world in a very different way than we do today.

What I am leading up to is that the act of the she wolf rearing the human child created a different possibility in consciousness. When a human being reaches out and supports somebody who is not their kin, who is not connected with their sexual desire, or some sort of planning for personal well-being, they transcend the usual boundaries of their personality. When we touch this transcendent awareness we leap beyond the wall that gives finite possibilities to our own personal life. We become aware of the electricity. This is not speculation on my part. I have witnessed at close hand your own mother leap beyond that wall in predicting the illness and its life consequences in Jules. There was no possibility that such information previously existed within the boundaries of her personal memories and experience. Several times she predicted events that arose either the next day or very shortly afterwards.

I mentioned these because they are not subjective. I am an external witness to them. But your mother also experienced transcendent and timeless states that did not involve predictions. I have also frequently experienced such states of awareness that move beyond the boundaries of my own experience.

Because the transcendent state moves us beyond our own limitations, we experience it as a collective consciousness. It seems to include all history. It stands above and beyond the limitations of our own small human personality. Sometimes it seems like a huge symbiotic condition, in which everything exists in connected relationship with everything else. If I am correct in my description, because the transcendent is created out of the acts of animals and humans that go beyond their usual conditioning and limitations, then the transcendent holds within itself all that can link, all that can extend, all that joins us one with another. When we open to it, it feels as if we have touched the very best in life. It also feels like a territory we can live in. In our culture one of the names the transcendent has been given is that of the Christ.

This brings me back to what I wanted to say about my grandmother. It might be that what follows is more like family folklore than definite history. Even so, folklore guides and moves the destinies of people.

My birth took place in the upstairs room of a small house in Amersham High Street, nearly opposite what used to be the old fire station. I was born two months premature, and in the thirties there was no hospital intensive care unit for me to be nurtured in. My hearsay is that my mother had a prolonged and difficult labour due to the conception taking place in a fallopian tube. At my birth the attending doctor pronounced me dead, threw my body to one side on the bed, and said, ‘Let’s look after the mother.’

I don’t think the doctor’s words were flung out casually. Each of us is a witness to our times. We all exist within a huge web of influences and understandings, and if I try to grasp the view from which the doctor’s words arose, there is sense in what he implied. If we have children and say to one of them as he or she goes out the door, ‘Be careful’, we don’t need to mention all the things in today’s world that one needs to be careful of. If the child is old enough to manage the streets alone, they can already fill in most of the details about dangers they should avoid, such as drug pushers, muggers, child molesters, and other violent children.

When I was born childbirth was surrounded by very different attitudes than exist today. The shadow of enormous mortality still fell over mothers and babies, and it influenced doctors. Antibiotics didn’t exist. Infant care was not developed to the degree it is now. So the doctor who delivered me was implying all of this. He was telling my mother and grandmother a straightforward and accepted truth of the times – ‘Why attempt to give life to this premature and tiny baby’ It will be difficult to rear, more prone to illness, and it will be harder for it to cope with life. It isn’t breathing at the moment, so forget it and try again for a healthy baby. Leave it’.

My grandmother was not moved by this, and carried me away. She bathed me in oil and water – hot and cold, and thus made me breathe. Through the journey I have made into my feelings and intuitions, however, I have an impelling sense that she did more than start me breathing. I believe she baptised me in the oil and water and put a cross upon my forehead.

Remember that she came from a generation where there were many baby deaths. She had herself given birth to thirteen – all while suffering a dropped uterus – and three had died. It was believed at the time that if a baby died without baptism it would have no soul; no right to continued existence in an afterlife. There was no priest easily available. Perhaps she would be unable to bring me to life. Perhaps she loved me enough to want to give me her best.

Whatever she did, my deepest feelings link her with the door in me that opens to the transcendent. Those intuitions also give me a sense of her as expressing a tradition that flowed through the love of women in our family from beyond recorded history. My grandmother did not simply call in an authority figure to bless my life – she blessed it with her love, with her hand in the oil and the water.

I don’t know if this means anything to you, but there is a tradition in the passing of the right to initiate into the transcendent, called apostolic succession. It means that only those touched by the transcendent; only those in whom it is alive, can pass it on by touch or eye contact to another who asks for it. My grandmother was an apostle of that love that some women and some men have alive in them. Look at her picture to see for yourself.

What this means is that you have the right to baptise. I touched you all in one way or another with that life that she passed to me. If you so wished you can pass that to your children, or to anyone who asks it of you.

What this means is that you have the right to baptise. I touched you all in one way or another with that life that she passed to me. If you so wished you can pass that to your children, or to anyone who asks it of you.

As for what I believe we gain from the Criscuolo family, the name itself is an outward sign of something I believe is within us. I had a dream some years ago that I believe sums this up. In the dream I was in a marketplace working on a stall selling vegetables and fruit. This was our family business, and as in real life had existed for some generations. In the dream I had a ring on my wedding finger. I knew, because the tradition of wearing it had passed down to me from many generations, that the ring was for a special purpose, a special role our family had. I knew also that it was my work to wear that ring and make it available to anybody who wished to touch it. Wearing it did not make me a special person, just a bearer. By touching the ring a person who sought it could renew their contact with God.

As I was serving people on the stall, I noticed across the road a young woman, restless and uncertain. Occasionally she glanced across. I knew she wished to touch the ring, but like a wild creature, she was nervous. Knowing that my own personality was not important in this matter and should not get in the way, I made as if I was leaning on the stall with my left-hand, meanwhile looking away from the young woman. And while I looked away she crossed the road, and momentarily touched the ring.

I like to think that in some small measure my life has carried on that tradition. It is a tradition open to any of us, in the midst of our daily work.

I know that all of you have this light alive in you somewhere. For some of you however, it became more of an imperative. I can see the door is open in your heart Helen. I know you wear that ring. I believe also Neal, that your brush with death at birth opened the door for you. And some of the strangeness of the transcendental poured into your life in later years.

Lastly, I want you to know that I have stood face to face with Christ on several occasions. It doesn’t matter too much to me what you make of that, or how you interpret it. I simply want you to know, and to tell you that in some ways I have already died. Just as my father went ahead of me, I walk ahead of you. I had an experience, too long to recount, in which my father reached back across that threshold and carried me over. As he carried me, so I will carry your dead form to that place of resurrection. I have inherited the promise that – in my father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. I extend that promise to you as I go before you, dead already in many ways.

Thinking about the transcendent, in my early years I saw it as it was given to me. That is, in the cultural symbols we have, such as the Christ. Fortunately there was something alive behind the symbols for me. This living power was the gift my grandmother had given me. There, in the living Christ. In more recent years other views have been added to this. I see that each of us have that transcendence within us. We have that moment of creation and destruction that we call the Big Bang. That moment in which the universe, and thereby ourselves, were created, is there in every particle of our being. We can never ever be separate from it, or escape from it. It is ours forever. It is eternity. It is this moment – on and on – infinitely varied – challenging dying – being reborn. It is a transcendent moment because it incorporates all opposites, all things, all possibilities.

It is us at every moment of our existence. But sometimes we are dead to it.

Fortunately I was given an open door to it. I hope I have passed that on. It was given to me with love, and as painful as it sometimes is, and as difficult to grasp and hold as it is, I treasure it. I too pass it on with love. It is the best I have. At my physical death I am going to lose myself in that transcendence. I don’t need to survive.

I see that Helen has taken the way of being that doorway to the light. It is not an easy role, and she needs support in it. She is standing there telling you – this is what it’s about.

You are a beautiful woman Helen. I kneel before you asking for your blessing.

In the foolishness of my old age I believe I see visions. In these I see that this tradition, the tradition of baptism, is older than the historical Christian church. It had its ascendance in the love a mother felt for her children, and beyond that the love she felt and gave to other children. Beyond that still, a loving woman might suckle a creature and extend her love beyond the normal boundaries. She might hold that other child, or that creature, with the same tenderness that she held her own baby. In such a moment she would know something that was beyond herself. It is something that flows through all of us. We symbolise it as the milk, the wine, or the blood.

The urge that enables us to reach out to another person who is not our own kin, or to another creature, is a degree of awareness of that universal life and consciousness that pervades all things. However we like to symbolise it, it represents what IS. It represents the Mystery that we can perhaps never understand, that is Life.

Baptism represents an opening or an introduction to that Life. It is also an entrance into the recognition of the wider family; of that mysterious body we call Christ. We become brothers and sisters in a wider community. It takes some skill to recognise who these brothers and sisters are, and what part they might play in your life. Calling oneself a Christian does not necessarily mean you have been truly baptised in that spirit of life.

In this incredible universe there are possibilities that we only vaguely understand – or do not understand at all. One of these is the transcendence of our own state of awareness. When we transcend our own needs; our own biological, social, sexual needs, and we reach across what may be a huge gap that separates us from another being, we change something in ourselves. From the most ancient of times some men and women have done this to extraordinary degrees. Just as society has built physical and sociological structures that have evolved into what we can see and live within today – for instance we live within this body today that is a physiological structure gradually developed over millions of years – so, behind that is another structure brought by these extraordinary men and women. Like our body, like our language, like the social rules and attitudes we live within, this other structure is built out of thousands of lives and endeavours. Like language it is the accumulation of unimaginable human feeling, action and thought.

We now know that small communities, racial types, nations, have what is called a gene pool. This gene pool offers certain possibilities – or it may be a limiting factor. I believe the structure offered by the men and women whose lives transcended the normal, leave us an extraordinary behavioural pool. Or perhaps we could call it a pool of potential experience, which if we can access it enables a massive alteration in our state of consciousness.

When we access this pool of potential experience, we may feel it as almost a place, or a territory. Because it is purely potentials of our personal experience, like a dream, we may portray it has a place, a landscape, or the meeting with an unusual person. As with a book, we may explore its contents, and travel through its various realms. If I am true to what I feel, then I have to say it is a land. It is a place that we can inhabit – the pure land – the afterlife.

I am a very lucky man to be born where those two rivers meet. The rivers are the traditions arising from my grandmother, and from the Criscuolo family. I suppose nature is full of surprises. Also it uses odd things to achieve its ends. I say this because

the transcendental seems to be built with areas of experience that we connect with corruption or death. It is almost as if the most beautiful exists in a crypt, and you can only get to it by some form of dying. This keeps a lot of people out, because they feel they are meeting something bad.

There is a part of this session that I have lost the recording for. But I remember most of what it was about.

I was trying to explore the feelings of love that I have for different people. As I did this, I began to see that I have been influenced in the way I see myself by the views of other people. For instance, our culture promotes the idea that to love only one person is the highest good. I know there are lots of ways our culture expresses other sorts of love, but they are often presented as if they are some sort of psychological difficulty. I felt that in myself, some of these views had eaten away at my own sense of manhood. As I felt this, I came to the sense of this sort of shining energy, and the feeling that a man or woman can love many people. This love can be supportive and beautiful. And while I was seeing this I felt sure that the love and experience is good and wholesome.

I see that as I accept this it allows me not to judge myself all the time. Without this sense of goodness, there is a subtle judgments going on most of the time that eats away my own caring love for others. When the judgment disappears there is more patience, more care, more supportive love. On the other hand, if I feel that is somehow wrong or bad, then I withdraw some of the love that I have for those nearest me.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved