So, good people of the internet here we are again with another edition of OTHER VOICES! This time we take a look at suffering with the great David Halpin…
About a month after my mother passed away from a particularly difficult cancer I was thinking about an often cited piece of occult information which states that the soul moves on to its next incarnation after 49 days.
I had heard this a few times, usually in the context of some Buddhist ideas and it seemed to also have certain anecdotal parallels to foetus formation in the human body as well.
This is probably the reason why some schools of thought linked this 49 day time-span to various other reincarnation doctrines which had also noticed these commonalities.
It is believed in these schools of thought that unless the soul has traversed the obstacles of the various Bardo states and moved into a higher realm, after 49 days it will again descend into a human body matching its unresolved karma.
It seemed, then, that there was a shrinking window through which a departed soul might observe and try to interact with family and friends before the grander universal forces stepped in. This possibility created a type of restlessness inside me.
Of course, who knows for certain? As Joseph Campbell wrote in his work, The Hero with A Thousand Faces, “There is no final system for the interpretation of myths, and there never will be such a thing.”
I suppose that sums up my own thinking when I’m faced with supposed authoritative occult knowledge: I sometimes have my doubts.
According to other esoteric philosophies after death we fall back into a cycle of eternal return.
For some, this is a prison composed of their very worst nightmares; a scaffolding of suffering ultimately taking the form of existential pain and pointlessness.
All of us doomed to forever spiral through the same losses, the same errors for eternity. Better to take a left-hand path, then, and give oneself up to vice and pleasure so as to loop and glitch through repeated lives of excess and physical satiation, oblivious to the consequences!
Unless, of course, there is something else.
Initiation into higher levels of occult awareness can also be compared to the wanderings through the Bardo states, and, indeed, the various shamanic in-between places which might seduce and capture, acting as pathways to new perspectives.
When we consider that the afterlife is, in most traditions, a different type of consciousness, whether we continue to be self-aware or not, then preparation and contemplation of our inescapable mortal end is in itself an initiatory process.
Writing in Chapter 5 of Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, Rudolf Steiner observes, “Fundamentally speaking, the teacher can give nothing except advice, and everything he says should be accepted in this sense.”
In other words, we might assume we share the same trajectory and destination as everyone else but the most ancient esoteric thinking describes infinite worlds and fractal universes spiralling from and into eternity so maybe this is not the case.
On top of this, today we are told of multi-dimensional selves splintering into new universes, self-creating instantaneously, depending on our decisions.
As I’ve already mentioned, I sometimes have my doubts.
Initiation has come to be understood as a type of suffering, but a suffering as an offering. A payment of sorts to higher forces in order to smooth the way for future reward. A selfishness by stealth, a cynic might argue!
It seems to me that if guardians of higher realms exist they will be wise to these manoeuvres as well as the motives behind them. A life well lived, then, respectful and well-intentioned surely outweighs a cursory ritual if we are privileged enough to be able to perform one?
Can it even be an initiation of any worth if we get to choose the context?
At the end of his classic novel, Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky writes, “But here begins a new account, the account of a mans gradual renewal, the account of his gradual regeneration, his gradual transition from one world to another, his acquaintance with a new, hitherto completely unknown reality.”
Of course, Dostoyevsky is writing about a character who has done terrible things and who is seeking the possibility of a new beginning. A person might argue that suffering in this instance should never guarantee a pathway to our higher selves.
The last time I saw my mother alive was just after a chemotherapy session. She was standing in the doorway of the hospital and I turned around to wave goodbye as we were leaving. She had undergone a tracheotomy at this point and could no longer speak but she nodded and smiled. An hour later, just as I had arrived home, the phone rang. It was my dad telling me that I needed to return to Dublin immediately as my mother had collapsed and was unconscious. The doctors were trying to resuscitate her and she would have to be transferred to another hospital.
Traffic in Dublin city at rush hour is exactly what you might expect for a capital city. My wife had driven us back as quickly as possible but after reaching the city centre we became stuck in a tailback.
As we were sitting in the traffic we heard the wail of an ambulance siren and watched in the rear view mirror as the cars and trucks behind us tried to edge towards the side of the road to allow it through. We manoeuvred our own car as best we could to do the same. The ambulance passed us and I watched as the traffic ahead parted to allow it on its journey.
Then, to my shock, I watched as a man ran past our car and gave chase to the ambulance.
It was my dad.
Known in the west as The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones is a corpus of written teachings which is intended to help guide the soul or consciousness during its journey into death. It can be both a liberating and sobering read. Sometimes it’s also very confusing. Trying to find associations to familiar and helpful archetypes is difficult.
For example, the guides and spirits one is encouraged to call upon for help can be as abstract as some of the prayers a person is instructed to recite. According to some Buddhist scholars the moment when enlightenment might be attained can happen so quickly that the soul may not even be aware that it has passed them by.
A certain level of preparation and initiation is the only way to avoid a traumatic fate.
Life, of course, doesn’t always lend itself to such a solemn and austere passing.
As I watched my dad weave through traffic in pursuit of the ambulance I told my wife that I was afraid that he was going to get knocked down or have a heart attack and that I would meet her when she arrived at the hospital. I jumped out of the car and began running after my dad who was about fifty metres ahead of me. It must have been quite a sight; my dad running after the ambulance and me in turn running after him.
I had deduced by this point that my mother must have been the occupant of the ambulance and somehow we had intercepted the hospital transfer.
She remained in a coma for four days before finally succumbing to both the cancer and the brain damage received from her collapse. Her tracheotomy had become blocked after her chemotherapy session and having gone without oxygen for over seven minutes the doctors told us that there was never any chance of a recovery.
The Buddhist practice of Sokushinbutsu refers to the gradual reduction of food and water until death, resulting in a person entering a type of mummification state while still alive. Ascetic pathways through suffering are considered to bestow enlightenment in almost every spiritual tradition. Some beliefs state that the level of suffering a person endures determines both their transition and destination. For those struggling to maintain health and life, of course, choosing such an expression of ones spiritual prowess might appear contradictory.
On the 49th night after my mother’s death, I woke up around 4:00 am, which was close to the time of her passing. I lingered in a half-sleeping/ half-awake state and wondered what would happen if I opened my eyes. In my mind I thought about asking for a sign.
I said to myself, I’m going to open my eyes now and if you can, let me see something before you have to go.
I waited a few seconds before doing it as I was afraid.
When I opened my eyes my mother was standing at the end of my bed. She was wearing the dress she was buried in and she looked straight at me. I tried to speak but before I could she said, “This is all I can give.”
Then, between the moment of me blinking and returning to sight she was gone. My heart was beating quickly and I wondered if it had all been a dream.
Perhaps I wished so much for it that I created the apparition myself.
As I’ve already mentioned, sometimes I have my doubts about these things.
David Halpin is a writer from Carlow, Ireland. He is a regular contributor to various Fortean and occult magazines and websites. David also reviews occult and anomalous titles and his video reviews can be found on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3j9uYsQd8T-gfgYj3m556w
David’s folklore research can be found on Facebook HERE!
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICOLAS BRUNO
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