The Lost Secret of Endings

By Doug Marman

New Year’s Day Snow Storm (photo by Doug Marman)

With new years, it is a custom to think back over the last twelve months and to set down new goals for the future. Time for reflection and resolutions. However, there is another opportunity that is often overlooked.

Look closely at the transitions of time and you can see that with every start there is an ending. Yet, we tend to miss the end of things in our modern age, and in the process we overlook something more important than we realize.

Our whole culture seems to be focused on youth, the outflow of life, and the birth of new creations in the world. We avoid death. We don’t like final moments. This comes from a common misunderstanding about the flow of life. We think it is continuous, but it is not. Gaze deeply and you will see that each moment is separated from the next by an instant.

Hidden in the flow of life are continuous endings, beginnings, and instantaneous rest points between them.

Most people are not conscious of the space between moments, yet this is where we can change life. This is where the little choices we make become far more powerful than the big plans we try to accomplish.

Understanding how to end things is the key to giving us what we need to move forward. If we cannot close the loop, we cannot let go, and all of our energies become tied up in things that no longer exist.

Some of the strangest ideas of our modern world revolve around the end of life. If you were an alien visiting this planet, you would find it bizarre. We hide almost all signs of death from public eyes. We become obsessed about safety. We restrain ourselves and others from living fully, to push off death.

Therefore, when dying hits us, the experience of it is generally shocking and disturbing. The idea that it could be the end, with nothing beyond, truly frightens people to their core.

In previous eras, we cared for the sick and dying in our homes. We raised and killed the animals we needed for food. We faced death every day and understood the meaning of it better than we do today.

Most primitive cultures treated the killing of animals as a sacred act. Food was accepted with thanks, knowing that another creature gave up their life for them to live. They were involved in such sacrifices every day and it gave them a meaning to life that we have forgotten.

In our modern world, we put off thinking about our death for as long as we can. The unknown is scary. Our imaginations run away with us and we picture the worst. We are like juvenile delinquents when it comes to preparing for our death. We don’t want to plan for that. We don’t want to even think about it.

I think this is why we spend our lives focusing on what we have and hope to have, and we ignore our endings.

It is interesting to see the changes in people who have had near death experiences. There are thousands of such cases reported every year. We hear a consistent statement from most of them: They lose their fear of death.

It is as if they dramatically experienced that space between moments and it changes everything for them.

They come back saying how valuable life is. They are far more capable of living every second because they know that death is an incredibly beautiful ending and transition into another world.

In other words, experiencing the instant of death awakens them to a deeper relationship with life. What is it that empowers them? It is the freeing up of the energies they had left behind. They were able to fully withdraw, let go and seal up their past. This brings the full freshness of life into the moment.

It is interesting to see how Christianity displays the image of Jesus on the cross. It has come to represent a symbol of how he suffered and died for our sins to offer us protection. This is almost the complete opposite to how early Christians saw it. In the first few centuries, this image became a powerful symbol showing Jesus’ fearlessness towards death. This was the higher reality he lived by that let him accept the end of this worldly life in order to begin a greater one.

His fearlessness unleashed the Christian movement, and it grew so large it eventually threatened the Roman Empire. The only power that Rome had over others was the threat of death. But once thousands of people were willing to die for a higher reality, the greatest government in the world was helpless against them. This is how early Christians discovered how to make their death a gift for the sake of life. This was what the icon of the cross stands for. It took them out from under the rule of physical forces and put them into the hands of a greater existence.

This same power comes when we give up our moments to life.

Therefore, we should not just think ahead about the new things we want to accomplish as we begin a new year. We should also think about all the endings we are leaving behind. We can give them up and let them go as if they are gifts we are giving away. We can willingly release them as our sacrifice. This honors them and gives thanks for what they gave, offering them a beautiful passing.

If we practice this each year and learn to treat each moment this way, eventually we will outgrow our juvenile behavior and even one day prepare for our own death. We can picture our own dying as a gift to life. It is after all the greatest thing we can give up. Why not spend some thoughts toward making it a great and beautiful ending, so that we have prepared for it, when the time comes?

Sound like a strange idea?

I believe that time only belongs to those who give it away. It rules everyone else, which is why they never find enough time to live.

Shedding Skin

By Doug Marman

Photo by Nick Cowie

“The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come,” says Joseph Campbell, the famous teacher of mythology, referring to the ancient symbol of snakes shedding their skin as a metaphor for inner growth. “If you want resurrection, you must have crucifixion…We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”1

However, it is easy to overlook how difficult this process actually is. We must die and let go of what we are before we can enter into our next stage of growth. It is a rebirth. But, who would ever want to go through the death of everything they know? This is not something that comes because we are seeking it. It erupts upon us. We have no choice but to shed our old skin or die.

Medicine Grizzly Bear, an American Indian shaman, once described his struggles to me, about how much suffering he went through until he accepted the changes he needed to make. He felt as if he was at the brink of death, before he broke through.

He grew up a typical American boy. He went through school, received a degree and was teaching in college, when he suddenly began getting sick with one illness after another.

He would recover, only to find himself with some strange new problem that was even more debilitating. At the same time his dreams began to scare him with images of dying, mingled with scenes from Indian teaching stories he had grown up with. The problems got worse, until he wondered if he was going insane.

He had forgotten the religious teachings he had been raised on. However, once he realized that medical doctors couldn’t understand what he was going through, and that he desperately had to do something, he decided to call on a medicine man to see if they could help.

They immediately recognized what he was going through: He was being called to become a medicine man, himself. He was told that he had no choice. If he didn’t listen he would probably die or go crazy. The moment he began accepting this possibility, his whole situation changed and he began recovering immediately.

Shamans have called themselves the Wounded Ones, because they were forced to go through grave difficulties before they could recognize that life could not be the same for them as everyone else. They had no choice. They had to shed their old skin to enter into the life that was calling them. It was their only means of survival.

We don’t hear much about the spiritual call these days, but experiences like these are just as common today. However, the challenge is often more difficult in our modern culture, because most people have nothing to help or explain what is happening. Only those who have gone through such transformations understand the meaning of it.

Photo by Michael & Christa Richert

A young lady recently found herself in tears over the mental anguish she was going through. She could not stop her mind and the fearful thoughts it was imagining. She was scared and finally broke down to tell a friend. Was she going crazy, she asked? Her friend was visibly shaken and said, yes, it sounded that way to her. But as soon as she met someone who realized what she was experiencing, and she accepted that this was happening because she was being called to the spiritual path, everything turned around.

The immediate healing itself left little doubt, but once she felt better, she still tried to go back to her old life, caring little about pursuing spirituality. This is human nature to want to return to our old ways. The mental problems returned, until she accepted that she had no choice and began taking up contemplation.

A young man I spoke with not long ago had been heading toward a life of social success, just as his father had hoped. But after suffering a concussion, when he was tackled on the football field while playing quarterback in college, his whole life changed. For months he couldn’t cope. He couldn’t remember things and couldn’t hold a job. His life took a sudden nose dive, until he began to step back from the path he had been on and rethink what life was about.

That’s when he realized why the accident happened in the first place: He needed to abandon the whole life he had been trying to live. Suddenly, understanding the spiritual purpose of life became a compulsion – something he had to find out. His wounding let him shed his old self. Now, he realizes the great gift his injury has been, since he had been heading in the wrong direction.

It often takes a serious accident or illness, because who else would make such a difficult change?

A young lady with a newborn baby found herself isolated from other girls her age by the new responsibilities of being a mother. She loved her child and would never trade her baby boy for anything, but her whole life was changed.

She asked me if I could interpret a dream she had, and once I explained to her the spiritual meaning I sensed in the dream, she suddenly opened up and began talking with me about things she had never told anyone before. Her whole demeanor changed. It was like watching this huge weight being lifted off of her. She began to glow with a light that filled the room.

She had long suspected that there was something different about her. For example, why did she know how to heal herself through dreams? No one she knew could understand what she was going through; until I confirmed for her what she was experiencing.

These sudden changes in our lenses of perception allow us to see a new world that was invisible to us before. Once we shed our old skin, we can never go back. That’s the indication of real spiritual growth.

1 From: “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion,” by Diane K. Osbon

The Burden of Consciousness

By Doug Marman

“Door in the Shadow” by Utku Yasavul

How often do we see people running away from awareness? They don’t want to know.

Many take up drinking for this reason, or drugs. Some get lost in religious fanaticism, become groupies of movie stars, or addicted to TV and entertainment. These are ways of escaping.

When people turn to religion, they often want God to take care of them, or they want to believe in something absolutely true, so that they won’t have to think about the questions of life.

One of the most unfortunate things that can happen with a spiritual search is when it deteriorates into asceticism — when seekers believe that suffering is needed to be saved. It is a desperate attempt at freeing themselves from the bondage of materialism, but they are going about it the wrong way. It is just another form of running away from awareness.

People who have had bad relationships will often avoid getting close to others. Love seems too difficult and painful. They can’t face another heart crushing experience, so they shun intimacy.

Lots of people think they are pursuing freedom, when they are really running away from the responsibility of consciousness. Aren’t these all forms of the death wish? The desire to fall asleep?

I sometimes call this “The Burden of Consciousness.”

After all, we didn’t choose to be conscious, did we? It is as if people want to give this gift back to God and say, “I don’t want this.”

Life says, “Trust me. It grows on you.”

If we think in terms of symbols, most people are like downward facing triangles, focusing on all the issues and problems of the material world. They agonize over how others see them, whether they are succeeding or failing in the eyes of the world. They worry about all the forces of life that seem to be flooding in upon them. They feel trapped and helpless against the pressures of energies flowing down on them that are too powerful to control.

Not understanding their true innate nature, that Soul of itself is free and can be happy under any conditions, they suffer and run away from their own awareness. Not seeing how the troubles of life all bring gifts, and not realizing how to move with the flow of life to learn from it, their lives become filled with stress. If only they could turn that triangle face up.

In other words, there is a lesson in the desire to escape. Dying can help us let go and move on. We can’t escape our creations, but we can give up our attachment to them. Should our happiness rise and fall based on how the world accepts our creations? Isn’t the whole point of this death wish an inner desire to give up all our worries and to turn our triangle face up?

I think the true underlying need within us is the desire to become more aware and this is why it is important to listen, to understand these messages. Our subconscious raises such dire images of disaster and suffering because it wants our attention. This is how the Shadow often works in our lives. It does things to upset us, like a child does, to get attention. This is just its way of saying that it needs our consideration and love.

Some parents set aside time for their children, where they encourage them to put on shows and plays. It is time for them to watch and give their children care and attention. We can do the same thing with our Shadow, which is our subconscious.

Facing our shadow

For example, if the death wish arises, we can take time to ask our Shadow to show and display its best death scenario. How would it go? Would there be weeping and crying afterwards? Would the Shadow like to be there to see its own funeral? Is this the kind of attention it is looking for? Is this the only way it knows if it is really loved — by seeing the sadness of others after it has left this world? But once we escape all the troubles of love and life, what happens next?

Go through this with your Shadow — feel what it feels because you care about it — and you will transform it. It will move from the darkness into light and it will change from something that tries to embarrass you into something that guides and helps you. Once we truly start listening to our subconscious, to the feelings that lurk below our own awareness, we find that it possesses wisdom beyond our expectations. It is not asking us to face the burden of consciousness because of our failures, but to surrender to life because we trust it, and to find once again our natural lightness of being.

Only we can transform the Shadow. Only we can move it into the daylight and make it our friend. It can be a traumatic experience going through this at first, because it means learning to love the very things we have shunned and criticized. But in the end, we realize how much more important truth is for us. We need truth to thrive.

The story of the Shadow is like the old Gothic novels where an unwanted child has been locked away in a dungeon, until it breaks out one day. We too, lock away the Shadow, which is a part of ourselves that we don’t want others to see.

Sooner or later we need to accept this child as our own, to love it as a part of ourselves. Then we discover that even the ugliest and most disfigured children can return more love than we ever imagined. This shows us how wrong we were about what is truly important. And before our eyes our inner child becomes beautiful.

This is how the Shadow changes us, through the gift it gives us. It brings a fulfillment and completeness that makes all burdens worthwhile.