This article is an excerpt from the new book, HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE DEAD…and How Cultures Do It Around the World, by YourLifeisaTrip.com executive editor Judith Fein.
Not everyone celebrates their 80th birthday alone in the wilderness for four days and four nights . But that's exactly what writer Nancy King elected to do when she signed up for a spiritual Vision Quest. Discover how she manages to tamp down fear and ready herself for the woods as she prepares for the big event.
My husband, Gary, and I recently went to Cornwall to walk meandering paths with a small group. At least, thatwas the story. One morning over breakfast at Rosemerryn House in Lamorna Valley, one of our group revealed she is a professional storyteller. She described learning to take storytelling seriously. “After all,” she mused, “We don’t usually think stories are important. At least, not in the real world.”
I realized that often the word “story” is used as a code word for “false.” As in: “Oh, that’s a likely story! You don’t really expect me to believe you, do you?” Or it’s trivialized to mean something soothing, as in, “Tell me a bedtime story.” Of course, a story is much more than that: it is how we make meaning out of our experiences—as in, “telling the story of my life.” Sometimes I identify so much with my story that instead of me telling “it,” it starts telling “me.”
Musing at Scorhill Stone Circle, England
We trudged up the bleak hill, brown and barren. My husband, Gary, and I were hiking with a small group in desolate, wild Dartmoor National Park to a place we’d never been, following a faint path through the moor, a track barely visible in the water-logged, peaty soil. Our guide informed us that people can easily lose their way on the moors—experienced hikers, skilled in reading maps, disappear, their bodies found years later.
by Elyn Aviva
Join me on a journey into the unknown, where what you think you know melts away and is replaced by something something bigger.
For decades I have been drawn to sacred sites and powerful places, drawn to go on pilgrimage across France and Spain, drawn to place my feet in the footsteps of if not my ancestors then of the ancestors of spirit who have traveled these paths before me. Like iron pulled toward a magnet, I have sought out well- and little-known places of power ancient stone circles, half-buried dolmens, ruined Romanesque chapels, spire-topped inspiring cathedrals, thick forests, hidden holy wells, dark sacred caves. Seeking I knew not what, going I knew not why, except that I was driven by a simple but all-consuming question: What are these places? I think I hoped that, by going to enough of them, I would find the answer.
The first time I knew I was in a very powerful place was when I saw the alignments at Carnac in Brittany, France. My husband, Gary, and I had driven through the flat Breton maritime pine forest toward the coast. The nearly straight road reached a crossroad and there, behind green metal fencing, were rows of large, upright stones, some as tall as a person, stretching in rows as far as the eye can see. Brakes screeching, we pulled over. I jumped out and ran across the lane, twining my fingers through the barrier to get as close as I could. What were they? Who put them here? What purpose did they serve?
by Elyn Aviva
Join me on a journey into the unknown, where what you think you know melts away and is replaced by something—something “bigger.”
For decades I have been drawn to sacred sites and powerful places, drawn to go on pilgrimage across France and Spain, drawn to place my feet in the footsteps of if not my ancestors then of the ancestors of spirit who have traveled these paths before me. Like iron pulled toward a magnet, I have sought out well- and little-known places of power—ancient stone circles, half-buried dolmens, ruined Romanesque chapels, spire-topped inspiring cathedrals, thick forests, hidden holy wells, dark sacred caves. Seeking I knew not what, going I knew not why, except that I was driven by a simple but all-consuming question: “What are these places?” I think I hoped that, by going to enough of them, I would find the answer.
The first time I knew I was in a very powerful place was when I saw the alignments at Carnac in Brittany, France. My husband, Gary, and I had driven through the flat Breton maritime pine forest toward the coast. The nearly straight road reached a crossroad—and there, behind green metal fencing, were rows of large, upright stones, some as tall as a person, stretching in rows as far as the eye can see. Brakes screeching, we pulled over. I jumped out and ran across the lane, twining my fingers through the barrier to get as close as I could. What were they? Who put them here? What purpose did they serve?
by Elyn Aviva
Welcome to Ynys-witrin, the Island of Glass, AKA “Glasto,” thriving spiritual theme park for the New Age, neo-pagans, witches, traditional Catholics, Anglicans, Buddhists, Hindus, Methodist church ladies, sound healers, shamanic journey-ers, light therapists, Arthurian aficionados, Isle of Avalon pilgrims, holy-well-water visitors, Grail seekers, and recovering addicts. If that makes your head buzz, it should. And that ain’t the half of it.
We had decided to spend a month in Glastonbury. It had seemed like a good idea at the time—which should have been a warning signal. A month in Glastonbury? A town where every time we had visited for a few days we shook our heads and said, “NOT a place to stay for very long! Too intense, too ungrounded…” But somehow, in a moment of inspired weakness, it seemed like a good idea. Get away from our apartment in Girona (Catalonia, Spain) where we couldn’t seem to get away from work. Rest and relax in a rural Somerset town where we could go for gentle walks up to the scenic tower on top of the 500-foot high, dragon-backed Tor hill, or visit the lush and lovely Chalice Well Gardens, or stroll through the extensive grounds of the ruined but still evocative Glastonbury Abbey.
by Richard Rossner
“There’s a disturbance in the Force.” - Obi-Wan Kenobi
My uncle died today. As soon as I heard the news, I felt the depth of Obi-Wan’s statement. It’s been happening a lot lately. My mother died last June.
The disturbance I feel is that small hole…the emptiness…the gap that a person leaves behind when they finish their life’s journey and head for the next adventure in the Hereafter. It seems like a selfish thing, but I didn’t even have to talk to them; I just liked knowing that my uncle and mom were here. My maneuverings in the world somehow felt safer knowing that we were sharing space, air, the daily happenings…everything. But the death of someone I love sensitizes me to the rip in the fabric of life.
Even though I believe in the concept of “spirit” and that it survives bodily death, it doesn’t make the loss any easier for me.
by Elyn Aviva
Rumbling vibration of Spanish high-speed AVE train, coming into the deep underground white glass-brick cement plaster metal station in Girona. Feet tingle on platform, train sloowwwwws waaaayyyyyyy dowwwwwwnnnn and coasts to stop. Sigh like a long-held outbreath as doors open, stairs unfold. Clack thump of discharging passengers maneuvering out and down and onto platform, luggage dangling.
We wait to get on. Impatience has a metallic feel.
Finding our seats, sinking in. Ahh. Whoosh of doors closing, train starting, gaining speed. 200 kms/hour. Fast. Train car is more or less silent, except for the gaggle of girls behind us, a before-wedding hen party heading to Barcelona. They sport puffy red heart pins on their sweaters, move grudgingly when I push through to the semi-circular toilet cubicle at the end.
Ground mist rises like whipped cream, hiding the dark green hills. Rain smears against the windows, streams rushing tumultuous but soundless, muddy swirling water caressing tree roots in a cold embrace.
200 kms/hour, now 150, now 50, now 6…. Slow sigh of arrival. Sants Estación, Barcelona. Hurry down the platform, up the escalator, across the station toward Metro entrance. Huge Metro map on wall, angular routes snaking over it, marking the underground root-network beneath the city. Choose your color, your number, your direction. Linea 5, sky blue, direction Vall de Hebron, intermediate node, Sagrada Familia. Repetitive thump squeak of footsteps on tile corridor, down one flight of stairs, onto slow moving escalator… Pause. Shift. Wait.
Tension builds. People jostle to buy tickets. Which way does the ticket arrow go in the machine to get through the gate? Will the baby buggy get caught in the vertical gyrating windmill turnstile? Why doesn’t it work? Put it in again. Lose a journey.
by Kristine Mietzner
When I walked through the tall wooden doors of the Santa Sabina Center, thirty minutes north of San Francisco, I hoped for rest and revelations about what was next in my life. The former convent is tucked away in San Rafael among oaks and eucalyptus, and it is a place for quiet, contemplation, and meditation. Exactly what I needed.
On that rainy May weekend, I sought a break from navigating the litigious end of a long marriage. I was a sailor caught in a storm of emotions, seeking a safe harbor. No talking, just a place to take my tired self to bind my wounds, shed disappointments, and release anger.
Just as I was falling into bed in a room that once housed Dominican novitiates, my cell phone rang. Why was I getting a call at 9:30 p.m. from the father of my children? I jumped to the fear that my son or daughter might be hurt, so I answered the phone. Big mistake.
The kids were okay but he, an attorney, wanted to talk about our unsettled property issues. I didn’t. I referred him to my attorney. Before we hung up, I said, “Don’t call me again this weekend.” Sighing, I turned off the phone.
Then I berated myself. How foolish could I be? I knew better than to take a call from my ex-husband while on a spiritual retreat.
I stopped myself from a bitter downward spiral by recalling that the marriage had had its good years. We were blessed with two incredible children. I found some compassion for myself. It was okay that I answered the phone and besides, I had ended the call quickly.
Opening the window, I inhaled the eucalyptus-scented air, listened to the soft, steady rainfall whispering in the night, and reflected on how far I’d travelled in my post-marriage years.
Right from the beginning of the unraveling of my marriage, I knew that forgiveness would unlock the door to my new life, but finding the key proved challenging. How could I forgive someone I perceived as trying to take advantage of me?
Where can we find holiness?
Sometimes I feel like I am in a grand hide-and-seek game with the Creator. Just when I think I’ve found the deepest of the deep, He escapes me. Just when I’ve found the perfect light, the right sound, the special spot for a spiritual experience, a hiccup or sneeze ruins the instant.
Then again, moments in life occasionally arrange themselves to create spontaneous experiences that become life-long memories with deep teachings that touch the soul. They sneak up on you like the first warm smell of Spring that subtly tickles your nose. You have to stop to make sure they really happened. To miss these moments would be to miss the juiciest slices of life.
In 1994, I had just moved from Los Angeles to Scottsdale, Arizona. The Northridge earthquake shook up more than the foundations of my West L.A. town home. I was shaken to my very core. I wanted out. I had been blinded by too much show biz (I had been a writer on a hit show), too much disappointment (I was off the hit show and didn’t bag another staff position), and I was finally tiring of too much life in and out of the Hollywood fishbowl.
Picture this. The large thatched-roof, sand-carpeted temple was barren except for the obviously ill child curled up in the single cot by the wall. An old woman could be heard chanting from within her sacred chamber, candlelight flickering around the corners of the sheet separating her from the long hall. Her healing incantations, I later discovered, were addressed to the spirits who may have had reasons of their own to inflict the child.
Intrigued? Okay, here’s the story. Spirits are big in the Garifuna community of Belize -- which by the way is a Central American country that thinks it’s a Caribbean island. Garifuna, you say? Never heard of them. Part of the melting pot civilization which comprises Belize, the Garifuna share the land with Creole, Mayan, Spanish, Mennonite, Chinese and other neighbors but their language, customs, foods and religion are unique. So are their spirits.
Now there are only about 7000 Garifuna currently in the country, but the spiritual population is a lot larger. “Our ancestors are all about us,” Lawrence, our guide, told me: “Just as we must eat and drink to live, so must they be nourished as well.” This is something the ancestors take very seriously.
So if they perceive they are being neglected, the dead return, most often through dreams, to remind the living that they are in need of nourishment. If this message goes unheeded, the spirits may get angry and make a family member sick. The ancestors do not take kindly to being ignored.
Cautiously, my husband Gary, our friend Michael, and I followed a nearly invisible path through the fog and up the side of Loughcrew hill, just before sunrise. A huge crow—perhaps a raven—flew by, its wings flapping loudly in semi-darkness. We were heading to the ridge top to see a twice-a-year spectacle: the rays of the equinox sunrise penetrating the passageway of Cairn T, a 5,500-year-old megalithic tomb situated 52 miles northwest of Dublin. The equinoxes, which occur around March 21 and September 21, are the two times of year when the days and nights are of equal length.
Distant drumming drifted through the swirling mist, along with the faint sound of voices. Others had reached the site before us. Soon we arrived at the top. A large mound of mist-sparkled green grass and rocks, Cairn T looked like an immense, squat mushroom, partly encircled with huge kerbstones. A number of ruined, exposed stone chambers and tumbled stones were scattered over the hillside. Clumps of people milled around, seeking shelter, chanting, or sharing mugs of steaming coffee and pieces of cake. The event had the mixed flavor of a class reunion and a revival meeting.
story + photos by Suzanne Marriott
My husband was lying in the hospital bed, dying. It wasn’t as if I should be surprised—he had been in and out of hospitals many times that year, suffering from complications of multiple sclerosis. Yet, I was. I was in shock.
I had been his caregiver for the last ten years, and now, at the time of his death on January 1, 2006, I couldn’t stop. I still had to take care of him. Less than a minute after he drew his last breath, I began reading a Tibetan Phowa, or prayer, to Amatabha Buddha to guide Michael’s transition. It was a long and beautiful poem that guided him as he experienced the stages of death and the many levels of transition. Amitabha is a Sanskrit word that literally means boundless light and boundless life. He is the Buddha in the Land of Ultimate Bliss (Pure Land), in which all beings enjoy unbounded happiness. He can provide a “short cut” to enlightenment. By reading this phowa, I felt still connected to Michael, still able to care for him.
Nearly six years after my husband’s death, I hardly expected to meet Amatabha Buddha again in Sedona, Arizona, and this was not the only surprising thing that happened there.
I had been struggling with my prayer life, figuring out where and how I could have some peace and quiet in the Big Apple. I tried to petition and call on God, but the words wouldn't come. I wondered, “If a city never sleeps, how does it ever dream? How do its people ever come to a solemn state of rest?” My father, a Christian of no particular denomination, suggested I visit a mosque and learn from the Muslims.
“Watch them pray,” he said, “Their discipline and devotion is admirable. Watching them pray at the exact same time every day was one of my favorite things about living in the Middle East.”
I say I am a well-traveled Filipina, but that only means I have made countless layovers on flights to and from New York. The most traveling that I have ever done is through reading books, therefore I have great expectations of places I have yet to see. I hear “India” and I think saris in vibrant colors, citrus rinds covering a plate of curry, or yogis in lotus position. I hear “Rio de Janeiro” and I think futbol, futbol, futbol!
When I hear the word “mosque,” a flipbook of ideas, images, sounds, and even smells pop into my head. I let my mind cruise through this Rolodex as I sit in the Pelham-bound 6 train. Here I am, a young Protestant raised in a Catholic country, managing all the thoughts sweeping through my head as I near the New York Mosque. I straighten my spine and fix my hair as I get off the train, forcing myself to be, or seem to be, more reverent than I usually am.