aliyahpicIf we are alive and having this human experience, I believe we have made a deep personal choice to be so. In his best-selling novel, Your Soul’s Plan, Robert Schwartz asserts that for every soul on earth there were two others wanting to come into our body. Being in body must mean we were the ones who were selected, however that selection process happens. If this idea is true, each of us must have important work to do. When we have completed the work of this lifetime, then we no longer need to be in our bodies, the temporary vehicle for our work. We can return Home to the Spirit world where we are met with previously deceased loved ones patiently awaiting our return.

In our culture, there is an endemic fear of death that is unfortunate, as this fear causes much suffering. After all, everybody will cross over at some point as everyone before us has. Emmanuel–a well-known teacher who is not in human form and who has written many useful books on the subject–states: “Dying is perfectly safe.” Everything I have read about people who have clinically died and returned portrays a beautiful journey enveloped in a profound state of love.

Why would one’s departure after a long, well-lived life or a prolonged illness elicit anything but a celebratory reaction from loved ones left behind? It is understandable to me that there would be a pretty significant grieving process when losing a loved one, especially if that life has been tragically cut short by illness or traumatic injury. However, I have also witnessed pretty Herculean efforts by the medical community to keep individuals in their body no matter what level of suffering they might be going through. Being in one’s body can be a demanding and often arduous experience, and for some the fear of transitioning may be a practical strategy for staying in one’s body through life’s profound challenges. During a protracted illness, however, the stages of death and dying can lead to an acceptance of one’s mortality as a journey that may be completed more quickly by the person dying than the loved ones they leave behind. Cultures that understand the immortality of the soul tend to be more celebratory upon one’s crossing.

The decision to leave can happen in a split second or it can happen over time. I believe that the soul contemplates and designs the plan for the lifetime while in the Spirit world, carefully choosing when to enter, where to enter, and with whom to enter as well as when and how to leave. Alterations can be made along the way depending upon choices we make, but basically I believe the general design has been carefully selected with much awareness and with much beloved guidance.

There have been two different times in my life that I can recall where I had to consciously choose to stay in my body despite overwhelming circumstances that were unfolding. In my late thirties, when the neurological symptoms began, I had an overwhelming premonition of what was to come. Whether it was a true recollection of some “previous” choice, bald-faced fear at what was to come, or both, I went through one of the most difficult periods of my life. I remember lying on the sofa and watching the clock change over a three-day period without moving. My children were young and I felt very torn about giving in to this profound contraction, however, I felt that I had no other option. Fortunately, my husband was very understanding and picked up the slack, giving me time to process this seemingly catastrophic passage. After a few days, I pulled myself up with whatever courage I could muster and re-entered my life. My commitment to my children helped me find the courage to move forward. During this period, I lost forty pounds and desperately sought out whatever help I could get along the way to keep moving. I found a healer in Tylertown, Mississippi, to whom I would drive weekly for sometimes four hours sessions, where I began to explore every aspect of my life. I remember the day she noticed my excessive weight loss and brought me carob soy milk to drink which felt like “mother’s milk.” From that moment on, I made the choice to stay the course no matter what would be required. This choice was made on a visceral level and only became conscious in retrospect.

As  seemed to be the case with many of my life’s more profound teachings, I was called to use what I had learned instantaneously in my role as a psychotherapist who has led hundreds of “travelers through the wilderness.”  At that time, the father of my daughter’s girlfriend committed suicide in the most violent way imaginable, leaving his family in emotional shambles. His wife who had become my friend was in shock and began losing enough weight that it became life-threatening. I could see the level of despair she found herself in and the resulting life/death choice that was in front of her. Because of my own recent experience of being in that liminal state, and having come through to the other side, I could recognize the choice she had in front of her. I could speak to her with confidence and empathy about this precarious passage in her life, which gave her the freedom to fully be in this vulnerable place consciously. By feeling less isolated in her despair and hearing how I navigated through that place so recently, she was more able to find her way back. I felt grateful for having successfully returned and able to be of help to a family I cared about. Not unlike Victor Frankel’s teaching to attribute greater meaning to one’s suffering, I felt gratitude to have been of service, and I was able to find meaning in my suffering. This path can also be understood as the archetype of the wounded healer–a shamanic journey, where the healer travels through the underworld in a healing journey of physical or emotional illness and then returns to help others find their way.

The second experience where I felt that I had to deliberately choose to stay in my body was when I was sent to a nursing home for ten days to receive IV antibiotics in 2012. I was unprepared for the level of despair I felt from the occupants AND for the level of despair I felt from the staff.

Being hypersensitive to my environment, I have to be careful where I allow myself to go. Attention to my diet is a vital part of my daily protocol, which is designed to support the mitochondria (the building blocks of life) of my cells. The processed food in this facility was completely unpalatable and unacceptable. Fortunately, my family and caregivers brought me food on a daily basis, without which I would have again had major weight loss. With the support of my family, I chose to stay.

There is an understanding that, “If you are wondering whether your work of the lifetime is complete, if you are still in your body, it is not.” This brings to mind the question of where this choice is actually made. What part of us is asking the question and what part of us is doing the answering? These “choices” are made in concert with our higher selves, which are intricately connected with our guides, teachers, and the Masters. Nothing is arbitrary. It is all a Sacred adventure, designed to elicit our greatest Soul’s evolution. It is not our egos or our lower selves making these decisions. These are courageous decisions made with much consideration of the trajectory that will lead to our soul’s greatest level of growth. From this perspective, many of life’s choices have a greater meaning, and we understand that some of life’s complexities can only be left to the Mystery. Understanding the intricacies and challenges of being in a physical body makes choosing life a courageous and heroic journey.