On Friday, June 3, 2016 I met Carsten and his wife for the first time at Hufeland Klinik in Germany. To say that I "friend" fell-in-love with them would be totally accurate. There was life and joy beaming from their eyes. I'm very intentional and try to orchestrate as much as possible who the people are that surround me. I tend to avoid people who generally complain, focus on the negativity in a situation, and are self-absorbed. Therefore, I knew from the beginning that Carsten and his wife were among the people I felt that I would be changed for the better by simply being with them.
What happened during our first conversation sealed the deal. When he asked if I had children and I said, "No," his response was perfect. Over the years I have received too-many-to-count imperfect responses when I answer "No" to this question. (I'll save all of that for another post.) Carsten's answer was perfect to me because he said, "Oh, you have the luxury of sleeping through the night and going on holiday." I smiled and said, "Yes, yes I do!"
*As a friendly reminder and general rule, don't ask questions like this during simple chit-chat if you're not ready for any possible answer that could be given. Wait out the conversation and see if you find out... oh, that's the reason they haven't gotten married yet... oh, that's the reason their weight has unexpectedly changed... oh, their child passed away last year... etc. I wrote a little bit about how you can respond to questions like this on my Holistic Reproductive Health Education blog (Nosy Questions at the Holidays... *sigh*).
Throughout the next couple of weeks, Carsten and I would talk together and sometimes paint together and check in with each other to see how things were going. Some of our conversations went very deep and he said that I could share them in this and other posts.
The first conversation I clearly remember was on the evening of Saturday, June 11, 2016 at dinner when many of the other patients were gone for the weekend. No one else was sitting at his or my table, so he joined me. How we got to this topic talking over shredded cabbage salad and roasted potatoes, I have no idea. What I do know is that Carsten asks very good questions... they always made me stop and think.
How I Lost My Fear of Dying & Death
Carsten and I talked about the book that the therapist at Hufeland had just recommended to him. It contains the stories of many near-death experiences: Life After Life by Raymond Moody. "Originally published in 1975, it is the groundbreaking study of one hundred people who experienced 'clinical death' and were revived, and who tell, in their own words, what lies beyond death."
I talked about my journey and process that led me to lose my fear of dying and death in 2012 after I had been given the diagnosis of Q Fever, a rare bacterial infection. Mainly, it was reading or listening to many books and watching a documentary... pretty easy work, right? Basically I showed up to figure out exactly what I was so afraid of. I am not saying you need to read every word of these books and watch every minute of this documentary, but I am saying that these were great tools for me that might help you as well or be the catalyst for finding your own path.
90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper and Cecil Murphey
"As he is driving home from a minister's conference, Baptist minister Don Piper collides with a semi-truck that crosses into his lane. He is pronounced dead at the scene. For the next 90 minutes, Piper experiences heaven where he is greeted by those who had influenced him spiritually. He hears beautiful music and feels true peace. Back on earth, a passing minister who had also been at the conference is led to pray for Don even though he knows the man is dead. Piper miraculously comes back to life and the bliss of heaven is replaced by a long and painful recovery."
Heaven is for Real by by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent
"The true story of the four-year old son [Colton] of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn't know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear." In this book, the painting "Prince of Peace" by Akiane Kramarik is mentioned. "In the spring of 2003, Akiane painted her first portrait of Jesus, entitled 'Prince of Peace.' [...] Colton Burpo, a near-death survivor at age four, had been identifying deceased family members from photographs, and the family had been searching for images that matched the boy's description of Jesus. It was not until Kramarik's 'Prince of Peace,' a portrait of Jesus [...] that Burpo confirmed that 'they finally got one right' "(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akiane_Kramarik).
Honor Thy Daughter by Marilyn Howell
"An intimate true story about her family's search for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing as her daughter struggles with terminal cancer. The family's journey takes them through the darkest corners of corporate medicine, the jungles of Brazil, the pallid hallways of countless hospitals, and ultimately into the hands of an anonymous therapist who offers the family hope and healing through MDMA-assisted psychotherapy."
Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen
"Dr. Remen has a unique perspective on healing rooted in her background as a physician, a professor of medicine, a therapist, and a long-term survivor of chronic illness. In a deeply moving and down-to-earth collection of true stories, this prominent physician shows us life in all its power and mystery and reminds us that the things we cannot measure may be the things that ultimately sustain and enrich our lives."
DMT: The Spirit Molecule "investigates dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an endogenous psychoactive compound, which exists in humans and numerous species of plants and animals. The feature-length documentary traces Dr. Rick Strassman's government-sanctioned, human DMT research and its many trials, tribulations, achievements, and inconceivable realizations. This includes looking deeper into the intense psychedelic experience that DMT causes when consumed, and examining DMT's scientific, spiritual, and cultural relevance. Ultimately, The Spirit Molecule explores the connections between cutting-edge neuroscience, quantum physics, and human spirituality."
This documentary (free-streaming on YouTube) finally gave me the visuals I needed to put it all together. Prior to all of this, heaven was this bright white and gold place where I’d join billions of other souls singing in a massive choir for all eternity… B.O.R.I.N.G. The descriptions and colors and sounds that people report using DMT, the spirit molecule, is B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L. Also, I was fearful that the dying process would be dark, lonely, scary, and painful.
My new understanding is that death will just be my soul slipping ever so gently out of this body and returning to the beautiful place from where it had come from prior to conception.
How I'm Losing My Fear of Living & Life
In mid-June 2015, I started reading the book Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds by Kelly A. Turner, Ph.D. In the chapter "Releasing Suppressed Emotions" she talks about Joe's 3-day experience reading the book Home with God: In a Life That Never Ends (the final book in the Conversations with God series) by Neale Donald Walsch: "[The book] painted a picture of God which made much more sense to me: a God of immeasurable love rather than the angry and vengeful God of my upbringing. I now think that man has created God in the image of himself, rather than vice versa."
Something about that paragraph spoke to me, so I reserved the Home with God book at my local library. While I was reading it one morning in mid-July 2015, I felt like I heard my soul say that it hadn’t danced/been in the presence of God for over 35 years (or since I was born). I finished reading that particular section and decided to meditate for 20 minutes. When I begin meditating, I usually envision myself leaning back onto God’s chest while sitting on God’s cross-legged lap and saying, “To rest in God.” And then as my monkey-mind tends to bounce around the other thoughts, I'll remind myself that right now I'm resting in God. That morning I said to myself, "Head and heart, you can rest in God. But soul, you are free to come out from wherever it is that you have been hiding deep inside my being, and frolic with God." And then... I fell asleep... or maybe it was actually the deep, deep rest I've experienced in Yoga Nidra when I say that I go to outer space... but something really big shifted that morning.
I read about a quarter of Home with God and felt that I had received what I needed for the time being. There was a part in the book where the author talks about losing your fear of death. When I read that, I did a little metaphorical pat on my back... I was already there, dude... I had lost my fear of death... I'm so enlightened, man.
He said... that's only the first step... that once you lose your fear of death, then the next step is to lose your fear of life. *Mic Drop.*
That rang so very, very true for me. Once I read that sentence, I realized that I had been living my whole life scared to death to live! Scared of what others think of me… scared of what I think of me… scared what the world in general thinks of me... and so much more. I was scared of living. How does that make any sense?!?
Before & After
Two-and-a-half weeks after meeting Carsten for the first time, I was getting my last infusion on June 20, 2016. We were able to sit next to each other and laugh together and joke with the nurses and other patients. Then I asked Carsten if I could ask him a question about his artwork. Of course he said, "Sure!"
I said, "I noticed one of your paintings with dark hearts and colorful hearts is called 'Before and After.' Can you tell me more about it or what it means and why you named it that?"
What I remember him saying is that he was trying to paint his life before a cancer diagnosis happened in December 2015... that there was love but there was also stress and a lot of other negative emotions. And that after the cancer diagnosis, that there is love and there is so much light and happiness and joy. Granted, not all the time, but by and large his view of life has shifted toward so much gratefulness. This is exactly what I had thought when I saw his artwork.
Then I said, "Don't you think that people looking in on us from the outside would think that it's the opposite? That people never given a diagnosis of cancer would without question think that before a cancer diagnosis life is bright and happy, and that after a cancer diagnosis we would only be able to paint dark hearts? That a cancer diagnosis only brings with it pain and suffering and darkness? That's what I thought." He agreed... and then we both sat there for awhile. I was thinking about how simple and beautiful his art was... and how simple and beautiful our conversations had been... and how this crazy, fukked-up, incredibly perfect journey after a cancer diagnosis has been blowing my heart open wider than I ever thought possible. What was the life that I had been living before?! What is the life that I am living now!?
PS - While writing this post about death and dying, I revisited the poem "Aubade" by Philip Larkin again and again. You might enjoy reading this post: A Poem for Our Souls.
Colleen Flowers was given the diagnosis of aggressive Stage 2 breast cancer on June 1, 2015 at the age of 35. She's trained as a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner and does her best to walk the talk. Please explore this site for resources, information, and ideas you may not have been presented with before now. If you like what you see, then subscribe to her newsletter and consider talking with her. Want to stop making decisions based on running away from fear and death, and base them on walking toward love and life? Book a Consult and Buy a Package for individualized coaching support.