The Art Of Dying

A trip worth telling

Experimenting with both psychedelics and spirituality for about five years, one particular experience changed my life and transformed the way I considered my place in the world.

You go through changes, it may seem strange
Is this what you’re put here for?
— Love

This was the time I was completing an Arts degree, studying the archaeology, anthropology, and history of religion, mysticism, and mythology.

I was also immersing myself in shamanistic spirituality, culminating in a trip to South Dakota, where I lived in and around the Black Hills and the neighbouring Sioux Reservations. There I attended many local ceremonies, and had the opportunity to learn as much about the Lakota view of connectedness and belonging as would be shared with me.

Pertinent to this story was the advice one Medicine Man imparted on me prior to my return home to Australia. Having allowed me to accompany him on one of his errands, I asked him for some advice around finding purpose and meaning in life. We had talked about this issue before, and I always found his counsel resonated. Enigmatically, he simply answered, “don’t go up on the mountain”; a phrase used to refer to participating in a hañbleçeya, the ‘Vision Quest’.

“The wretched desert takes its form”

Arriving home after a gruelling and tiring flight, I found an email from a friend inviting me on a trip to the South Australian desert. A small group of my friends were planning to perform their own version of a hañbleçeya. Remembering the words of my Medicine Man mentor, I declined to participate, but said I would be happy to come along to support those who were participating.

And so, within days I was travelling into the Gammon Ranges. For seven days our small band of intrepid travellers lived in the middle of nowhere, fasting, meditating, and performing sacred ceremonies. During that week, the others spent 24 hours in an isolated spot with nothing but water, a blanket, and one sacred item. As part of the support team, I stayed at camp, tending to the fire and generally ‘holding space’ for those who had gone ‘up onto the mountain’.

Gammon Ranges, South Australia

As I was collecting firewood, I spied a dead, fallen scrub tree and proceeded to collect it for the sacred fire. Following the Lakota tradition which I had been shown, I consecrated my actions by giving thanks to Mother Earth for the bounty, and the spirit of the tree for giving its life to be used to keep the sacred fire alight, and asked that the spirit of that tree share its wisdom as it saw fit.

It was rather large, and although dead was still rooted into the ground. I decided to break it apart as much as I could. Snapping off a branch, something emerged from the tree towards my face, almost throwing me backwards onto the ground. It was a small desert bat.

Small, insect-eating bats typical of the inland arid region of Australia

Gaining my composure, I looked around to see where it had gone, but saw nothing. Immediately I knew this was an augury for me. But what did it mean?

Back at the campsite, I shared this with my friends. The one who was facilitating the trip told me that the Bat symbolised death. He recounted various mythologies from indigenous traditions of the Americas, one of which included a ceremony where the shaman would undergo a ceremony similar to the hañbleçeya, but instead of sitting for a time atop a hill, would dig a hole — his own grave — and lie in that for the allotted time. Thus would the shaman ‘die’ and become reborn.

The trip finished up, we made our way back to our homes in the city, and I began to try and immerse myself in ‘normal’ life after months of travel.

“Can’t find my way home”

Well, I’m near the end and I just ain’t got the time
And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home
— Blind Faith

The trip had happened during early spring. For several months afterwards, I went from job to job, and home to home, never really feeling settled anywhere. Over the summer months I became increasingly dissatisfied, jaded, and irritable with life and friends. Throughout my travels overseas I had increasingly gained weight, and over the summer, I began to lose weight dramatically. I put it down to my lifestyle.

I attempted a return to University to complete a thesis, but soon also became jaded about my prospects in academia. My health slowly got worse, with increasing levels of anxiousness, sleeplessness, and inability to concentrate. I was working late nights and trying to write a thesis during the day, but none of it felt right. Everything changed when I heard the news that one of my friends, who had been on the desert trip, had committed suicide.

I reeled from the news. Anyone who has ever experienced this would relate to this. The numbness one feels on hearing the news, the shock, and the disbelief, and the feelings of guilt: What could I have done to prevent this? If only I had spent more time with him… and so on.

It was on returning from his funeral that I decided I needed to get out from where I was and try and sort out my life. I moved out of my suburban house and moved in with a close friend who lived in the hills on the outskirts of Melbourne.

It was around this time that I noticed I had a rather large lump around my throat, a goitre. I thought nothing of it, and my health continued to deteriorate, physically and mentally. I became emaciated, with a relative commenting that I looked like a skeleton with skin stretched over it. My energy was draining away, there was almost no consistent sleep patterns (exacerbated by working mainly at nights), and I began to consider my future bleakly. Future? What future?

It was ten months before I finally decided to seek medical attention. After a series of blood tests, the local doctor told me that I had an auto-immune hyper-thyroid disorder: Graves’ Disease.

While I took some comfort from having a diagnosis, I was informed that being an auto-immune disease, I would need to manage this for the rest of my life. My only options were to either irradiate my thyroid gland to kill it, or surgically remove the thyroid; both options involved taking medication for the rest of my life. I asked if there were natural options available; he laughed and said that it would be a waste of time.

I was instructed to take some medication, and return fortnightly for blood tests to monitor my progress. Over the course of about six weeks, there was no change in my blood test results. I decided to investigate alternatives. I had already been practicing Tai Chi, and had acupuncture in the past with good effect, so I considered Chinese Medicine — but the local doctor told me he would not provide medical certificates stating I was unfit for work if I chose that path.

My grandmother had been seeing a Chinese Medicine practitioner for months, so I turned to him for assistance. I also found a different doctor who had also trained in TCM was open to working holistically with me. With these two professionals, I felt safe and supported to heal. However I was yet to witness any noticeable changes, and still felt bleak about my future.


Workings of man
Driven far from the path
Re-released in inhibitions
So that all is left for you
— Yes

It was a chance encounter and conversation with another friend that the following events transpired. A psychonaut himself, he had procured DMT and offered to give me some if I was interested. I’d had some previous experiences with this substance, but nothing noteworthy. Some ‘bad trips’ with psychedelics that had left me feeling like I needed to stay away from such substances for a while. For some reason, this offer piqued my interest.

I devised a ritual, based on the Lakota chanuñpa (sacred pipe) ceremony, and began to invoke the Great Mystery, the Ancestors, and anyone that would listen to come and give me guidance and healing. Taking the pipe, I drew in the smoke and sat back, surrounded by the lush greenery of my home, a combination of indigenous and European trees, with the sounds of birds and distant chainsaws, and the crisp coolness of late spring.

Goddess Athene

The bushes in front of me began to morph into the form of the goddess Athene. She told me that there were still things I needed to achieve, and that my illness was part of a process of transformation. If I trusted my instincts, and listened to guidance from within me, this would inevitably change my life forever. She then reached out with her hand and clasped my throat, emitting a deep blue light that enveloped me. Even though intellectually I knew this wasn’t ‘real’ I could still feel the sensation as if it was.

As she pulled away, the figure morphed into the form of an old Aboriginal man, cloaked in possum robes and holding a large staff. He told me how I needed to turn to Mother Earth to heal my body, how all that grew from the soil had medicine that could heal any illness.

Everything then shifted back into bushes and trees, and I sat there for some time taking it all in. At first, I was bewildered by the experience but couldn’t quite integrate it other than thinking, “what a great trip.”

Several days later I had my routine blood tests, and on the following visit to my doctor, he informed me that the results showed something promising for the first time. He asked me what I head done differently — trusting him implicitly I told him about my ritual. “Well, whatever you’re doing,” he replied, “it’s working. Keep doing it.”

I was stunned. Reflecting on the entire experience that evening, the penny dropped, and the full meaning of my experience came into shape.

The path is clear, though no eyes can see
— Genesis

My current life was not my own. My life had no space for my true nature to express itself. The flow of Qi within me (the ‘life-force as potential’ for all physiological, psychological, and ontological function) was stagnant in my throat. I was not expressing myself (years later would I learn that in the yogic tradition, the çakra at the throat was related to personal expression and engagement with the mysteries of existence).

My condition was called Graves’ Disease: the Bat spirit had flown into me and challenged me to die, to lie in my grave and allow my old self to die. I was now in my metaphorical grave; my physiology wasting away, forcing me to retreat from the life I had been living.

Buried in my grave, I encountered my Dreaming — an ancestral spirit (Athene) and the spirit of the land (the old man) had come to remind me that I had a true nature that wanted to emerge and express itself in the world.

image source

From that moment, life began to change. With continued Chinese Medicine treatment and the support of my doctor, I was free of the auto-immune condition within 12 months. Testament to this, continued annual blood tests (the last 15 years) show no sign of remission, or any problem with the thyroid since.

I made the decision to formally study Chinese Medicine, and began working with my practitioner in learning the Taoist arts through Tai Chi & Qigong practice.

I got married, had a daughter, got divorced, established and grew clinical practice, and continued to grow and evolve as a person. Removing layer after layer of past hurts and limiting beliefs, I continue to come closer to a sense of the Self that lies at the core of my being.

image by Stuart Griggs

Were it not for that DMT ritual, my life could have become considerably different to now. What of the words of that Medicine Man — would I have undergone those trials had I ignored his words to “not go up the mountain”? Would I have experienced the events which, when woven together with the DMT ritual and the illness, influenced my consciousness to make certain choices over others?

Meaning may be subjective; I may have constructed the narrative to suit my purposes at the time. However the events were real, like the thread to which a weaver weaves their tapestry.

Whether the psychedelic experience was real or imagined is a secondary question. It has become part of a story that gives me hope, and was pivotal to my charmed and fortunate life, such as it is today.

I have finally found a way to live
Just like I never could before
— Blind Faith

Listen to the soundtrack for this story PANDORA’S LOST GIFT: A TRIP WORTH TELLING

[//]:# (!steemitworldmap -30.469009 lat 138.956330 long A Trip Worth Telling d3scr)


Originally published by Petah Raven on .
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Exported from Medium on August 1, 2018.


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