The Other Side

This post requires two disclaimers: 1) I don’t expect anyone to believe me, and 2) I know it sounds crazy. I provide this information only because I know there are people out there with a keen interest in it, or who are simply curious.

Exactly 20 years ago I was a new mother with a young baby. My oldest was about 4 months old when this happened. He was a difficult baby and I was in a continuous state of exhaustion and sleep deprivation. One saturday my husband announced he needed to go to the drug store. I pleaded with him to take our baby son, so I could catch a much needed break.

I was asleep the moment the apartment door closed (we lived in a tiny one bedroom at the time).

Then something weird happened.

Even though I was dead asleep, I heard a roaring sound in my ears like tinfoil shaking, but much louder and sharper. This sound “woke up” my consciousness and I had full awareness of what was transpiring.

The roaring grew and now was accompanied by a distinct pressure at the back of my neck (this is the 6th chakra if anyone is interested- I did not know this at the time). This pressure built up as the roaring increased. The pressure built and built… it felt like a fist pushing my neck from the inside- then I was “out.”

I was staring at the roof of our apartment building. I was outside of my body.

At this point in my life I held a nascent, if fragile belief in god. I spent my teenage years as a loudmouthed atheist, but had read enough about near death experiences to immediately understand that my soul was- for whatever bizarre reason- out of my body.

Well, I thought to myself. If this is real I should be able to travel anywhere. Let me see my husband.

I felt a whoosh and was on the ceiling of the drugstore. There was my husband, there was my son in the stroller. My husband was browsing razors.

Okay… I thought to myself. If this is REALLY real, let me see my sister.

Another whoosh! And now I was above the rolling mountains of the Vermont-New Hampshire border. At that moment my astonishment turned to sheer terror and I snapped back in.

I was stunned. I had just experienced absolute (personal) proof of the human soul. It was real. Absolutely real. Since that day, even if my religious beliefs have faded or transformed, I always knew- even when I wished it were not true- the human soul irrefutably exists. It was a completely different experience from sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming and hallucinations (I have experienced all three- the hallucinations were from a raging fever). It was visceral and tactical- I physically FELT my soul push out of my body.

But this is only the beginning of the story. I continued to experience these strange projections (new agers call it astral projection, I simply called it “my soul leaving my body”) from time to time. I thought it was peculiar but didn’t pay it much mind, despite it being hard confirmation of the human soul (again, confirmation for me- I don’t expect others to believe me). Exactly a year ago, for reasons I still don’t understand, it began happening all the time. What was an occasional occurrence was now a near-nightly occurrence. Since october last year, the longest I’ve gone not projecting is two weeks, with the average rate of projection being three times a week, often more than once in one night. I have now projected well over a hundred times.

After a month of this I hit the internet, and for the first time in twenty years actually researched what was happening to me. New agers call it “astral projection,” native americans called it “spirit walking.” Hinduism has tomes of scripture about other dimensions and layers of bodies that encase the human soul. Most of what I found was instructional for people aspiring to astral project. Well I had no problem doing it, I just needed to know what to do once “out!”

Then I learned about retrievals. A retrieval is when a projected human soul (i.e. me) assists a “stuck” soul in moving on. I read that I should request “I would like to do a retrieval” when I project, and I would be brought to a stuck soul or soul shard in need of assistance. Most “stuck souls” don’t understand they are dead, or cannot accept it. For whatever reason they are unable to see the helpers (angels) trying to assist them. But they CAN see projected human souls, perhaps because we are still tied to this physical realm. And once they see us, they can usually see the angels/ helpers… and move on.

As for what “move on” means, I personally believe in reincarnation. I don’t know how exactly it happens- is it sequential?- our perception of time is linear but time may not in fact be linear. Perhaps all our incarnations are occurring simultaneously. Anyway, for all intents and purposes, let’s just say the successfully retrieved souls get “unstuck.”

Since october 2016 I have done countless retrievals during projections. I have also seen many parts of “the other side” ranging from heavenly… to flat out weird. And while I don’t expect anyone to believe me, if you are OPEN to believing, I can tell you with absolute conviction that the human soul is real and “the other side” is real.  When your loved ones die, the soul simply moves on and evolves elsewhere. They are not gone. And when you die, your soul will move on and evolve elsewhere. As I say to my agnostic daughter: like it or not, you’re stuck existing… eternally.

I can’t tell you which religion is right, what concept of god is accurate, nor even how you should live your life. I can only tell you what I have seen and experienced, that there is infinitely more to human existence than what we see around us. There may be reasons to fear death, but a terminal point is not one of them. As Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) says: death is a period before the beginning of the next sentence.

 

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Wimpy Wine

The island survived my absence: turkeys still grifting, opossums still gnawing through garbage, my oldest daughter kept the feral cat colony in our yard alive. My tomato plants died but that was written in the stars.

It was difficult being up there, not in ways I anticipated. Often while driving around it felt I never left. Nine years non existent, maybe a time loop. The town looked somewhat worse- I saw a meth head handcuffed & hauled into the police station- I never saw that while living here. I never saw anyone handcuffed until I moved to nyc.

My dad was irate. Ranting about my aunt, her lack of estate planning, nitpicking her last motions, grumble grumble grumble. God lord, I wanted to tell him- the woman was dying! Cut her some fucking slack. I kept my mouth shut.

My mother dragged us to church, “us” being the little guys and myself. Alright I get it, she wants to show off the grandkids. I’ll show them off too- they’re criminally cute.

The church was so depressing. They recently signed a compact with a lutheran church merging two dying churches, and I could sense one foot in there was turf war betides. The lutherans on one side, anglicans on the other. Stink eye ensued.

My lovely children started acting rotten so I dragged them to the back where exactly one child (I later learned he was being raised by his GREAT grandmother- both parents and grandma were unfit) playing with legos and toy sharks.

Did I like sharks!? he asked, full volume. I tried to shush him. Had I ever picked up a shark? Had I ever picked up a shark but failed! What was my favorite type of shark?

He rolled up his sleeve. I’ve gotta tattoo, he said proudly, showing off a temporary skull tattoo. I gave him a silent thumbs up then shushed him again.

Day before the funeral my parents had a wine and cheese event. My mom’s cousin was first to show up; they discussed weather, traffic, grandchildren, who was at what school studying what. There was discussion of family history. The cousin marveled how adept my two year old was at navigating stupid games on my defunct android. I listened politely… and thought of the steven king story where people slowly turn into vegetables.

Then my dead aunt’s buddies arrived. The greeted me uproariously- hugs, jokes, booze! My aunt’s best friend’s other best friend sat in an armchair, perched on a cane chatting brightly. Aunt’s best friend threw back a tumbler of gin. I don’t want any of that wimpy wine! — she bellowed– viking style. The other friends downed glasses of wine and nibbled on cheese. We discussed architecture, history… the house was rocking!

Then the funeral. It was at the merged church, beautiful in its day. Rich mahogany knotted the ceiling, elaborate stained glass pictographs: Ruth the Gleaner, John the Baptist, St. Michael– ready to charge.

I read from revelations, my sister read a poem. The gin drinker cried quietly.

A reception at my sister’s house. I wolfed down turkey and roast beef while my kids ate fruit. My sister’s german shephards skulked like patrolling soldiers while I clandestinely fed them pieces of meat. I watched our kids, all our kids, my kids, my sister’s kids, my sister’s friend’s kids, frolic in the gated garden. How surreal to regard such life in the shadow of death. The yard sloped down to a pond, endless acres of forest, the sky clear. I wonder as to the state of my aunt’s soul.

The funeral. We drove two hours to the grave site, my little guys surprisingly well behaved. An ancient retired pastor gave the homily while a grinning funeral home worker stood by his side. What a racket! (I later told my mom just to dump my ashes if I precede her in death.) The weather was sublime, a perfect breeze shimmering through towering oaks like god had planned it.

 

 

Escape From New York

Yesterday I left Staten Island for the first time in nine years. That’s right, I hadn’t stepped foot off the island, even for other boroughs, in nine long years. Actually that time went by rather quickly.

The drive was surprisingly non-horrific. With two and five year olds in tow I braced myself for the worst. A couple older kids came along for the ride and Mom did the driving, which was heaven sent- I dislike highway driving to the point of phobia.

We went over the Goethals, the turnpike, various parkways. We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s; I had a double quarter pounder sans ketchup and I threw out the bun (not before offering it to the rest of the family, they declined). It was awkward but doable eating the floppy hamburger patties with my fingers, the meat was terribly overcooked. It was edible, but barely, to the tune of $5. My little guys shared french fries and chicken nuggets, mom had a salad, older kids had an egg mcmuffin, more nuggets and fries. For drinks we had water (me), lemonade, mocha latte and diet coke.

I was surprised how many black people and hispanics are now north of NYC. Nine years ago non-asian minorities faded out a certain radius beyond the metro area with the exception of Springfield, MA. Most of the diners at that connecticut McDonald’s were black or hispanic, and it didn’t turn all/mostly white until Vermont.

After five hours we reached my hometown; I didn’t move here until age seven but it’s essentially my hometown. I wondered if I would start crying after all these years. But it was anticlimactic. There were the gorgeous mountains, lush green rolling in distant landscape. There was the guns-n-ammo shop. More lush greenery, an auto shop. Some kind of manufacturing plant (the sole one in the area, industry here has been decimated). The veterinarian where our sick pets were euthanized so long ago. Pretty colonials and victorians, many but not all in disrepair.

We arrived home to my very grouchy father. Grouchy is my dad’s version of happy, it only goes downhill from there. My little guy was all over the place while we unpacked- I tried to lock him in a playroom via baby gate but he howled pitifully so I let him escape.

My parents had dinner but I told them I would eat later. I went for a walk around local roads and hopped briefly into the woods, climbing a steep incline padded with pine needles and thin weeds. Pine trees towered overhead like solemn angels. I sat under one and patiently slapped mosquitoes as they landed on my skin. Later I ate some salmon and semi-raw hamburgers. My mother was horrified as she packed them out of sight into the fridge, asking wasn’t I worried about eating rare beef? Nope.

This morning I went to walmart. I needed shampoo and razors, my five year old requested pretzels. My mom warned me: the town looked worse than ever, but as I drove it looked the same. There was a new CVS. There was an abandoned something or other. There was the middle school where I was mercilessly tormented by my peers. I peeked down the street to my childhood best friend’s house- I considered driving past but that would feel stalkerish. I have no idea if her parents are even still living, and she has long since moved away.

Walmart… it looked exactly the same as nine years ago, except the shopping carts were in terrible shape (nothing irks me more than lousy shopping carts) and the walls were dinged up, in need of repainting. Two women said hello and politely asked how are you? This jarred me. They don’t do that in Staten Island, not that Staten Islanders aren’t friendly in their own way.

I am here for my aunt’s funeral. It’s all very sad. She should have lived a good twenty, thirty years further. God gives and god takes away.

No es lo que piensas

As I mentioned previously, my parents did not want a girl when I was born. This was before ultrasounds, so the news of my gender after 9 long months of anticipation must have been a guillotine through my parents’ hearts. I know my father well, and I can see his 1973 face in the hospital waiting room– devastation, anger, his serious face all the more serious behind his black-framed nerd glasses. He probably swore colorfully in German, lit a cigarette (he quit when I was 4), went for a long drive, then hit some adult beverages. Not necessarily in that order.

So there was exactly one person in the household happy to see me when I was carried through the doorway in a pink blanket bundle: my paternal grandmother, who lived with us. She was 63 years old at the time, gray hair still black at the nape of her neck, her complexion perpetually suntanned to bronze, fiendishly smart and impeccably neat. Whether she took pity on my circumstances, or whether it was just kismet, I don’t know, but we took to each other like a fish to water. We were inseparable through my childhood. If I had a nightmare I stole down to her room. For a period it was unclear to me that my parents were my parents; I thought she was my parent, and that my parents just happened to live there. She took care of me day to night, kept me company, told me she loved me, nicknamed me Tesora (“treasure”), and held my always cold feet when we watched TV together. We talked about everything from politics, to TV shows, to her life in Buenos Aires before she came to the states at the behest of my father.

She had a friend in Buenos Aires who was some years older. They made a pact, the two of them, that whoever died first would make every effort to return– in some form– to advise what awaited on the other side. Not unexpectedly her older friend died first; not long after she appeared to my grandmother in a dream and said simply: No es lo que piensas– It’s not what you think.”

So of course my grandmother and I made that same pact with each other. Whoever died first, and it would probably be, and it was, her, would make every effort to return to the other to illumine the afterlife.

My grandmother died a few weeks after my 23rd birthday. I was newly pregnant at the time and remember enduring the nausea through the preparation for her funeral; at the wake I touched her cold face and felt the earth swallow me up on the spot. When I stood by her grave I wanted to throw myself in alongside her. If I hadn’t been pregnant, I would have just curled up in a ball somewhere and slowly wasted away.

In the back of my mind I remembered our pact, and while she did occasionally appear in my dreams it was nothing spectacular or informative. In fact when I dreamed about her she seemed simply alive, as though she’d never died, and it wasn’t until I woke that I’d remember she was gone. But seven years after her death, not long after my fourth daughter was born, I had a vivid dream that left me shaken.

In the dream I stood outside our old house. My grandmother lay on the ground gravely ill, and she died before my eyes. Not only did she die but I watched her body decay. It all happened quickly, as though in time lapsed photography, and then seamlessly her bones transformed into a lovely pink baby which was, to my surprise, suddenly in my arms. I walked into the house holding the baby.

I woke from this dream wondering if it was finally the message from beyond I’d been promised. And what did it mean? Was it a message of reincarnation? If so, why couldn’t she just come out and tell me? Or send a hindu mystic to lecture me?

I try not to think about her much. On the one had I feel she’s still alive inside of me. On the other hand the acknowledgement of the loss, that I’ve gone 17 years without her, years stacked on years, is unfathomable. So I don’t fathom it. I don’t even talk about her to my children, though I tend to keep my entire life before them a closely guarded secret. It took 16 years for the story of Pi Guy to come out.

The Suicide Forest

I was in my room early this evening, hiding from my parents (yes, at almost age 40, I’m hiding from my parents), watching youtube videos of baby sloths getting baths.  Somehow, by following links on the side, I ended up on a 20 minute video about the “suicide forest” of Japan. Being a sucker for documentaries, I watched it.  (The baby sloth video has 4.3 million views; the suicide forest video has 5.6 million views.)

The Aokigahara Forest grows at the foot of Mount Fuji and is a popular “suicide destination” for, on average, one hundred hopeless Japanese souls each year.  Most die by hanging, others die by sleeping pills, though the sleeping pills don’t actually kill them. They just make the person sick enough so that they gradually die of dehydration, usually over a matter of days.

Our tour guide of the forest is the very thoughtful Azusa Hayano.  It’s unclear if he’s an official forest ranger, or if it’s his personal mission to keep an eye on the goings-on of the forest.  As he hikes through the lush, peaceful terrain, he points out strips of tape people use to mark their path as they progress deeper into the forest; these people, he surmises, are unsure about taking their life so want to know how to retrace their footsteps. Likewise, people who bring supplies with them, like a tent, are also unsure about whether or not they want to go through with their plans.

Cut nooses litter the ground, and piece of cut rope– from which bodies were removed– dangle eerily from tree limbs. At one point, Mr. Hayano finds a skeleton: its hiking shoes are still neatly tied and in place, a car key sits in the leaves near what might have once been a hand.

Hayano speaks eloquently on what drives these people to the breaking point, and indeed, he speaks gently to one young person found camping out in the hot zone.  But I came away from these 20 minutes not really sure what to think or feel.  On the one hand, Hayano is a sympathetic figure, but the thought of so many people deliberately driving, hiking, then tying the noose for their deaths is so disturbing, that Hayano’s gracious commentary did little to quell the sadness welling up within me while watching this.

100 suicides is a tiny fraction of the suicides that occur worldwide each year.  The real numbers are so large that they’re difficult to contemplate.  So, if you want to watch this short documentary, proceed with caution, and only if you have a strong stomach.  You may want to opt for the baby sloths instead.