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When I was four years old I learned about death. I was told it was like going to sleep. I soon had the realization that my mother would die someday and as a result of my worry spent several sleepless nights. Then, as I lay in bed, it struck me that I would die some day. I have never completely recovered from this realization. As a child I had existential depression- normally something the gifted have a tendency towards, although I am not considered gifted. I had huge frustrations about “The Great Mystery”, something which caused me anger. What the heck. Why are we we here? What’s going on? Why is nature so ruthless? Why is there suffering? Is this some kind of cruel joke? This went on in a fairly intense way until I became a mother at the age of thirty. Motherhood helped, it gave me a purpose in a way which I could feel deeply. I still have these feelings of fear and frustration. Age has helped me to calm down a bit. There is another thing which has helped me. I became a student of Northwest Coast Indian medicine. It happened sort of by accident. I was looking for help with what I later (in my forties) figured out was a lifelong series of derealization panic attacks. I have had these attacks at least since the age of seven, and I believe they may have originated with learning about death when I was four. Once I figured out what they were I pretty much stopped having them. The attacks had been diagnosed as petit mal epilepsy by doctors (neurologists etc) throughout my childhood. I am not a new age airy-fairy sort of person. I did get involved with the traditional teachings of the area in which I live. I studied seriously within the Indian community for many years. I still have no idea about “The Great Mystery”. What did happen is that I had numerous experiences which I can not explain with logic. I learned that there is something beyond what we normally experience of this world. I don’t understand it. However, the fact that there is something beyond what we understand, something spiritual in the very basic sense of the word- this is a great encouragement to me. My personal experiences lead me to believe that time and space are complicated and that somehow every possibility exists at one time (outside of time). Something like what greatscott said. I will share one thing that happened to me, because it directly relates to the subject. During one of my college summers I was in another state taking care of my grandmother. My grandfather had recently passed away. One morning I woke up with a woman’s voice in my head, saying “Al says to check your mailbox at school when you return.” I thought, “Who is Al?” It wasn’t until that afternoon when I saw mail addressed to my grandfather that I realized his name, Albert, could be shortened to Al. He had always gone by Bert. So, of course, at the end of the summer when I returned home I checked my school mailbox. This was a cubby in a hallway. It should have been empty. I never received school mail in the summers. By chance, however, a teacher had left a graded paper in my cubby and had set it there too late for me to find as school let out. It was a paper about death and dying. The only thing I had ever written on the subject. It was a comforting essay, with references to the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. My grandparents had an intense fear of death and I do believe that my grandfather, somehow, sent this message to me to let me know that “everything is OK”. Of course this could have been coincidence, my subconscious, or whatever. But even so, it is a comforting memory.
Because of this orientation that I have, I find that I am guided by feelings of what is important in life. To me, what is important is self expression, doing for others, following my heart. I feel that if I make this sort of use of my life then I am doing the best I can in this baffling world. Somehow I don’t fear death as much if I don’t feel I’ve wasted my life.