The closest experience I have to death is when our second daughter was born. It was an extremely fast and easy birth. But afterward, I started to experience pain. It did not feel normal to me, but I was told it was normal. The pain kept getting worse. The uterine massage wasn’t helping. The attending physician seemed to think I was overreacting, but I knew I wasn’t okay. It felt like my life force was slipping away.
The nurse realized something was not right. She didn’t say anything, but I remember that she stopped me from eating. I was under the misguided impression that eating something might bring my energy back. She knew surgery was in the cards. As I became weaker and weaker, death felt close, and I felt scared. I told Angus I didn’t want to die. Him being the eternal optimist, and wanting to support me, he told me I wasn’t going to die. And I think he was particularly encouraged when I became angry and told him not to tell me I wasn’t going to die. Clearly, I still had some fight left in me, but I knew my life was slipping away, and I was fearful.
I wanted to survive. I was scared of what lay beyond.
Eventually, the hemorrhage that had been building up internally and causing the pain, burst and appeared externally. That was when the room I was in became like a scene out of the TV show ER. Doctors and nurses flooded in. Angus was abruptly escorted out. I was rushed to surgery and the bleeding was contained. Thanks to modern medicine and Angus’s insistence that I did not have a home birth, I survived.
After the surgery, I woke up alone in the early hours of the morning in a post-op room. There were some lovely drugs still in my system, and I was filled with immense gratitude, but it was not gratitude for my life. I just felt gratitude and love. They weren’t attached to anything. I didn’t care that my birth had not gone according to plan. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t see our daughter because I needed to heal. I wasn’t bothered by the fact she was being fed formula because I couldn’t nurse her until the drugs left my body. I didn’t mind that I was alone in a dark room. I felt completely at peace in a sublime way.
This experience is a significant contrast to the experience prior to the surgery when I felt really scared. One could say that this is obviously because in the second experience I was alive and not confronting death. But in the second experience, I wasn’t grateful for my life. I was just grateful. It was an impersonal gratitude, free-floating without any attachment.
I share this as a reference point for what it is like to have a more impersonal experience of wellbeing. And of course, I am not discounting the drugs in my system. But it feels like they gave me a peek into what it is like to be less attached to the personal me and more in sync with that which is universal. I had no personal preferences. I was absolutely fine with what was at that moment. And it felt amazing!
Now I see the contrast between my experiences of resistance and non-attachment.
I don’t think I needed to fight to survive after the birth. I think that the same outcome would have happened either way, but my attachment to a certain outcome out of fear resulted in suffering.
This is an extreme example, but I recognize how I still continue that fight on a daily basis. I put mental energy or physical effort into ensuring the survival and comfort of my personal self. I feel the need to make a certain amount of money so bills are paid and feel fear at the thought of it not happening. I work at my body being healthy. I stress over things working out according to my preferences. I try to act the way I think I should be to be a good person. I make up rules about what I need to accomplish and feel frustrated when the timing doesn’t match up with my ideas. I strive to be of service and make a contribution.
All of this effort is becoming more visible to me. But if the outcome doesn’t require the effort, and if the effort creates suffering why fight and strive?
I don’t have an experience of surrendering to death, but I remember having a dream in which I was going to be executed, and unlike previous dreams where I found myself in this situation and tensed and tried to find a way out of it, in this dream I just relaxed and felt incredibly peaceful. There was no fight. Just complete acceptance even if it included the death of my physical body.
The feeling of peace that coincides with being in acceptance of what is, feels like it is what’s available when I let go of my intense grip on my personal preferences. My ego, however, is terrified of this. It feels like with this kind of letting go of the illusion of control I am surrendering to death. I know this sounds like I’m being very dramatic, but I see how I hold on to the illusion of control like my life depends on it.
I see the effort I put into fighting for my attachments to how I want things to be. I can see that I am living holding on for dear life on a daily basis even though I am not confronted with imminent death.
I resist surrendering and letting go of the idea of my will even though peace is available on the other side.
This could look like a dilemma, but it doesn’t feel like one. It just feels like I am on a precipice looking over but not ready to jump. And whether I jump or not it doesn’t matter. What my personal self chooses is not important. As many spiritual teachers have said, not one single soul will be lost.
There is no pressure. There is just what is.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couples' intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.