Have you reflected on life lately? What about death?
“Time and reflection change the sight little by little ‘till we come to understand”.
~ Paul Cézanne, French artist and Post-Impressionist painter, 1839–1906

Living in Big Sur has been a gift; a dream come true. To be honest, I didn’t come here with any grand ideas of what I wanted to experience or who I wanted to be. I thought “this will be a fun adventure, living at a hermitage!” Maybe 2 years, then I’ll probably have to move on.

5 years later I am still here, to my amazement, and my eyes and mind have been opened in ways I never expected.

Magical woods of Big Sur are illuminated by the sun…reflections of light.
“ I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
~ Woody Allen

How often do you reflect on the beauty of this world? On the fact that you have a body, and a mind that can wonder why you have a body? How often — honestly— do you reflect on death?

The skies of Big Sur reflect the mysteries in this world — light and darkness, beginnings and endings.

When you’re young (<70, let’s say), you tend to be quick to judge things good or bad, ugly or beautiful. Along those lines, death is The End — either into nothingness or into heaven (good) or hell (bad). Absolutes. But with maturity comes an understanding that there are few absolutes: there is a good side of bad and a bad side of good.

Transitioned from day into misty moonlight. The same spot, yet different.

Death is a transition. I really didn’t fully grasp that before moving to Big Sur. It took that move, and carrying a few monks to their final resting place, for me to recognize death for what it was.

And it took me experiencing my own death to lose the fear of that transition.

The backyard view from one of our guest retreat rooms looks out over a changing world. (photo: Keith Toh)
“ There is only one law in the universe that never changes — that all things change, and that all things are impermanent.”
~ The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Here in Big Sur, by chance (?), I met a neurologist who told me of a sacred ritual involving the ingestion of toad venom, which transports participants into the realm of death without physically dying.

This “toad medicine”, also called the “God Molecule” and known chemically as 5-MeO-DMT, is known to help users not only experience the death of their ego and subsequent deep spiritual revelations, but can carry them past stubborn barriers that may have haunted them for years: severe depression or addictions and, to my specific interest, breaking through self-defeating beliefs and behaviors (fear of loss, fear of death) that can rob one of joy in life and relationships.

Transitions are part of this world and of this life.
“ We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”
~ Montaigne

At the age of 60, having never taken a non-prescription drug in my life, and much to the surprise of everyone who knew me, I participated in this spiritual medicine ceremony. It was at once the most staggering and most mystical experience I’ve ever had.

Without going into a long story, I experienced letting go of my body and “dying” to myself, being in the presence of God (Love), and spending what felt like an eternity dissolved into God and the universe. And although after a few short (actual) moments I came back to my consciousness and my body, parts of my ego that had held me back never returned.

Such as the fear of transition from this life to the next. That is gone.

It caused me to reflect on death and life as I never have done before. I am changed.

Perhaps part of me is still on that toad journey, in the presence of God, healing. It truly is a mystery to me as to what really happened. (For those interested, the author Michael Pollan has written a book on this and similar experiences titled “How to Change Your Mind”.)

Life reflects back what we want to see. (Hermitage dog model: Bella)

One of my favorite monks, Fr. Robert Hale, recently passed away unexpectedly. I was honored to help carry his casket to the grave site. As we carried his body to the deep hole in the ground, tears welled up and stung my eyes. I reflected on all of the kind comments Fr. Robert (an avid Facebook user) had made over the years on my FB posts:

I thought about my experience with dying, and my heart was suddenly lifted up. I knew Robert was in ecstasy, and that made me happy. I recalled all of the times he chose to reflect on the positive of what he saw and read, even in mostly negative stories. He taught me how to be careful about which reflections I chose to gaze into.

Because we usually see what we expect to see.

In fond memory of Fr. Robert Hale — a reflection of love for us all. (photo: Kayleigh Meyers)

If you liked this post, you might click the ‘clapping hands’ in the margin. All photographs and videos are mine, taken in Big Sur, unless otherwise noted.

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