By REV. GARY W. DUNCAN, M.S., M.A., CSM/OCP—
Ancient religions including the shamanic traditions are replete with myths regarding the dying and death process. It was believed within these traditions that when a person died their soul was escorted into the afterlife by a special being called a psychopomp. In Greek psycho means soul and pomp means guide, so a psychopomp is a guide of the soul. In our modern world, the psychopomp tradition has changed to not only helping the dying, but also helping people develop their own specific spiritual path while living.
In 1983, I began a two-year internship at the Cincinnati Health Department’s Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Clinic. At the time, I had no idea what was in store for me regarding my own talents in creating guided imageries, which eventually led me to become an ordained Gnostic Catholic Priest as well as a modern day psychopomp.
Within a few months into my internship, one of the counsellors informed me that the clinic had received the first AIDS case in Cincinnati. He asked if I was interested in working with him on the case, and I jumped at the opportunity. Throughout the internship and months following, we worked together on that case as well as other AIDS cases. I became a specialist in HIV and AIDS as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.
Creating Journey Into The Light Imagery
Working with HIV and AIDS afforded me the opportunity to begin working with the terminally ill. At the time, AIDS was a death sentence and it wasn’t long before I began counselling the dying. It soon became evident that several of my clients with AIDS had intense fears and anxieties around dying and death, so I decided to create imagery to help relieve their fears.
I plunged myself into various types of meditation, Kabbalistic pathworking, imagery techniques, hypnosis, as well as rituals from a variety of religious traditions. I searched the esoteric, spiritual and scientific literature, and attended workshops and seminars on dying and death. But what brought all the information together was the local near-death experience group. It was here I heard personal stories that enabled me to craft the imagery that would help my clients reduce their fears and anxieties regarding dying and death.
The imagery utilised various components of the near-death experience as well as the Tibetan Buddhist bardo journey. I also felt music along with mindfulness meditation would help my clients settle into a relaxed posture. I experimented with various types of music and found the perfect compositions by Marcey Hamm called Inward Harmony. The reason I chose this composition was the way it sounded, coupled with a profound testimonial. After one of Marcey’s concerts a man came up to her and told her several years ago he had a heart attack that was accompanied by a near-death experience. When he went through the tunnel into the light, the music he heard in the experience was the same as Inward Harmony.
Once finalised, I began using the imagery. I had my clients relax in a recliner and helped them move into a mindfulness meditation, while Inward Harmony played in the background. Once relaxed, I told my clients they have two bodies, a physical body and a soul body. I incorporated the Eastern religious belief that at death the soul moves out of the body through the crown or seventh chakra at the top of the head. Once their souls were out of their bodies, two beings of light were waiting for them. The beings of light escorted their soul bodies through a tunnel of darkness toward a dot of light that expanded, as their souls got closer. Once in the light, I left their soul bodies there for thirty minutes, and then had the beings of light escort the soul bodies back. Once back, I brought their soul bodies into their physical bodies, and then counted them out of the experience.
Although the imagery was designed to alleviate fears of dying and death, which it did, there was also an unexpected effect. At the time I assumed the imagery was just a made up drama occurring in the mind, similar to other imageries I used professionally. But all the clients I used this imagery with had profound mystical experiences when their soul bodies were out of their physical bodies and in the light.
Experiences With The Imagery
The first client I used the imagery with was Mark, and he was in extreme physical pain and going blind, complications from AIDS. He had a fear of dying based on his Roman Catholic upbringing around sin. When I first took Mark’s soul body out of his physical body with the imagery, his physical body became very calm and peaceful as I gently guided him into the light. When I brought him back into his physical body and into ordinary reality, I asked what had happened? He told me he met his sister. Your sister who lives in a nearby town, I queried? “No my sister who died before I was born,” he answered. I was startled and stunned by his answer.
In a later journey, Mark told me he met his grandmother who raised him and had died several years before I started seeing him professionally. At the time I couldn’t figure out what was happening inside Mark’s mind. Mark was slowly going blind but with these inward journeys into the light he was becoming calmer and more peaceful and could see the inner experiences clearly. Mark’s experiences were so profound he asked if I would promise him that when his life partner James was ready to die, who also had AIDS, I would take him through the imagery as well. I promised him I would.
Within a few weeks Mark was completely blind. The imagery worked so well that he wanted to know of any method I knew that would allow him to see the physical world with a different set of eyes. The only method I could come up with was the out-of-body experience method pioneered by Robert Monroe at The Monroe Institute. The Monroe method I practiced myself, and it works. So over the next few weeks, I taught Mark the method and he began practicing it with success. He finally related that he could see the physical world, but it was different.
Shortly after teaching Mark the Monroe method, he was admitted to the hospital for the last time. As Mark lay dying on the hospital bed, his father told me Mark came out of a deep sleep and said he saw me and his mother in the room. His father asked the physician about Mark seeing them and was told it was just the morphine. Maybe yes, maybe no.
I became more baffled with the information Mark shared with me. I could not understand what was happening in the imagery process. I had believed the imagery experience was only occurring in the mind. I could not explain his unusual stories. I definitely did not think I was actually escorting Mark’s soul into the light.
I continued using the imagery with people who were dying and they all had similar results until I met Phyllis. Phyllis was not dying, but in deep grief over the death of her father resulting from a severe long-term illness. I took Phyllis’s soul body on the inward journey into the light and left her there for thirty minutes. When I brought her back into her physical body, out of the experience, she began crying. I allowed her time to regain her composure and asked what happened in the experience. She reported meeting her father in the light and he had his dog with him. She revealed her mother hated dogs, and would not allow her father to have one. Her father kept in his wallet a picture of the breed of dog he loved, and when she met him in the light the dog in the picture was with him. This experience with her father in the light lifted the severe grief she had over his death and she now knew he was in a better place.
Hearing these experiences only confused me further because I didn’t know what to make of them. What was I doing? Was I actually taking their souls or consciousness out of their bodies on a journey into the light? I was at a loss to explain what I was doing until I began working with Mark’s life partner James whose experience put it all together for me.
James was Roman Catholic and, like his life-partner Mark, had a deep terrifying fear of death because of the extreme guilt of having AIDS. His dying process was painful and fraught with many bouts of denial. At times he could not bring himself to discuss death and had the delusion he would be cured. Working with James had a major impact on me, both psychologically and spiritually.
As I watched James deteriorate, it became evident he was running out of time. The promised I had made to Mark kept running through my mind to help James with the imagery when the time came, and the time had come. It took several months to prepare James for the imagery experience with much resistance on his part. Even discussing the imagery produced extreme anxiety and fear because it signalled his death. However, during the imagery preparation, James was diagnosed with a resistant strain of bacteria that was infecting the frontal lobe of his brain, a complication from AIDS. Within a week after the diagnosis, he was in a semi-comatose condition and placed in a hospice.
I began visiting the hospice weekly along with my life-partner Daryl, who also knew James. During those visits I was hoping James would become conscious enough so I could take him on the journey into the light. I explained to the hospice nursing staff about the imagery and how it worked and they were very supportive. On every visit, James’s nurse would give me the gloomy prognosis as he slid deeper into a semi-comatose condition.
I would stand beside James’ bed and talk to him as if he was fully conscious with Daryl standing on the other side of the bed just observing. After leaving the hospice on several occasions, Daryl and I discussed James’ condition and his lack of response to any verbal communication. We decided, although James was semi-comatose, I should still take him through the imagery experience as promised. James would be the first semi-comatose client to experience the imagery and I didn’t know if it would work.
The following week Daryl and I visited James with the intention of taking him through the imagery. James lay in bed shaking and screaming as I began playing the musical composition Inward Harmony. In James’ semi-comatose condition, I did not know if he could experience the music but I continued anyway. As before, Daryl stood on one side of the bed and I on the other.
With music playing, I began talking to James, guiding him into a mindfulness meditation as his body continued to shake. Then I told James he has a soul body connected to his physical body. His soul body is disconnecting from his physical body and moving toward and through the top of his head. When I told James his soul body was out of his physical body, his physical body stopped shaking and he went silent. I looked at Daryl and he looked at me with a questioning expression. I shrugged and shook my head indicating I had no idea what was going on inside James. This experience was unexpected.
I continued guiding James’ soul body through the ceiling and up through the next three floors of the hospice facility. On the roof there were two beings of light. One took James’ right hand and the other took his left hand and escorted him through the darkened tunnel into the light. In the light I told James he would meet his loved ones who had died, especially Mark, and I would leave him with them for thirty minutes and then guide him back.
After thirty minutes, I had the beings of light escort James back to the hospice roof. I brought James’ soul body back down through the three floors. When I told James his soul body was re-entering his physical body, James screamed and his body started shaking again. I had performed the imagery many times and heard many experiences, but nothing compared to this. At that moment my worldview was shattered and knew I had experienced something profound. A new insight flooded my awareness; I suddenly became uncomfortable performing the imagery as a psychotherapist and knew I had a spiritual and religious calling. Moreover, I knew the clergy and not a psychotherapist should conduct the imagery because we are not trained to work with the mystical experiences unfolding before my eyes.
A week later, still trying to understand the ramifications of the experience, I received a call from James’ mother informing me he had died. She requested I go to the hospice, gather his belongings and bring them to her. I agreed, went to the hospice and it so happened the nurse who was with James when he died was on duty. Gathering James’ belongings the nurse and I talked about his death. She informed me she had seen many people in semi-comatose conditions die, but James’ death was different. She said she watched him for a long time and noticed a subtle comfortableness slowly settling over him. He became so serene and then he was gone. She indicated it was a beautiful death and attributed it to the imagery.
Forgiveness & Comfort by Way of the Light
I had now used the imagery with the dying, and those in grief and in a semi-comatose condition, but had not used it with people in preparation for death long before they died. I started working with Jack who is one of the longest survivors of AIDS. His viral load was non-detectable and he was living an ordinary life given his condition. Jack contacted me for spiritual direction with an emphasis on preparing him for his eventual death. It took about a year to get Jack ready for the imagery experience.
In preparing Jack, one of the issues he had to address was his parents, who were deceased. Jack came from a highly dysfunctional alcoholic family. He grew up feeling unloved and rejected by both his parents. He knew his father hated him and was physically abusive. His mother was critical and condescending; he felt totally rejected and unloved. Jack hated his father for physically abusing him and disliked his mother for constantly telling him how stupid he was. There was a lot of unfinished business between Jack and his parents.
After working with Jack’s issues around his parents and those related to AIDS in conjunction with his psychiatrist, he felt ready to journey into the light. He felt going into the light would create a sacred path when his earthy journey finally ended. He had no expectations as to what would happen or what he would see. He just felt he would be closer to God.
I took Jack on the journey into the light and after thirty minutes brought him back and out of the experience. He sat for several minutes with tears streaming down his face. As usual, I had Kleenex on hand and waited for him to gain composure. Between emotional outbursts, he informed me he met both his father and mother in the light. Until that moment, he had hated his father and disliked his mother intensely. In the light, Jack was able to forgive them both and they accepted his forgiveness and told Jack they regretted how they treated him and they both deeply loved him. As Jack sat crying, he told me they all hugged each other and all experienced total forgiveness. The experience changed Jack’s feelings toward his parents. Jack now knows when he takes his final journey his parents will be waiting to welcome him into the light.
After working with Jack, I began wondering what healthy people would experience with the imagery. Within a few months, I was asked to present a lecture and a workshop at a local annual spiritual conference. I decided to present a lecture on near-death experience and reincarnation and a workshop on the imagery. The lecture was a packed house and the workshop had about seven participants. This was fine with me because the journey into the light with healthy people was purely experimental. I had no idea what the participants would experience, if anything.
The workshop was a two-day affair. The first day I gave a lecture and taught the small group how the imagery was to be done, and ran through a practice session. It all ended with questions and answers. The group was very lively with two of the woman very talkative and humorous.
The next morning I took the group through the imagery and after thirty minutes I brought them back. The two women who had been very talkative were in tears and would not discuss what they had experienced. One of the women did say she met her husband who had died the previous year. The other woman made no comment, she just sat with a glazed look. Two participants, a man and a woman, decided to share their experience with the group.
The man said his wife was very beautiful in life. She died three years previously of Alzheimer’s. They had a wonderful life together and he stressed they made love all through their marriage until the disease took over. He recalled how when I took him into the light there she was, as beautiful as ever. He said she was so beautiful he became sexually aroused and wanted to make love with her, then suddenly realised where he was and decided that was not the place to make love. He thanked me for uniting them once again.
The woman had a totally different experience involving her pet cat. She said she was so attached to her cat that when it was time for the veterinarian to put it to sleep, she could not bring herself to be there when it happened. She left the vet’s office in tears, leaving her cat alone to its fate. Afterwards, she felt extreme guilt over her reaction, leaving her poor cat to be put to sleep all alone. While in the light, she met her cat and it forgave her. Meeting her cat once again allowed her to let go of her guilt.
These experiences with healthy people are similar to those I had worked with up until that point. The question I continue to ask myself: am I actually taking these people’s soul bodies into the light? I have also taken myself into the experience and had a profound awakening. My experience was very different. I found myself in the light and in front of a screen of white light with silhouette figures behind it. Then aspects of my younger life began to unfold before my eyes on the screen. Questions about my life I had meditated on for years were answered. The experience was similar to a life review, but just answers to the questions I had and not my total life’s experiences. I also knew if I crossed the screen of white light I would not return into my physical body.
As a modern day psychopomp, I find these experiences uplifting; they have given me an intimate knowing of our next journey. These experiences are similar to what near-death experiencer’s have. I have taken people into the light and brought them back, and they now have an understanding of that final journey. Each journey is shaped by the life experiences of the journeyer. What needs to be addressed in the experience is addressed. In all the cases I have worked with, after the journey there is no fear of death.
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Marcey Hamm, Inward Harmony (Musical composition), www.musicbymarcey.com
Robert A. Monroe, Journeys Out Of The Body, Doubleday, 1971
REV. GARY W. DUNCAN began his career in the funeral business, became a polymer chemical researcher, a behavioral/social science researcher, a psychotherapist for 21 years and 12 years in the natural health business. He has taught at various colleges and universities, and has studied mystical and esoteric traditions for over 40 years. He is an ordained Gnostic Catholic Priest, spiritual director, published author (Twin Souls Merging), lecturer, spiritual/esoteric philosopher, consultant and Wellness Educator. Currently, he is writing a second book, Death, Transcendence and Beyond: A Psychopomp’s Guide Helping Souls into the Afterlife. He is also creating an international web-based Center for Soul and Afterlife Studies to explore all aspects of soul development and transitions into the afterlife. Rev. Duncan can be reached for lectures, workshops and phone or Skype consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org or through www.twinsoulsmerging.com
The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 144 (May-June 2014).
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