I first died in this lifetime when I was three years old. My great aunt the opera singer saw this in the tea leaves but didn’t talk about it until long after. What she did not see was that – as a doctor at the hospital in Hobart, Tasmania told my parents – I “died and came back”. That is still the term I prefer to use of these experiences. I don’t remember much of what happened when I left my body at age three, only that it was very hard to live in a body in this world after I came back, and that I felt that my home reality was somewhere else.
At nine, I died again during emergency appendectomy in a Melbourne hospital. This time I seemed to live a whole life somewhere else, among a beautiful people who raised me as their own. I came back remembering that other life and that other world. It still wasn’t easy for me to live in the ordinary world, and I was nostalgic for that other world. The gift of these experiences, and my persisting illness (I had double pneumonia twelve times between the ages of three and eleven) was an inner life that was rich and prolific, and an ability to move between states of consciousness and reality at will. The first person who gave me a model for understanding what had happened to me was an Aboriginal boy. He told me, “When we get real sick, our spirit goes away. We go and live with the spirit people. When we get well, we come back.”
At age eleven, I had the vision of a great staff of burning bronze with a serpent wrapped around it that seemed to fill half the sky. Right after that, I came very near death for a third time, back in hospital with pneumonia. But this time, I came back healed, and was able to live a relatively normal life – except that in my mind, the dream world was my “normal”.
I had to be fairly quiet about these things, growing up in a conservative time in Australia, in a military family. But as I grew older, I was able to do more and more with the gifts of dreaming. My dreams of ancient cultures led me to my first job, as lecturer in ancient history at the Australian National University. My dreams of possible future events enabled me to avoid death on the road, quite literally, on three occasions.
In the mid-1980s, I left the fast-track life of a bestselling thriller writer and moved to a farm 130 miles north of New York City, thanks to a hawk and a white oak. I found myself drawn into trans-temporal dramas and the spirit world of a Native American people. I became deeply engaged in issues and dramas from the life of an 18th century Irishman, a major historical figure who knew the Mohawk very well. My engagement with him opened a link to a woman of his time, an extraordinary dream shaman, the Mother of the Wolf Clan of her people, who tried to influence him and most certainly succeeded in influencing me. She reminded me why dreaming is central to healing, and I cherish our continuing relationship across time. I learned what it means to be so deeply involved with a personality from another time that your lives turn together. I was eventually required to undergo death and rebirth in the mode of a shaman. I see now that, as with the years Jung recorded in his Red Book, all the important work of my subsequent life has flowed from this stormy period of spiritual emergence.
What happened to me in midlife was another experience of dying and coming back. I learned that when you change your life, your true friends are those who will support you through that change and your worst friends are those who try to keep you in the frame of past expectations.
Dreams showed me how to find my way in my new life as a dream author and dream teacher. Young children, especially my own daughters, became my most important mentors in ordinary life on what dreams require from a family or community. Time among children confirmed my understanding that dreams are for real, that there is magic in making things up, and that we change the world when we tell a better story about it.
I started teaching what I had learned, and learned through teaching. I found, as Emerson counseled, that “there is one direction is which space is open to us.” When I followed my calling, doors opened in astonishing ways. When I slipped back and away from my path, doors stayed resolutely closed. I am grateful for that.
I was now able to give people who were willing to share dreams and other experiences of the larger reality the confirmation and validation I had desperately needed as a lonely boy. I developed an original synthesis of contemporary dreamwork and primal shamanic methods for shifting consciousness and operating in the spirit worlds, and called this Active Dreaming. I found people everywhere were hungry for this. The more I gave them, the more happy and fulfilled I felt. I knew joy every time I saw more of spirit shining in someone’s eyes in one of my workshops.
Robert Moss is the author of The Boy Who Died and Came Back and numerous other books about dreaming, shamanism, and imagination. He is a novelist, poet, and independent scholar, and the creator of Active Dreaming, an original synthesis of dreamwork and shamanism. He leads creative and shamanic adventures all over the world. Visit him online at www.mossdreams.com.
Based on the book The Boy Who Died and Came Back ©2014 by Robert Moss. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com