This weekend, NY Times Bestselling author Anita Moorjani and I have been exploring the nature of freedom, fear, love, life, death, and God with an audience of fellow humans, seeing what we can see about what life is and where our experience of it comes from.
If you’re not familiar with Anita, she is, in her own words, “an ordinary woman who had an extraordinary experience.” After a lifetime of struggling with cultural expectations, gender norms, and a constant background of fear, she wound up on an operating table in a coma, her organs shutting down as her body struggled to cope with lemon-sized tumors and stage 4 cancer.
During the coma, while her body was dying, she came alive. Here’s how she described the experience:
In this near-death state, I was more acutely aware of all that was going on around me than I’d ever been in a normal physical state. I wasn’t using my five biological senses, yet I was keenly taking everything in. It was as though another, completely different type of perception kicked in, and I seemed to encompass everything that was happening, as though I was slowly merging with it all…
I felt no emotional attachment to my seemingly lifeless body as it lay there on the hospital bed. It didn’t feel as though it were mine. It looked far too small and insignificant to have housed what I was experiencing. I felt free, liberated, and magnificent. Every pain, ache, sadness, and sorrow was gone! I felt completely unencumbered. I couldn’t recall feeling this way before—not ever.
I continued to sense myself expanding further and further outward, drawing away from my physical surroundings. It was as though I were no longer restricted by the confines of space and time, and continued to spread myself out to occupy a greater expanse of consciousness. I simultaneously experienced a sense of joy mixed with a generous sprinkling of jubilation and happiness.
I felt all of my emotional attachments to my loved ones and my surroundings slowly fall away. What I can only describe as superb and glorious unconditional love surrounded me, wrapping me tight as I continued to let go. It didn’t feel as though I had physically gone somewhere else—it was more as though I’d awakened. Perhaps finally being roused from a bad dream. My soul was finally realizing its true magnificence. And it doing so, it was expanding beyond my body and this physical world.
The feeling of complete, unconditional love was unlike anything I’d known before; it was totally undiscriminating, as if I didn’t have to do anything to deserve it, nor did I need to prove myself to earn it.
In sharing the story of her near-death experience this weekend, she said one of the most powerful parts of the experience was feeling so awake to and connected with the web of life that all the fear left her body. In her words:
“Cancer was the symptom, fear was the disease.”
When I asked her what was still there when the fear was gone, she described an experience of utter freedom, love, safety, ease, and comfort – what might be called our essential nature.
As we explored this further over the course of the weekend, someone asked how it might be possible to have this experience without having to almost die. Anita’s simple-sounding advice was to “Just be yourself”, which caused some consternation in the room. After all, what does that even mean? How do we do that?
In attempting to explain further, she described it as a “Get out of jail free” card for your life.
To say “just be yourself” is to say there’s no way to get life wrong – the only one judging us is us, and the standard we’re holding ourselves to is self-created and ever-changing.
At the time we talked about it, I put it in the category of “cool things Anita says” and made a mental note of it, but since the focus this weekend was on experience, not concepts, I sat with it throughout the evening. To my surprise, I began noticing how much I was micro-judging pretty much everything I think and do. When I woke up in the morning, I had a sense of the absolute freedom that she was describing.
How much easier would life be if you knew you couldn’t get it wrong?
It’s like bowling with bumpers on the lanes, or the last hole on a miniature golf course where every ball winds up in the cup no matter what. Even if you “miss the mark” from time to time, the system self-corrects for you.
While my brain kind of wants to argue with my experience on this one, I’m going to let it lose the battle. I don’t know for sure that there’s no right way to be, but I can see that all my ideas of the right and wrong way to be are utterly made up and always have been.
So in the words of the mystical poet Rumi:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
With all my love,