Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.
April 10, 2007
The Intuitive-Connections Network

Shapeshifting My Life

Shapeshifting My Life

by Susan K. Garrett


Just last night it happened again. I haven’t had one for over six months, not one of this magnitude for a year or more. Exhausted after a grueling 5-day art show of exhibiting and selling my paintings, I thought I would sleep like the dead. At 3:00 am I was up; heart pounding, mind racing, something tearing at me from inside, not letting me sleep, not letting me breathe - no time to be dead to the world or myself.

After almost 27 years of these night time episodes, I recognize them and almost welcome them. In the beginning they were diagnosed as anxiety attacks. I was given valium to obliterate them and that part of myself that was desperately trying to speak out. After 27 years of fighting them and trying to annihilate them, I have learned what valuable tools, perhaps even gifts, these episodes are.

Last night at 3:30 am I took my vision journal and flashlight and went out into the yard under the stars and trees and allowed this process full onslaught of me. I opened myself to the ravagings that are so intense that they take me over physically, emotionally, and spiritually. For almost two hours in the dark heart of the night, I cried and questioned and begged and raged these feelings into consciousness, giving birth to catharsis and shape-shifting my life.

I would tear everything down and apart, ripping my life asunder, piece by piece and limb by limb. After I’d torn everything down, I would give myself over to the universe and ask the questions I needed to ask and be open to receiving the answers.

Surely a madness. I am surprised I will even tell you this. Since I was a child I was always afraid people would think me mad and lock me away somewhere. One of my earliest memories of fearing to be mad came when I was nine years old.

I had this extraordinary dream of swimming in the ocean and being eaten by a whale. I can remember being chewed apart piece by piece, and it felt glorious and sensual. I can still feel the incredible peace and consciousness expanding sensation of feeling all the little pieces of me floating around in the whale’s stomach and being conscious and content being there.

I was aware of all my other little pieces, floating around, somehow still connected to them. Then, the little ocean inside the whales stomach grew and grew until it became the universe. I could feel all the little parts of me connected and expanding through all the universe intensely and serenely aware of each other and aware of an overall consciousness or being that was not just part of everything but actively encompassing or guiding or growing with everything.

It would be nearly 32 years before I would tell anyone of this dream. And, 32 years later the feelings and experiences of this dream would be with me as vividly as the night it first came to me. I was afraid then and for the next 32 years that I would be thought crazy for having such a dream. After all, I had already heard at the age of nine that only insane people can have dreams in which they die.

For 32 years my visionary and spiritual life went under- ground as I tried to be like everyone else. I was a child with learning differences in school; I always understood things differently from everyone else. I struggled with my studies and received my BA degree in psychology and philosophy.

My mind would soar with the possibilities I saw in Martin Heidegger, Gabriel Marcel, Kierkegaard and Hegel. These peoples thoughts were like drugs to my mind. I could stay normal on the outside while flying with them on the inside. I looked acceptable and successful as I was working on my masters degree in philosophy, working full time at a psychiatric hospital and engaged to be married. This is when the anxiety attacks first arrived.

The thing I can most remember about the anxiety attacks was the overriding panic and intense nebulous fear that struck with each one. They kept me terrified with my breathing accelerated and heart pounding for six to eight hours at a time. The valium I was given was a welcome addiction and dulling effect but could not drive the fear away.

I dropped out of school, quit my job and talked my fiancee into moving back to my home state to live. We married, then divorced seven years later. I jumped back into another marriage a year after that; all the while keeping semi-control on the anxiety with the valium. I had no idea at the time that the anxiety attacks were psychic and spiritual growing pains, and that I was halting my growth by medicating and ignoring them.

I was just trying to be normal and happy like everyone expected. I continued on for seven more years holding the anxiety at bay until the year my father died. With my father’s death, the anxiety ravaged me like a wild animal and the fear became focused on death and illness.

My one and only daughter had been born one year before my father died. At the time of her birth I decided to give up my connections with psychology and become an artist. The creative process was very healing and nurturing for me. It gave me time and space to be with myself in a multi-level way.

My life to this time had always been filled with inner thoughts and musings; I had a very unconscious spirituality to me. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a very indigenous way of being with God. I’d given up my formal beliefs years ago. With Sartre and Nietzche, God had become passe; atheism, agnosticism and nihilism were the religions of the day. I felt more spiritually alive in the woods than any church I’d ever been in.

When my father died I came face to face with the old and new testament God and hated Him. I promptly, vigorously and vehemently told Him so. I was embarking on a very dark time of my life. Armed only with the love of my one year old daughter and my hatred of God I descended into hell, and unbeknownst to me, the road to healing.

I was so very angry when my father died that it overwhelmed me. The anger was so intense and took over to such an extent that I never really grieved for my father - I "angered" instead. The anger was the valium that kept the grief and sadness at bay.

Three months after my father died, I took my one year old daughter to the mall one day. I came from the parking lot through Sears to the center of the mall with my precious daughter in her stroller. As I walked to the center of the mall I was suddenly suspended in time. For what seemed like an eternity, I became oblivious to everything around me.

I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing there. I was just standing there not knowing anything and not caring. All the anxiety, fear, loneliness, and anger was gone and the universe was as it should be. A calm and peace born of being totally disassociated from the world and its problems settled over me. It was light and soft and wonderful. I had a slight, nagging feeling that there was something that I should remember but it also slid away.

After what seemed an eternity but what in reality was only a few minutes, conscious awareness came crashing back. With it came the realization that I had totally forgotten who I was and where I was, and most of all I had forgotten the existence of my little daughter. I was horrified to think that in this state, I might have walked off and left her or abandoned her. This realization brought on absolute fear and panic. Terrified and crying I took my daughter and fled from the mall.

What might have otherwise have been seen as a spiritual awakening was translated as a total loss of control and mental collapse. Luckily, I was recommended to a psychologist who helped me heal through process and self analysis and without medication. During the two years I worked with this man, he recommended many books to me.

One of these was , about a woman’s past life memories. This book opened my mind and for the first time since my teen years, I started seriously contemplating all the mystical and spiritual possibilities of life. Though still hostile about God and organized religion, I snuck in the back door of spiritual life with an openness to reincarnation and mysticism.

My therapist also encouraged me to record and work on my dreams, and to use my painting as therapy. These truly are powerful healing tools that I continue to use today.

As well as I was doing however, the death of my father opened the chasm of fear to such an extent that I was aware of it constantly. My therapist taught me to deal and function with this fear in my life but it was like a raw and painful wound that constantly had to be worked around. Fear of death and disease insinuated itself into my whole life.

My anxiety attacks were regular and always on the theme of death and cancer (my father had died of multiple myoloma, a bone cancer). Every time I had an ache or a pain, I thought I had cancer. I had developed respiratory problems after my daughters birth and they had become chronic. My daughter also developed them and she was constantly sick. At the age of three-and-one-half she developed high spikey fevers and constant upper respiratory infections, and she started dreaming of God.

One night God told her that he wanted her to come and stay with Him. When she told me this I fell apart. I begged and pleaded with her to stay here, to stay with me. I told her I needed her and loved her and I began to beg God also; my first unhostile communication with Him in a long time. The next year and a half were rough, my daughter and I were sick almost all of the time.

The medicines the doctors gave us kept us going but we never got well, and they were running out of the ever more exotic antibiotics that were supposed to help us. I resentfully prayed to God - He was bringing me to my knees and I didn’t like it one bit. Over this time I developed my out door praying technique where I would talk and cry and rage and ask for help. Eventually I learned to ask God/the universe what He/it wanted from me.

This is when I began recognizing the gifts being given to me. People were put in my life and experiences were put in my path. One of these was a homeopathic healer who changed our lives. By this time, not only did I have upper respiratory problems (bronchitis, pneumonia and constant infections) but major digestive problems from the antibiotics, muscle inflammation in my upper body and my anxiety attacks.

This homeopath turned my daughters health startlingly around, in a matter of months her fevers disappeared and for the first time I began to feel that maybe she wouldn’t be taken from me. My health problems, however, were more numerous and deeply rooted. In addition to homeopathic medicine I was recommended to other healers, one of whom became my gateway to an alternative culture.

My masseuse, Joanne, knew and used many modalities of healing with me. She also invited me to be in a woman’s group where I met women practicing astrology, wicca, past life regression therapy , gestalt therapy, yoga, reiki, holotropic breath work and other alternative modalities.

For the first time in my life all the mystical aspects of life that I’d believed in and only read about were embodied in real people who befriended me and cared for me, shared with me and taught me.

I was getting stronger and healthier and beginning to take chances in my life again (I had been playing it safe for a long time because of the fear). Hopefully and apprehensively, I took my- self to a workshop with Barbara Ann Brennan, a psychic and spiritual healer. Often during the workshop she openly spoke to her spiritual guide.

One afternoon she told us she would ask all of our guides to be present and speak with each of us. I was truly surprised (shocked) when my guide came and spoke to me. I had no idea it was this easy, this available to me. He had a presence that I could see in my minds eye and sense physically with my body.

He spoke to me in thoughts and answered my questions and even had a sense of humor. He has been a warm and guiding, wonderful and humorous presence in my life ever since.

I tried many different workshops to introduce myself to various modalities. I became deeply involved in shamanism which took me back to my childhood mysticism in the woods.

Shamanic journeying and healing were as natural to me as breathing and walking. Moving between realities and working with power animals and guides was second nature to me. It was in a class with the shaman, Michael Harner, that I found out that my childhood whale dream was a dismemberment dream and a shamanic initiation.

This dream was a great gift, not something to be dreaded. For the first time in my life I spoke the whale dream. Michael heard me and validated my experience and I felt honored.

Through my friend, Joanne, I was introduced to Geatalt psychotherapy and for the first time I thought, "now here is a therapy that really works." I began a three year training in Geatalt psychotherapy thinking to equip myself with tools to heal others.

This, however, became an intensive three year personal process. After the first few months of training it became clear to me that never in the past had I had such support and love from a group of people and perhaps never again might I have this. It was time to do my deep work, the work that scared me beyond anything else in life.

The many wonderful alternative modalities I learned and studied over the last few years changed my life extraordinarily, healing me and strengthening me but they had not relieved me of my crippling fear of cancer and death and the constant incessant anxiety attacks.

I had tried everything to escape these fears - medication and meditation, biofeedback, imagery, relaxation, breathing techniques, etc. At a point where I seemed to be making headway and things seemed to be calming, my closest and dearest childhood friend called to tell me she had breast cancer. This stoked these embers of fear into an inferno in no time at all.

What I had known all along but had lacked the courage and the strength to do was to come face to face with these fears. I knew that with the love and support of my gestalt training group and my awakening spirituality that this was the time to do it. So, full of terror and hope and belief I embarked one one of the most extraordinary adventures of my life. I enrolled in hospice training and became a hospice worker.

In order for patients to be accepted into our hospice their physician must state that the patient has six months or less to live. Most of our patients come to us with less than three months of life left and the overwhelming majority are cancer patients.

My first patient was dying of breast cancer. I was terrified and afraid that I could not handle it. I was afraid I would say or do something to this woman to hurt her because my fear was so great. The night before meeting her I had a dream. In this dream I am shown into a "wisdom room," a library of dark wood and beautiful antique furnishings and so many old books.

This room has a sense of peace and calm and rightness, a place of clarity that I can feel into my depths. With this feeling I am then shown into my patients’ room. She is sleeping in bed with her daughter sitting next to her and though my patient is 87 years old I am surprised to see that her hair is richly colored and vibrant.

Looking at this woman I realize in an instant that I must not pity her or see her as her cancer. She is a real and vibrant human being and needs to be treated that way. She should not be treated as a victim or as her disease. At this point my patient awakens and looks at me and I realize she is wondering if I will pity her.

I reach deep inside of myself and give her a big and radiant smile full of acceptance and love and she smiles back at me with a glowing face full of happiness and joy. At this point, her daughter says with some surprise, "I see she likes you."

The next morning, enveloped by the feelings and wisdom and love of this dream that was still so present with me I went to meet my patient, Lillian, and was truly able to see her as the wonderful and vibrant person she was. Over the next three months I came to know and love this woman.

Under my care she grew stronger and started eating more and taking more interest in her life. The staff at the nursing home was totally amazed. I learned a very powerful lesson, that people flourish when they are treated with love and dignity and are recognized and acknowledged for being themselves.

When my very dear Lillian died I realized that I had a special gift, that I was able to create an atmosphere or space for Lillian where she could be who she was and live to her fullest potential until her moment of death. Just because she was dying did not mean that she was becoming less of herself or less of a human being - she was fully herself to that last breath and beyond.

I was given many gifts through Lillian and my hospice experiences. As Lillian came closer to death I began to sense the presence of an angel with her; the closer to death she came, the more powerful the presence of the angel became.

This is something I am able to see with all of my patients now. I was also guided to develop a shamanic technique where I take my patients to and beyond the moment of death to see who and what will be waiting for then when they do die. Most often family and loved ones are present, sometimes pets, often religious figures.

This never ceases to have a powerful effect on me. I have even been gifted to be present while patients were experiencing and describing death bed visions and conversations with saints and deceased loved ones.

Working with hospice over the last three and one-half years has had a profound effect on me in every area of my life. The spiritual emotional, and psychic openings created for me have been no less than extraordinary.

I would like to be able to say that my fear of cancer disappeared but this is not so. It has changed. I will try to explain. I understand death and disease as process now. I see the extraordinary beauty and wisdom and healing in the dying process.

I have even come to understand that a cancer death gives one the time and situation to realize the oncoming demise and to tie up emotional and spiritual loose ends and often to make remarkable spiritual and emotional breakthroughs.

I have seen the beauty and spirituality and awesome power of conscious dying. I have also seen cancer at its most vicious and devastating, impacting negatively on patients and their families. I am still scared. I know I have more work to do here and I can say this without turning and fleeing.

My gestalt group helped me work through my fears and empowered me in my hospice work and other areas. I have grown as never before. I was able to create healing around my fathers death. In the last year of my training my quest for healing around death and cancer came fill circle.

My father’s mother, my beloved granny, who is one of the finest human beings I have ever met, died of cancer at the age of 99. I was gifted with the experience of being with her when she died and guiding her to the other side.

Through some divine intervention, all of my relatives who had been at her death bed not 20 minutes before her death all found they had something they had to leave and do, leaving me alone with my granny guiding her and loving her through those last moments. I was profoundly touched.

There were many gifts and healings given that day, if you knew how to see them. When my family returned to find my grandmother dead, we did a ritual at her bed speaking about her and all the loving and touching and funny moments we had with her.

Then my uncle led us in the Lords Prayer and as he did my 13 year old daughter started pulling on my sleeve and pointing at the window saying, "Mom, look, look..." When I looked up I saw a cardinal sitting on a branch, pecking at the window as if to get our attention.

My daughter said, "Look mom, it’s Granny, I know it is." We had a second affirmation of this as my cousin became so distressed at our granny’s passing that he had to go into the back yard to be by himself.

When he returned, he told us that the cardinal followed him into the back yard and sat with him until he left to come back into the house. In several indigenous cultures the cardinal is known as a spiritual emissary.

There was a marked difference between the way I was able to create loving and healing from my grandmothers death compared to the lonely and fearful and angry experience I made of my fathers death 12 years before. I marvel when I see where my anxiety attacks have led me.

During the last few years I have become increasingly more interested in death and dying. I was gifted with a friend who has been doing research in past life regression therapy. She felt that with my background in hospice and gestalt, I would be a natural as past life therapist.

I started training with Roger Woolger, a gifted past life therapist and researcher and found that this work feels like an old friend to me. My personal experience with my own past lives has been powerful and spiritually expanding. I am still being worked by two regressions I had four months ago.

One as an aboriginal visionary which related strongly to the vision of my art work. The second was of myself as a young man at the time of Jesus. As this young man I had gone to hear Jesus teach. I can remember listening to him, feeling the love and peace in his presence.

Then I became ashamed of myself, realizing that this man could see right through me to all of my faults and dark places. At this point, full of shame, I turned to go away and as I did this, Jesus came down to me and touched my shoulder and turned me around. I can still feel the touch on my shoulder.

As I turned to him I remember looking into the depths of those incredible eyes, being drawn into them and the love and acceptance that was there for even my dark places. He told me to come and I spent the rest of that lifetime following him and working in his name.

Whenever I find myself doubting my beliefs or my abilities, I recall that moment of being turned around and I take a new perspective on myself and the situation.

The therapist who was guiding me through this regression told me afterward that at the point in the regression where Jesus turned me around, she could see a glow around me and that she could feel an uncommon presence in the room.

She became very concerned for my welfare because my breathing became so slow that it seemed to stop. She feared I might leave much the same as I feared my daughter might leave after God asked her to come stay with him. It took her a while to move me out of this state but then I continued with the regression.

I brought back with me this sense of being turned around, of not being allowed to deny myself or walk away from my true inner being. Since this regression I have gone back to this moment with Jesus in a visionary or shamanic way and have been comforted and received information.

The presence of that moment has filled me with a powerful strength and centeredness, and the feeling that love and the sacred are always available to me.

I think of that moment almost every day now. It is always with me. It gives me the same feeling as floating in the belly of the whale, expanding into the universe.

The moment with Jesus gives me an intensely centered, grounded, individual and personal experience of myself; the moment in the whale’s belly gives me an integrated, expansive, harmonic, cosmic and pantheistic experience of myself. And, I intuitively feel that these are both the same experience.

The most striking thing I notice about myself since attempting this writing exercise is the realization of what an extraordinary life I’ve had to this point and how guided I have been. I often think of myself as hum drum and everyday.

But my life experiences have been powerful and extraordinary, and just what I have needed. I also marvel at how lovingly given these experiences have been. Though some of the experiences originally felt difficult and harsh, from the vantage point of the EHE I can see they were given with a depth of love and caring and tailor made for me to bring me to where I am now.

I also notice that when I backed away from challenges in the past I was always brought around full circle to meet them again, often with a new perspective and more strength and support.

The EHE has left me with a good feeling about myself; that I have accomplished something and that there is a design to my life - a path. In truth, I have had so many remarkable experiences that I am afraid I lapse into a state where I take them for granted, not seeing them for the riches they are.

Writing some of them out has helped me relive them in all their pain and passion and magic that is still so alive within me. I wish I knew how to keep this alive and present in me at all times.

The whale dream is still unfolding for me and holding my ultimate truths. I feel the experiences of life chewing me apart and this is at once painful and pleasurable and ultimately wondrous. No matter how many little fragments of myself there are, I am constantly connecting and rediscovering them.

I realize all of me mirrors, reflects and becomes the universe. I can see parts of myself in everyone and everything, and them in me. Every time I realize or renew these connections, the universe expands for me and I am in awe at the wonder of it all.

I am by no means at the end of my journey. In many ways it seems I have just begun. I am now working on my masters degree and am trying to integrate my art, shamanism, hospice and past life regression therapy.

I can feel it coming together but do not yet see a vision of it as a whole. I am and will continue to work with people in a healing, teaching and visionary manner through therapy, art and spirituality.

This has become even clearer to me since doing the EHE. I would like to help people explore their spirituality and find their life’s path. I would also like to help people explore the passage of death.

In the future I want to do research on the between life bardo states using past life regression techniques. I am very curious about where we are and who we are when we are not in these bodies.

I would also like to write and publish my experiences with spirituality, death and dying. I would like to change our present fearful views about death and dying, and in the process, create a healing for myself.

I am presently changing my artistic style to incorporate my visions and dreams. The pastel I have enclosed with this paper, called " In the Whale’s Belly," is the first of these.

I want to swim with the dolphins. I figure they’re as close to whales as I can get at this time.

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