The quest to discover "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?" is often preceded by some crisis that serves as a wake-up call and has the potential to propel us, if we're willing, into a more expanded or spiritual awareness.
It was the Vietnam war, many years prior to the cancer, that first led me into a spiritual search; but it was cancer that gave me the opportunity to test the principles I had come to believe in. Would I have the courage and faith to live my beliefs through this difficult challenge? I felt compelled to look back on the journey that had brought me to this point.
Guiding Force In My Life
I grew up in a family that went to church every Sunday and accepted certain exclusive beliefs. From a very young age I realized that many of my young friends fell outside of the guidelines that were outlined by the church as necessary for salvation. It was a troublesome awareness; I consoled myself by thinking that I would understand when I was older. But as I got older I realized that such beliefs were more human than divine, and I left the confines of formal religion. I knew there was a guiding force in my life, but I didn't try to define it.
By the mid-seventies I was married to a Vietnam veteran and raising a young daughter. Stories of the atrocities that had taken place in Vietnam came home with the physically and psychologically wounded young men and took a toll on my generation. There was a general numbing that found expression in the saying, "God is dead." Many men like my husband, who had survived physically, were looking for a way to escape the nightmares that screamed out in the dark hours or slipped out in haunting memories during the day.
Andy called me his window to the world. Although I couldn't really understand how devastating his experiences had been, I felt the heaviness he carried. There was an indefinable void around him, or perhaps a wall through which he wasn't able to fully connect with the world.
In the aftermath of the war we struggled with our inner battles, trying but failing to find some way to reconcile the atrocities of war with a deeper sense that humankind was intended for something far better. While we accumulated the external security that served as a measurement of success, internally I felt like a rudderless ship tossing about randomly on vast ocean currents. Where was my direction? Just when I had given up hope of ever finding an answer, it came in the form of a completely unexpected and pivotal inner experience.
THE FOREST VISION
Andy, ten-year-old Cindy, and I had driven to a state park in northern California to meet Andy's coworkers and their families for a Fourth of July picnic celebration. As we drove into the park in the early morning, I noticed a halolike radiance around the bushes at the entrance, and even the bird fluttering alongside the car seemed to be emanating light. I didn't make much of it at first, assuming it was just a reflection of the morning sun. But as we got out and started walking along a shaded path underneath the giant trees, I realized that everything in sight had this beautiful light emanation. There were even flecks of gold in the air.
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As we walked along I noticed that all of my senses had become extraordinarily keen. Sounds picked up by my ears were instantly translated into images in my mind's eye of a squirrel or the hooves of a deer or a bird hopping through the dense brush. Whatever it was, I could see it clearly in my inner vision. I was drawn into the rhythm around me; it seemed that the trees and even the air swelled and emptied with my breath.
My consciousness shifted, and for a time it seemed I was somewhere else. I can best describe it as walking into another dimension in which I was not conscious of my physical body or surroundings, but at the same time extremely conscious of many impressions. The spiritual nature of reality became clear and obvious, as though this awareness had been tucked behind some curtain that was suddenly pulled open.
Just as suddenly, I was drawn into a scene just before my birth:
I'm watching a young woman I recognize to be me, although she looks somewhat different than I currently look, sitting in a garden where flowers are blooming in exquisite colors. The environment is softer and it replicates the physical world, except that everything seems intensified. Colors are more brilliant and sounds more pure, although words can scarcely describe it. As I survey the scene I'm flooded with recollections.
This garden is where the young woman and others gather to listen to the one who is called the teacher. Time here isn't divided into night and day as it is in the physical dimension where the teacher now resides, even though she has graduated from the lessons of that denser plane, the place where memory fades and time is lived from the perspective that life begins at birth and ends at death. She is able now to enter an awakened state even while on that plane, having chosen to be born into a physical body in order to help others break through the forgetfulness of the earth experience and wake up to the collective lessons of nonviolence and compassion, before the technological advancements of an as yet immature society render the earth school uninhabitable.
While her body of flesh rests during the night hours on the physical plane, the teacher appears in the garden to counsel souls from all the surrounding villages as they prepare for the continuance of their journey into the physical world. When they enter the flesh their true identities will be forgotten, and they will face the tasks they set out for themselves without memory of having chosen them. It will be both a great challenge and a great opportunity for much growth.
"Remember" she is saying, "when the time comes to choose from the lessons you have left to learn, you will choose only those that you yourself decide to take on. The more you choose to learn, the more difficult it will seem, and you will not know why it is that such difficulties come to you. If you persevere and work successfully through each lesson at hand, the growth you attain will permit you to penetrate another veil in the shroud of forgetfulness. The time will come when your vision will be clear and even in the physical world your true identity will emerge and become your reality.
"It takes a good deal of courage to take on the lessons that still await you. The more timid among you will take on one or two, and that is fine. But if you have the courage to take on several and work through all of them, you will have made that much more progress in your journey and will require fewer excursions into the world of physical experience.
"The earth life is alluring, and without memory its illusion is strong. One of the most difficult illusions to break through is the illusion of separation. Here you know that you are not separate from one another or from God, the creative Source that runs through all things and binds all things together. Even while in a physical body, once you penetrate this veil you will know from within that you are never alone. You are always accompanied by spirit guides from the angelic realm and teachers who have themselves walked the earth plane. But when you are born into a body of flesh, you will forget. Your guides will be most able to reach you when your minds are still in meditation or sleep.
"There is another illusion that causes much confusion. Identifying yourself as the body, rather than that which activates the body, creates a sense of limitation. The forgetfulness that is a condition of the physical world creates the belief that it is only through physical form that you create and think and have your being. The truth that you create your physical form, and its condition in accordance with your thoughts and emotions is lost. The knowledge that you are spiritual beings attempting to learn important lessons and to find the unique work you have set out to undertake while in the flesh can only be found in the quiet stillness within. There, in that inner sanctuary, lies the truth. It is always with you.
"There are many adventures awaiting you in the physical world. If you make it through the veil of forgetfulness to the heart of truth, the privilege of consciously creating the conditions of your experiences awaits you. Your potential to create, even while in the flesh, is unlimited. If you err and create only material gain, accumulating for yourself without regard to others, you will reap a basket of lessons to return to again and again. Irresponsible actions that in any way exploit or violate another create a deficit, which unchecked will eventually lead to a bankruptcy of the soul.
"Nothing binds one to suffering more than this. You are accountable for every thought, every action, every feeling you send out. There is no judgment in this. Universal law applies to everyone equally. Living in harmony with these laws is the path that will bring you into conscious awareness of your spiritual nature.
"Remember this: the supreme law is the law of love. No matter how strong the illusion, when love is put aside for fear or greed, and when violence, whether emotional or physical, is done by you to another; that violence is done to your own soul and you carry it with you.
"The earth life is like a dream. Violence done to your body only removes you from the dream. Violence done by you to another ties you not only to the dream but to the experience of violence over and over again, to be played out by you both as victim and perpetrator."
When the teacher is gone the girl remains in the garden, gazing into the distance. She is joined by the one she calls her brother: The members of the family in this village, as in others, learn and grow in constellation with one another. In and out of the land of dreams they come together; sharing in one another's joys and sorrows and learning about love in all its levels and expressions. The nature of the relationships often changes on the physical side so that a sibling in one life might be a daughter or close friend in another. On the side between dreams, ethereal forms, although fine in vibration, resemble the image of the body most recently inhabited.
The brother stands tall with a slender frame and fine, chiseled features. His eyes, most often radiating a youthful sense of fun, study the girl. "You're thinking about leaving, aren't you?" he asks. Although time here isn't perceived in the same strung-out linear way as in the physical world, progression is noted in the movement of events and the entering and leaving of members of the community.
"Yes," she responds. "I'm being called to enter the physical world. The guardian is waiting for me. She and the caretaker will be my parents. For some time now we have been communicating during those periods when their bodies are at rest."
The guardian has already taken the role in the family as well as in the greater community of providing emotional support to the various members. She and the girl have been together in many different relationships, and their bond is close. The guardian, who is to be the girl's mother when she enters the world of flesh, is now in a physical form not unlike that of her previous one, as the body merely reflects consciousness, and changes in appearance evolve with the same methodical development as changes in personality and emotion and intellect. She is of small frame with delicate hands and feet, reflecting an earlier life in the Orient. Her sweetness of nature and stability of emotions are also reflections of that long-ago life; these qualities have further been nurtured in subsequent periods.
The caretaker; who is to be the girl's father, used to tend the village gardens with devoted attention. Having a perceptive sense of how things fit together to become functional, he also often conversed with the inventors whose advancements moved evolution forward. He is of average build and moves with deliberation, ever focused on the execution of some task. Of temperament he is sensitive, not prone to light chatter but fixed on the nature of things. His big hands are almost always busy organizing clutter into orderliness or turning some broken thing into something useful.
The brother's eyes deepen at the girl's words, and she looks lovingly at him. "It won't be long. You'll know when the time is right for you to come."
As the girl makes her way to the hall of preparation, she meets a cousin. He is tall, with a gaunt face, and his deep-set brown eyes convey sadness. On his right temple a mole marks the spot where a bullet entered during a battle, shortening his previous life and leaving him bewildered. Both the girl and the cousin are being called to journey to the physical world once again. Each will take a list of lessons yet to be learned, both their own individual lessons and those to be considered on a collective level.
The cousin reaches into the vessel in front of him and with determination draws out several slips. After speaking with him, the wise ones nod and give him their blessings. The girl's eyes meet the cousin's and she smiles encouragement; then he is gone.
The girl peers into the vessel in front of her. She hesitates before drawing out several slips. They contain major lessons of both personal and collective consequence. The council of learned ones speaks kindly to her.
"In the journey of your soul the time has come to expand the riches of your inner experience into the outer world of expression. You are entering at a time of great need in the area of collective transformation and spiritual awakening. There is a great struggle between forces that would lead to great destruction and annihilation and forces that would lead to a golden age of peace.
"Collectively, humanity has reached a crossroads, and the outcome lies in the balance. In order for peace to prevail, conflict and oppression must be overcome. In order for love to prevail, hatred and prejudice must be overcome. In order for wisdom to prevail, ignorance and fear must be overcome. The lessons are personal as well as collective, and every individual is helping to determine the course of human evolution."
The wise one now speaking pauses, placing his hand gently on her forehead, and then continues softly. "Take heart. The teacher will be with you there as here, and through your own effort your path will cross with hers as you are ready. There is much you will remember. The guides and teachers are with humanity in abundance during this time of great transition. Remember that one person in alignment with God can have more force than an army.
"The way to discover your soul's journey in the life ahead will be to awaken to the reality within. To find your strength you will confront your weaknesses. You will need to pass through the dark night in order to penetrate the veil. Do you wish to take these lessons on now?" The girl nods her assent.
As the image receded I found myself back in the forest, Andy, Cindy, and I all walking along a trail in unusual silence. I felt a lingering sensation of having been in an altered state. It was like awakening from a bout of amnesia with the forgotten details of my identity flooding in. When I walked out of the woods that day, my perception of the world and of myself had completely changed. I could never go back to the unconscious level of functioning that had been my life.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Healing Arts Press. www.InnerTraditions.com
©2004. All Rights Reserved.
This article was excerpted with permission from:
Profound Healing: The Power of Acceptance on the Path to Wellness
by Cheryl Canfield.
At the age of 41 Cheryl Canfield was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. Going against warnings from doctors, she rejected proposed surgeries that would involve removing her uterus, cervix, lymph nodes, and surrounding nerves. Instead, she decided to accept death and focused her energy on attempting to die well. In the process, she cured herself. More than a biography, Cheryl Canfield's story contains exercises, dreams, visualizations, and experiences that assisted her healing process.
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About the Author
CHERYL CANFIELD is a wellness counselor who lectures nationally on topics of profound healing and steps toward inner peace. She is the editor of the book, Peace Pilgrim's Wisdom and co-compiler of Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words. Visit her website at www.ProfoundHealing.com