Free Therapy #94: Learning from the Dead

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“Pain is the path to truth. It refracts light to reveal things not otherwise seen. In the heart of pain is a moment when the universe, and our place within it, becomes more visible. This is a story of entering that moment, of listening to what pain teaches.”

Matthew McKay, Ph.D.
Seeking Jordan

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As a few of you may have noticed, I abandoned my post for a little while here. But I am thrilled to be back and grateful to Doni Chamberlain and Joe Domke that they saved my place in the spacious sanctuary of their online home. Many of us gather here at anewscafe, like tired travelers at the end of a long day, to meet and share around the warm fire of our mutual interest and concern. It is a blessing to do so. I count myself lucky to connect with all of you this way.

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On Christmas Day, as the sun was setting over the ocean, I was on the beach in Jiquilillo (hee-kee-lee-oh), Nicaragua with my wife and daughters and dozens of others, awaiting instructions. Some of us had carried four plastic buckets of various sizes and set them on the sand. Inside the buckets were 300 baby sea turtles, freshly born that day, feverishly swimming in place and ready to be released into the sea.

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The dying sun’s refracted light had become a kaleidoscopic smear of stunning hues across the sky; mirrored beautifully by the reflecting glass of the retreating tide. As we let the tiny babies go, we placed them carefully on the sand so they could test their flippers and gather strength as they waddled toward the oncoming waves. One by one, they met the ocean and disappeared, until all were gone.

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Except one, that is, that floated back lifeless on the foamy sea. A small boy in a baseball cap picked her up and held her like a piece of fine china in the palm of his hand. I didn’t want to believe she was dead and insisted we place her on the sand again; hoping the salty water would wake her from her sleep. Her frail flippers remained limp, however, and we all fell silent as the boy picked her up again and slowly walked into the water with his tiny treasure.

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He stood staring in his hands for several minutes, as if in prayer, mourning her death and marveling at her small perfection. Finally, he looked toward the orange marmalade sky, reared back and flung her body as far as he could to where all her brothers and sisters were serenely swimming toward the deep.

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Sea turtles have been on this planet for 150 million years and now, thanks to a new species that only arrived 200,000 years ago – us, of course – their continued existence, like so many of our fellow creatures, is now in doubt. What will become of them? And what will become

of us?

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In his book, Induced After Death Communication, Allan Botkin, a psychologist who worked with combat veterans at a Chicago Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospital described a kind of miracle that happened one day; a miracle that changed his life and that of his patient’s. The miracle, like many scientific breakthroughs, possesses the potential to transform how we see ourselves. And in time, may alter our view of life, death and the lives before and after our existence here.

Botkin called him Sam, a 46-year-old Vietnam veteran who had suffered with unremitting, crippling grief for 28 years after witnessing the murder of Le, a 10-year-old Vietnamese orphan that Sam intended to adopt and raise as his daughter. Following her death and his return to civilian life, Sam spent most of the next three decades in his basement, sequestered from his family, unable to fully love or live; trapped in the endless nightmare of his traumatic past; filled with guilt, anger, self-loathing, a gruesome image and searing sadness.

Botkin was proficient in a psychotherapy procedure known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and was using this technique with Sam as he had with so many patients over the years. Sam was sobbing “from the overwhelming pain of his grief” as Botkin “administered a final eye movement procedure and asked him to close his eyes.”

And that is when the miracle occurred. Botkin wrote, “Neither of us was prepared for what happened next. The tears that had been flowing from his closed eyes suddenly stopped and he smiled broadly. He giggled softly. When he opened his eyes, he was euphoric.”

Sam insisted that he saw Le as a grown woman, that he had spoken with her, told her he loved her, that she had hugged him, thanked him and told him she loved him, too. Eight years later, Sam told Botkin he continued “to feel a profound reconnection to Le” and that his relationship with his own daughter had “improved greatly.” He could now relate to her “in a much more open and loving manner because of the experience.” He was healed.

In his book, Seeking Jordan, How I Learned about Death and the Invisible Universe, Matthew McKay described how Botkin applied what he learned from Sam to his other patients. “Over the next several years, Botkin initiated the new procedure with eighty-three patients at the VA. All were suffering profound grief. None were told what to expect, other than a general description of EMDR and its effectiveness with trauma and grief.”

Sam’s experience was not a fluke. What Botkin assumed must have been a “grief hallucination” turned out to be something else entirely. McKay wrote, “Eighty-one of those eighty-three patients experienced an after-death communication – 98 percent.” In other words, only two of eighty-three patients did not spontaneously claim to have directly communicated with their deceased loved one.

McKay, also a clinical psychologist, co-founder of New Harbinger Publications, professor at the Wright Institute and director of the Berkeley Cognitive Behavior Therapy Clinic, has authored and coauthored numerous books including Your Life on Purpose, The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, Self-Esteem, Thoughts and Feelings, and When Anger Hurts. Like Botkin, he is scientifically trained, a committed empiricist and skeptical of that which can’t be proved.

And when his 23-year-old son, Jordan was murdered in September of 2008, McKay began a quest to communicate with him again and in the process, “discover the meaning and truth of our existence,” according to clinical psychologist, Ralph Metzner, author of the Foreword to Seeking Jordan.

McKay and his wife traveled to Chicago to meet with Botkin and undergo EMDR treatment. And just as Sam and 80 others had experienced, McKay reached across the curtain that divides us from our departed loves.

He later wrote, “And now, quite suddenly, I hear a voice. Jordan is speaking as if in the room. He says: ‘Dad…Dad…Dad…Dad. Tell Mom I’m here. Don’t cry…it’s okay, it’s okay. Mom, I’m all right, I’m here with you. Tell her I’m okay, fine. I love you guys.’”

And what did he learn? He not only communicated with Jordan, but asked his son to help him write a book. In five minutes, Jordan provided his father with the outline for Seeking Jordan.

McKay wrote, “Nothing is truly lost. Nothing. The soul is constant, never broken. Pain seems to damage us, but the damage is an illusion. The idea of safety or protection is an illusion. It is all safe – everything we love.”

McKay warns us that as each of us seeks the truth, we must be careful because “the idea of truth deceives us.” Our thoughts are not absolutely true because they are not the direct experience of that which is.

McKay writes, “The light holds a million versions of the truth – no one of them complete or whole. Each is the partial wisdom of one moment, looking across one vista. Each is a moment of great vision and a lie, because certainty seduces, and in that certainty every other vantage point is lost.”

Toward the end of Seeking Jordan, McKay writes, “This book, these conversations with Jordan, is science-based. While it is true that my experiences of after-death communication can’t be measured because they are subjective and exist in my mind, it’s also true that they comprise a single, independent observation of the phenomenon of after-death communication. And when combined with other reports from people who have conversations with the dead, they provide multiple independent observations of this experience. I encourage you to compare these accounts and see where they agree – and perhaps point to truth.”

We are all here to learn and to love. That is it. And in the process, we must be willing to be uncertain and to doubt. That is how we learn. We don’t know everything but each of us is a small but precious piece of the large puzzle of truth. We need one another because we belong to one another. We are all needed, all important, all necessary.

We are born into amnesia and ignorance, ready to laugh and cry, celebrate and suffer, doubt and seek, struggle and strain, love and lose and finally, learn and grow. This is why we’re here.

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Beauty, like truth and love, is all around us all the time. It is in us, every cell of us, and in those we love and care for. We are here to see it. And realize we are it. It is time to wake up from our long nap. The time is now. The door is open, beyond it a bridge bringing us healing and forgotten truths. Our loved ones are ready for us. Are we ready for them?

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Douglas Craig
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 30 years. He believes in magic and is a Dawes fan.
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4 Responses

  1. sue k says:

    Whew – you are back – THANK GOD!!!!!!!!!

    Tremendous read and fantastic photos.

    Thank you

  2. Cathy says:

    What a meaningful article. I’ve just ordered the McKay book in order to learn more. Thank you!

    Beautiful photos.  It’s great to have you back.

  3. Carrie Dokter says:

    So Interesting! Thank you.

  4. Beverly Stafford says:

    I just ordered the McKay eBook from Kindle – $9.99.   Thank you, Doug Craig, for your always-interesting reads.