Chapter 4: The secrest of staying connected
Gradually, we come to realize that the so-called dead and indeed the whole spiritual world are involved in and care deeply about every aspect of earthly life. Thereby, we come to understand the supreme importance of earthly life as the only sphere in the universe where death can be experienced. And not only death: earth is above all the place of connection, of relationship and love. Love, connection, relationship occur only on the earth. We had better take care of them. Those fruits we take to heaven.
In 2011, following the death of my close friend, Ross, a student of Rudolf Steiner for more than 30 years, I sought out Steiner’s writings on connecting with people who had died. In Steiner’s Staying Connected: How to Continue Your Relationships with Those Who Have Died: Selected Talks and Meditations, 1905-1925, I found support for my view (shared by Karl) that a relationship does not have to end with death. Death ends a life, but not a relationship. Following Karl’s death, I had the opportunity to test Steiner’s theories.
Deeply grounded in Earth-based spirituality, Karl had a magical quality that he attributed to his Romani origins. He believed in life after death, and we often talked about meeting up in another incarnation. I knew I could reach him. Years earlier, I had studied mediumship and was a competent student. All I needed was a guide and a bit of patience. I was also confident that Karl wanted to reach out to me. In my heart, I knew he would never leave me.
In 2016, in the early days of our communication, Karl affirmed:
You will never have a life totally without me, you know, because I live in your heart.
A new experience
So begins my activity of communicating daily with Karl that continued for twenty months. Initially, sitting in a coffee shop, I merely open my heart and listen to what he had to say after some preliminary words of gratitude and appreciation.
It takes several weeks for him to reply. Karl’s first messages are somewhat abrupt and direct, as though he is learning how to communicate through the gap between us.
As I read more of Steiner’s work, I discovered that I could enrich our conversations by paying attention to several guiding communication principles. As I embrace those principles, our communication expands and deepens.
A COMMON AIR OF GRATITUDE
Steiner’s first principle for communication with one who has died is that we need to enter into a space of the most profound gratitude for the life of the person who has passed and for the joys and happiness we enjoyed from being in a relationship with them. He recommends paying attention to the sense of gratitude beneath the surface of our consciousness, as the dead will have common ground with us if we affirm that life is a gift. He calls that “a common air of gratitude”.
LIFE ALWAYS HAS SOMETHING TO GIVE US
Importantly, we should refrain from expressing our yearning or grief for the loss of that person. We must approach them with scrupulous care and great propriety. Says Steiner, “we must be able to raise ourselves to a feeling of thankfulness that we have had them; we must be able to think selflessly of what they were to us until their death, and not what we feel now when we have them no more.” It is helpful to express universal gratitude for the experiences of life and gratitude for every experience — even the smallest, reaffirming a sense of community with the world around us (and thus solidarity with all existence). Embodying a feeling of hopefulness in life, we must communicate universal trust, faith, and confidence in life and humanity.
We must remain open to how these qualities present themselves. Our motto must become Life always has something to give us.
Bearing these ideas in mind, I begin to include in my morning meditations a brief version of the Three Blessings gratitude exercise, popularized by psychologist Martin Seligman, the founding father of Positive Psychology.
Also called “The Three Good Things”, this exercise aims to increase happiness and a sense of well-being by transforming our negative thoughts into positive thoughts. In my morning ritual, the three blessings I record in my journal are pretty basic. At first, shocked, derailed and pummelled by grief and trauma, I can muster little more than statements of three simple things that have gone well during my day.
Although I am broken, I am also desperate to ensure that my grief will not tie Karl to me or to the Earth or, in any way, impede his passage in the spiritual realms. I release Karl the best I can, remembering Steiner’s cautionary words: “When we lose these people we love, the better we can feel what they were to us during their life, the sooner will it be possible for them to speak to us — to speak to us through the common air of gratitude.”
Steiner’s concept of gratitude includes an appreciation of what that person meant and still means to us. He says that only in modern Western materialist cultures do we partition them from our consciousness and believe that they have no further interest in our lives. In reality, the dead have a deep interest in human life. The dead eagerly seek information about the human life they have left and are eager to participate in and influence the lives of those they love and care for. They want to work with us so that we can receive their guidance. They want to help in the evolution of humanity via a reciprocal and caring relationship. To alter our perspective, we need only build a bridge between the living and the dead. When we open our hearts to caring in any relationship, we make it easier for the dead to communicate with us.
Actions speak louder than words
Reading Steiner’s words help me understand that the dead can appreciate or understand some aspects of human life more fully than others. Most compelling for them is the evidence of our human appreciation of the actions they undertook in their human life. While it is tempting to reiterate their valuable and honorable qualities, speaking about actions is likely to yield better results. We need to speak the language of the dead — a language of verbs. For them, everything is related to activity.
In Steiner’s view, our thoughts of love and our memories equal artistic creations; they are like art to the dead. He says, “Each time a dead soul encounters a remembrance of itself in the soul of a living human being … it is as if something streams over to that [living] soul that beautifies its life, enhancing its value.”
Delicate moments of going to sleep and waking
After we attend to these prerequisites of gratitude and appreciation, we can move on to speaking — and listening. Some specific approaches can nourish our communication. First, timing is essential. We can develop a consciousness of what Steiner calls the “delicate moments of going to sleep and waking”.
At the time of falling asleep, we may be most open to communication from the dead, so that is the best time to put a question to them — a question that may be answered when we awaken (if we listen carefully).
We can prepare the thought or question during the day, ask it as we are falling asleep, and listen for an insight when we are waking.
Four simple steps
Four simple steps can support this approach:
- We can remind ourselves of the love we feel for this person;
- We can address them with real warmth of heart;
- We can visualize actual moments we spent together; and
- We can say what impressed us about them that was helpful or valuable to us.
Reading to the dead
The dead need nourishment that can be drawn only from the ideas and thoughts of those with whom they were connected during life. For the first period after death (Steiner does not specify how long), we offer the highest service by “reading to the dead”. By this, Steiner means reading (not reading aloud) from books of a spiritual nature that a person could appreciate. This reading is nourishing to the departed soul, as it can remind it of the world they knew on Earth. We need only to form a picture in our soul of that individual as we knew them in life, standing or sitting before us. Then we softly read a work of spiritual content, following the ideas with alert attention, always keeping in mind that the dead one is before us. Our reading has the effect of “instructing” that soul.
For about three months, I choose to read to Karl from several books by American writer and poet Mark Nepo.
I picture Karl in my mind as I read about fear, death, grief, forgiveness, courage, and redemption.
What reading Rudolf Steiner taught me
I find in Rudolf Steiner’s book support for many of my own ideas. In most non-Western cultures and at other times, loved ones held the dead close and greatly valued connection with them. As the dead are genuinely interested in the human lives of those they were close to, reading to them is an effective way of keeping in touch. If we focus on verbs and action when we communicate with them, we can expect a reciprocal relationship and to feel supported and nurtured by them. We will benefit in various and numerous ways.
I also conclude that my death will be made more comfortable for those who love me if none of us are afraid of connecting with dead people. I try to model appropriate behavior that is not pathological and does not contribute to fear in others.