LOVE AND ABOVE
A Journey through Coma and into Joy
I am shooting through the universe, a beam of light with no form and no goal. I had been in a coma for almost three weeks and had long since left that body lying on a bed in ICU in a hospital in Constantia. I only learned later that my mother had not left my bedside and that my family had begged and pleaded for me to come back. Friends had recorded my two young children talking to me and played it to me and my sisters had rubbed my feet and brushed my hair. What I didn’t know was what had been going on in the real world, the world where my body lay, breathing through tubes and machines.
I knew none of this. I only knew I had floated away from the hospital, then the city. Eventually I left the earth and moved far into the universe. Floating away.
I had no name. No attachments. No family. No form. No purpose. I was a floating, formless, light being. Totally at peace in the vast, beautiful peace.
In the real world I was dying. I was admitted into hospital with ‘the flu’ at age 34. Within 48 hours I was in an induced coma, on life support and fighting for my life. My big magazine job abandoned, my stylish house empty and my life suddenly vacated.
At the same time my husband, at just 41, was dying in another bed just 10kms down the road. He had been fighting brain cancer for four years. He had fought it with surgery and medicine and alternative medicine. He was deep along the path of becoming a sangoma.
“Write about it Sarah,” everyone said during those long, four, crazy, wild years as I entertained them with our ceremonies and rituals. I was an author and a journalist. I was a writer. But I couldn’t. I didn’t dare. I was caught in fear. It was too private.
We were close to the end and he was about to lose his battle. I wasn’t about to lose mine.I had spent decades trying to control my ability to astral travel and to ‘leave my body’. I had never wanted to do it, it had always terrified me, but it just happened. This time I was doing it in a spectacular fashion – in a coma.
I just didn’t know how to come back. It felt as if there were two threads pulling at me.One thread was my spirit and that wanted to float away and be free. The other was my soul and it wanted to be somewhere. It was being called back, down and back to my family and life.
Though the dark space after all those weeks I had a clear, distinct and real thought. It cut through like a beacon calling me.
I know that this was the turning point for me. I have read many NDE stories after waking up and I know that this was the moment I made a choice.
I had a conscious thought for the first time .It was the soul calling I finally heard.
Come home, it said. It was that thought that drove me for the next week until I finally woke up back in my body.
At that stage I had been in a coma for so long I had a 10 per cent chance of survival. I was 20kgs lighter, being fed intravenously and kept sedated while a raging infection tore through my body. Getting back to my body was the first task and I was fighting for my life.
I have watched movies about people waking from a coma. They open their eyes and the fog clears.
It’s nothing like that. Waking up from a coma is not a singular event. It is a process of fighting your way out and into consciousness – and then slipping back under.
In the real world I was still in a deep coma, but the sedation was being slowly lifted. It was then that a spirit guide came and helped me back. I had met many beings in the weeks my soul had travelled, but this one stayed with me. He sat by my bed, calmed me down and talked me through the last few days until I woke. I thought he was a doctor at the time, until a few weeks later I remembered the bare feet, tiny stature, wizened hands and ancient eyes. I remembered what he had whispered in my ear when I asked him: “How am I to live again? What must I do?”
I was waking and slowly I became aware I was in a hospital. I knew there were machines and doctors. I was strapped to a bed, naked and cold.
Although I was somehow back near my body, I still had no idea I was in a coma. I was just a body in a hospital bed fighting for my life and moving in and out of my body.
What had happened to my body was severe. I had been in a coma for three weeks and had travelled worlds and realms. I had lost close to 20 kilograms. I was hooked up to a life support machine and a tracheotomy. I had compression machines moving the fluids out of my legs, and I was hooked up to feeding tubes and machines.
The ICU at night is a terrifying nightmare world. Not even Dean Koontz or Steven King could imagine the nights of terror. The nightmare is real and it is fuelled by the sedation and drugs flooding your system, creating nightmarish visions. I called this phase of coma ‘The World of Nightmares’.
Even writing this book, a decade later, I want to just stop. Turn away from the memories of the cold and the lights and the machine and the death. Turn away from being a nobody tied to a bed all alone, with people dying all around me.
Three days after I came out of the coma, my husband died. The wild shamanic journey was over.
“Sarah, you HAVE to write about it,” everyone said. I was an author, a journalist. I wrote about everything. But I couldn’t write this. I work with writers all over the world to tell their stories, but I couldn’t write this one.
I crawled forward sheltering two young children. I had to learn to walk again, write again, talk again, think again and then get on with the job of being a mom. I had to get up each morning, make the lunch boxes and do the school lift. I lost all my hair. It took me years to reconnect all my neural pathways.
“Write about it,” everyone said. But I couldn’t. That year I wrote about my soul travels for a NDE journal. I did a few talks and interviews on it. I wrote shorter pieces for magazines.
All the time that message I had brought back with me from the spirit realms pulled me forward and confused me.
“Have more fun.” I didn’t want that to be ‘my message’. Shouldn’t it be more profound? Deep?
Fun was far away from me. Both my children were filled with a deep fear of life itself. I was filled with fear. I was not afraid of death – I was afraid of everything.
My entire world had changed, but on the outside it all just looked the same. Same house, same car, same friends. It was then that I decided that fear was not where I wanted to live. I was going to choose love, joy and delight. I was not going to allow fear to live in my house.
I cultivated a practice of joy on so many levels. I did the most improbable thing. I pulled both of my children out of school on a whim and we all moved to a small Greek island. Lesbos was the island of sex and tantra, of Lesbians and Osho and simplicity and life.
In the small, quiet, safe place I started to live into new story, one that was not rooted in fear, or old ideas of who I was or what my life should look like. It was one filled with joy, fun, delight and love.
My way, like so many other storytellers who have lived through the centuries, is to record and share my story. I entertained everyone with my stories of village life. I wrote a blog that got thousands of followers. I told this story many times in social gatherings, to friends and to strangers and on NDE shows and podcasts. I just wasn’t ready to write it. A decade later I was ready.
But we must tell them, because storytellers have a calling and that is to share more broadly than our circle. I have come to believe that life offers us some opportunities that can form and shape us into better people. The bad news is, seldom are these the easy ones. Most often they are the hard ones, filled with pain and struggle. I wish it weren’t that way, I wish we could just learn the deeper truths and it could all be easy. That that is not the call of the hero in fiction and not the real path in life.
Over years of working on people’s books and stories, I have found that the struggle is truly the biggest gift and that truth can be stranger than fiction.
Sarah Bullen is a multi-published author, international writing coach and literary agent. Founder of The Writing Room and Kent Literary, she has had over 100 books published by writers she has mentored. As well as being a regular guest on talk shows, podcasts and writers’ circles, Sarah has been leading international writing retreats and adventures for the past decade. Her books include Hey Baby, The hip new mom’s guide that’s all about you! and Write your Book in 100 Days! Stop Mucking About and Just Write and Love and Above – A Journey into Shamanism, Coma and Joy, which has just been published.
Sarah’s own story is inspirational. She was just 34 with a young family when her husband discovered he had a brain tumour. As he pursued a shamanic path to fight the cancer, they were both catapulted into a strange and magical world of ritual and ceremony. Alongside hospitals, surgery and treatments, fear and uncertainty came another wilder journey of spiritual searching. Then the impossible happened. As he entered his last weeks of life – Sarah ended up fighting for her own life, in a coma on life support. She was to remain in the coma for four weeks and travelled through near-death and into other realms and worlds. This journey is the story in her book Love and Above: A Journey through Shamanism, Coma and Joy. Sarah is a cancer survivor herself and a former journalist and magazine editor. Find Sarah at www.thewritingroom.co.za
Love and Above – A Journey into Shamanism, Coma and Joy (Tafelberg) is available at all good bookstores.