Alan Heeks

From Before to Beyond: exploring the soul’s journey

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Aug 262021
 

Life is getting more changeable for most of us.  Many of us these days have to face mortality more directly: perhaps because of our own health, or the passing of a friend or family member.  Sufi teachings and other traditions urge us to face our dying to enrich our living: by getting through fears and denial, we can reach a view of death as a positive transition, and our soul can help us in this process. Exploring the soul’s journey was a weekend retreat on these themes, which I co-led with Jilani Cordelia Prescott in 2015.

One of our reasons for organising this event was a hunch that exploring these topics would be helped by the collective concentration and support of a group, and by having a whole weekend to explore deeply, with a mix of group and solo time, and two nights to sleep and dream.

It can be illuminating to imagine that we have a soul which exists before us and chooses this human lifetime, and the family we’re born into, to provide experiences and learning which it needs.  Believing that the challenges in our life have a positive purpose has helped me hugely, and stops me feeling like a victim of circumstances.  However, finding the positive aspect can be tricky!  The retreat offered various ways to help us to listen to our soul, and seek its guidance on questions about our life, death and beyond.

Before the weekend, we shared a number of questions we hoped to explore, so that the soul and intuition would already be engaged with them. Does some part of us have a life of its own, before and after our time in a human body?  If we call this our soul, why did it choose to experience life through us?  Can it give us some guidance, for this life and beyond?  How can we hear its voice?  Our aim was not to prescribe answers, nor to assume we all shared the same beliefs, but to share teachings and processes, and create a safe space for each person to explore their own answers.

One of our main sources for this weekend was the book ‘The Soul’s Journey’ by Hazrat Inayat Khan, a leading Sufi teacher in the early twentieth century.  He believes that each soul chooses its human life, and is guided by departed souls and angels.  He says that “ignorance of the self gives the fear of death”, and the antidote is to identify more with the soul than the body.  One benefit of drawing on Sufi teachings is that they are un-dogmatic, centred on open-heartedness and a sense of divine unity in all life: so they can fit alongside many other spiritual teachings.

Another main source was the work of Neil Douglas Klotz, who has explored the deeper truth of Christian and other teachings by re-translating them from the original languages.  This often adds great depth of meaning compared to traditional translations.  See more at www.abwoon.org.

Here’s an example of Jesus’s teachings on this topic: “unless a human being returns to that sameness with the cosmos that feels like death – the dark, moist place of birthing, the place where only flow and animating spirit, only water and breathing, exist – that person cannot enter the reign of unity, the “I can” of the cosmos…”  This is Neil’s rendering of John 3:15, in the King James ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”.

The retreat proved to be a powerful, illuminating experience for all of us, with a lot of depth and tenderness. This was partly because mortality was a live, current issue for most of those who came: several had recently been closely involved in supporting a parent or friend who had died, and others were facing that situation in the near future. The level of trust and mutual care which evolved in the group from early on was remarkable, and there was a strong sense of collective wisdom, where we learned from each other, and the atmosphere in the group took us further.

Learning from extremes: hospices

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Aug 262021
 

In my exploration of resilience, I’ve become interested in what we can learn where this quality is tested to an extreme. Death is a pretty severe test of resilience, not only for the person dying, but for family and professionals, and my research with hospices has been fascinating.

Seeding our Future’s groups on Nourishing the Front Line, aiming to build resilience for health and care workers, has brought me into contact with staff from several hospices. I’ve also learnt a lot from the book The Art of Dying by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick, which draws on large-scale, structured research with hospices.

My early management training means that I still risk slipping into simplistic problem-solution mode in tough situations. I’ve been impressed at the very different, organic resilience which hospice staff bring to their work. It felt like a continually evolving response, guided by observation not prejudgement.

I was touched by the huge compassion and tolerance which hospice professionals have for their patients and their families. Clearly, this situation brings up intense fear, denial, guilt and many other strong feelings. The key response by staff is what several of them called ‘simple presence’: witnessing feelings with respect and sympathy. One told me, “we always say to student nurses, focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. It’s the sensitive little things that make a difference.”

Another topic that fascinates me about hospices is how staff sustain their resilience when facing such emotional demands almost continually. It seems that the quality of community and mutual care among staff is central to this: one nurse told me how they will juggle rotas to relieve someone who’s exhausted by an abrasive patients.

Maintaining your emotional boundaries is also key, for example, with the Green Door image: “Your patient can only come so far: beyond that you need to protect yourself.” But I was glad to hear that staff do express their feelings: to each other, when it’s safe. And one nurse said, “we sometimes drive home in tears. We have huge expectations placed on us, and we know we’ll never meet them all.”

An explicit part of resilience in hospices is the spiritual dimension. One chaplain talked to me about ‘centering prayer’ and mindful silence, as practices which could help with staff, patients and families. And it was clear that some deaths are uplifting to be with: where patients reach a calm place about passing over, and feel a contact with loved ones in the afterlife. The Art of Dying confirms that these experiences are quite common.

I believe one reason why hospice staff are resilient is that facing death can help us all value each moment of our life more fully. This was born out on a recent retreat I co-led, Exploring the Soul’s Journey, where we invited our group to try this, and saw how it helped.

Enriching your life through the soul’s voice

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Aug 262021
 

Although I’ve led many groups and retreats, a recent weekend was one of the edgiest: on the theme Exploring the Soul’s Journey.  My co-leader Cordelia and I both felt nervous about helping people to contact their souls for guidance about good living, good dying, and what my lie beyond.

Our weekend at The Abbey, near Oxford, was a deep, illuminating shared journey for all of us.  Cordelia and I began it by emphasising that we did not offer answers on these delicate questions, merely teachings and processes which might be helpful.  It was clear that a collective journey in a smallish group (fifteen people) enabled all of us to gain insights which took us beyond where we could reach individually, many of them from the experience of others in the group.

One factor in this was our use of Dances of Universal Peace, a form of moving mediation using sacred chants.  Over the past three years, Cordelia and I have led a range of groups where we have successfully used these Dances to enable a group to build trust, and deepen their connection to spiritual guidance in some way.

Dance, walking, meditation and sound mantras all proved peaceful ways to move people beyond everyday awareness and into a profound conversation with their soul.  We explored the idea that the soul is a ray of divinity which chooses a particular human life for its own growth, and which continues its own growth, and which continues its life beyond this human one.

All of us made deeper contact with our soul in some way, and found rich guidance from this.  A common message was to slow down, do less, and enjoy every moment of being in a body, with all its scope for sensual delight.  Several people struggling to care for frail, demanding parents saw ways that this served their own soul’s growth.

Cordelia and I did a lot of research for this group, and found some excellent books.  One which was much appreciated is Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves: dictated to her by a dead friend, offering a detailed and affirming account of the afterlife.  Her experience after death is “life separated by density-that is all!”  She finds that one can only understand one’s human life after it: “our ‘inner eyes’ are opened… to the errors of our old patterns… We are allowed to progress into such experiences as will help us put right these errors.” Click here for my blog on the book.

One aim of this weekend was to face our fears and prejudices around death, and explore it as a passing over for our soul.  The conversations with our souls certainly helped this, as did some touching accounts from several of the group of deaths they had been present at.  These are supported by research showing that many people find more peace as they approach physical death, and feel themselves being welcomed and helped by souls from the other side.

The Abbey, Sutton Courtenay

Befriending your soul: starting a dialogue

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Aug 252021
 

There was a time around age 40 when I felt that the interest of life was thinning out: friends from early adulthood were drifting away, my kids were turning into grumpy teenagers, work challenges became samey. However, now I’m in my early seventies, I’ve seen my life getting progressively more interesting for many years. One big reason is the richness of my non-human conversations: with Nature, with spiritual guides, and especially with my soul.

The aim of this blog is to share some tips on how to start a conversation with your soul. It’s not as easy as phoning someone up! It needs patience, and probably some new skills. I suggest the best groundwork is to start exploring the idea of soul, gathering your sense of what it might mean to you, and the questions you’d like to explore or clarify.

Ways to start could include meditating on this, talking to friends and learning about their beliefs, exploring books, videos, websites. My Resource Guide offers some starting points. Building up desire for contact with my soul was an important early stage for me.

When you’d like to start a dialogue with your soul, find a quiet and inspiring space: maybe a favourite place in Nature, or a meditation corner at home. Bring yourself into a receptive state, and in words or thought, invite your soul to speak to you. This is where patience is crucial! I’ve found it can take a long time for the soul to respond: remember this is a new contact for it too, and maybe it wants to test out how serious you are.

For me, having a physical sense of my soul’s presence has helped establish the connection. For some years, I pictured my soul’s physical location at the thymus gland, between the heart and the throat. More recently, one of my spiritual teachers suggested that I picture the soul as larger than the body, like an aura of light surrounding it. I’ve found this very helpful, and it reinforces a useful sense that I’m a body within a soul, not the other way round.

Another approach I value is calling in spirit guides, who can help me in my dialogue with the soul, and in supporting me and my soul when we meet a major challenge. In his excellent book, Journey of Souls (see more here), Michael Newton explains how souls have a mentor who guides them through many lifetimes, and he has seen many people connect with their mentor while in a human incarnation.

This too may need patience. It took me a few sessions of putting out a request for a connection with my soul mentor before I felt I got a response. If you can make this link, I suggest you maintain it by using it regularly, but sparingly: don’t clutter things by asking for guidance on minor issues!

Another interesting line of exploration is seeking to connect with your soul group, another idea well explained in Michael Newton’s book. You could seek a link with the collective wisdom of the group, or with individual souls within it. I’ve found both helpful, and it has given me a sense that three of my friends are part of the same soul group, which adds depth to our connection.

I hope this helps you with your soul’s journey: keeping a sense of adventure and open-mindedness is important!

Exploring the Soul’s Journey: Resource List

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Aug 262021
 

A         MAIN SOURCE BOOKS

Journey of Souls by Michael Newton. A detailed description, built from hypnotherapy sessions with over 300 clients reporting broadly the same experience. Describes stages in soul development, soul groups and mentors, how a soul chooses a human incarnation, and how it is reviewed after death. Fascinating and inspiring!

Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves.  Is there an afterlife beyond this human one? What is it like? If we knew more about the afterlife, could that guide our human life here and now? This book offers some of the most convincing answers to these questions that I have found.

There are two voices in this book: the writer is Helen Greaves, but she is transcribing the voice of her dead friend, Frances Banks. Both were Anglican nuns, colleagues and friends: the book is written in the mid-1960s. Soon after Frances’ death, Helen started to receive a series of messages from her, describing her experiences in the afterlife.  For a two page blog on this book see: https://www.living-organically.com/book-blog-testimony-of-light-by-helen-greaves/

B         OTHER RELEVANT BOOKS:

Desert Wisdom by Neil Douglas Klotz.  This book is a treasure house of key texts from the Middle Eastern spiritual traditions, restored to their full depth by Neil’s beautiful retranslations from the original languages.  The book also provides commentaries, body prayers and meditations.  It includes a number of texts relevant to this topic, for example, some of Jesus’ teachings, and parts of Genesis. 

The Soul’s Journey by Hazrat Inayat Khan.  This is a fascinating and lucid exploration of the topic, by one of the leading Sufi teachers of the early 20th Century.  He believes that each soul has a life which extends far before and after a human incarnation, and he offers many valuable pointers on how a soul in a body can make the most of this experience.  He also believes that all forms of life have a soul of some kind. If you want a perspective on the topic from a gifted spiritual teacher, this could suit you.

Modern Man in Search of a Soul by Carl Jung. An inspiring, expansive book, Jung at his best. It should widen your horizons!

The Soul’s Code: In search of character and calling by James Hillman. He explores the idea that we’re born with a calling, and our early years provide clues that we may need to return to. This book is available as a free download if you websearch for it.

The Art of Dying by Peter Fenwick and Elizabeth Fenwick.  This book was recommended to me by a hospice nurse.  It is a guide to the dying process, with a focus on what happens to our consciousness during and beyond death, drawing on both structured research and personal accounts of both dying and near death experiences.  They conclude “all the experiences we have been told of point to death being part of a structured and supportive process.” Peter is a leading neurophysiologist, and his wife has written several books on health and family issues.

Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.  Written by one of the most warm and engaging Tibetan Buddhist teachers, this is a relatively approachable way into the deep and complex Tibetan teachings about conscious dying, the life beyond, and how this can enrich life now. But be warned: it’s a long and demanding book!

C         USEFUL WEBSITES

Newton Institute: run by Michael Newton, offers resources, therapists, book info and more. See www.newtoninstitute.org/

Dying Into Love: This website offers some powerful wisdom from teachers with a lots of experience in this area, such as Rumi, Ram Dass and Joan Halifax.  See www.dyingintolove.com

Stephen Levine: useful material on his website, www.orphanwisdom.com and some excellent videos of talks by Stephen and Ondrea Levine are on www.levinetalks.com.

Neil Douglas Klotz: his website offers a lot of resources, such as teachings, music, and details of his books and events. See abwoon.org/

D         PEOPLE

Alan Heeks: Alan writes regular blogs, leads groups, and publishes a regular newsletter on aspects of resilience and wellbeing.  See more at www.living-organically.com

Aug 232021
 

Ever wonder about a life beyond this one?

Perhaps Covid-19 has made many of us reflect about our mortality, and wonder if this increasingly strange world is a preparation for something else.  I have long believed that our soul exists before and after a human lifetime, and this book offers evidence I find persuasive. 

Michael Newton is an American hypnotherapist, who started out sceptical about lives beyond this one.  However, he discovered a talent for helping his clients use regression to travel back through their soul’s journey before this lifetime.  Several hundred clients, independently, over a thirty-year period, described similar experiences, which he sums up in this book.

For me, this is as close to objective validation of something unearthly as you’ll find.  And much of what he reports makes intuitive sense, has echoes in my exploration of my own soul’s journey, and tallies with accounts of near-death experiences. 

Newton reports that most souls’ journey through human incarnations spans hundreds of years, and the gap between each lifetime can be tens of years or more.  Much of his book describes what happens in the Life between Lives (LBL) periods, when souls return to the ‘soul cluster groups’ which are their real home and core support and learning group. 

A cluster group typically has about 15 souls, and is like a study group, with a shared focus, and souls at a similar developmental stage.  These groups share a senior or master guide, who has this role right through a soul’s journey.  Individual souls usually have a junior or trainee guide also. Newton’s clients describe their joy at returning to this cluster, which is the soul’s true home community.

Some guides are in a human body themselves, and often a few souls in a cluster will choose related incarnations. So if you feel a deep rapport with a few people among your friends and family, it may be an ongoing soul connection.

The book describes in detail the stages a soul goes through from the end of one human life to the start of the next. These include a review of the recent life with a Council of Elders, supported by one’s guide.  There is also healing and support for souls who have suffered or feel they failed in their life’s mission. Especially interesting is the process of choosing a new incarnation: key scenes are shown on a video screen, and an intention discussed with the guide. 

Newton quotes case studies which help us understand how a soul might choose a life involving injury, disability, or premature death: “to overcome a body impediment does accelerate advancement.”  Part of the choice process can be negotiating with other souls in your cluster to play key roles for each other, such as sibling. 

His clients report that being born is a greater shock than dying. The soul does not join the body at conception, but during pregnancy, and has to align with the baby’s brain.  While most of us may feel little connection to our souls, I have found that it can be cultivated, and this book suggests that we can get help from our guides and our cluster group during our human journeys. He emphasises that a soul doesn’t control the life it enters: the brain, body and personality all have a big influence.

Newton describes souls as Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced, and says “souls end their incarnations on Earth when they reach full maturity.”  Newton’s analysis suggests that the vast majority of souls on Earth are Beginner souls: these only join a learning cluster around their fifth human lifetime. Intermediate souls are given trial assignments of helping guide a younger soul.

He says the mark of an Advanced soul is “one who has patience with society and shows extraordinary coping skills… [plus] exceptional insight. They may choose to keep returning to Earth, much like bodhisattvas.”

The book offers interesting perspectives on why souls choose a human life on Earth: it describes how souls may incarnate on other planets, and this one is seen as a severe challenge. An Advanced soul said: “there is so much fear to overcome here. It is a world in conflict… [but] for all Earth’s quarrelling and cruelty, there is passion and bravery here.”

If this sounds of interest, I strongly recommend you to read the book, which gives a much fuller account than I can here, with case studies and quotes from some of the souls involved. Newton has trained other therapists in his methods, and has written follow-up books: you can see more at www.newtoninstitute.org.

I value his affirming that our souls are on a growth journey, and that the challenges of human life have been chosen to enable this. This book has enriched my understanding of the soul’s journey, and has expanded my exploration of it.

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Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves

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Aug 262021
 

Is there an afterlife beyond this human one? What is it like? If we knew more about the afterlife, could that guide our human life here and now? This book offers some of the most convincing answers to these questions that I have found.

There are two voices in this book: the writer is Helen Greaves, but she is transcribing the voice of her dead friend, Frances Banks. Both were Anglican nuns, colleagues and friends: the book is written in the mid-1960s. Soon after Frances’ death, Helen started to receive a series of messages from her, describing her experiences in the afterlife.

Reading this book made me realise that my dominant images of the afterlife are quire flimsy and simplistic: a Heaven and Hell, loosely derived from the Old Testament and a lot of medieval art. Plus a bit of karma dogma from the East. Whereas Frances Banks describes a more subtle, encouraging afterlife, much closer to the original teachings of Jesus as explored in the work of Neil Douglas Klotz.

After death, Frances joins the team in a sort of Rest Home:

“Souls are brought here from earth and from other places… when they are ready…”

“Many who arrive here are either completely overwhelmed by the fact of a further existence, or disillusioned because … they have envisaged a heaven … (where) henceforth no efforts would be required from them.”

An example of this further work is “to right the wrongs they have done in their earth lives by concentrated thoughts of forgiveness and compassion.”

What we might call Heaven is not a static condition, but a long, exciting process of expansion:

“Our ‘inner eyes’ are opened gradually or swiftly to the errors of our old patterns of thinking and acting. We are allowed to progress into such experiences as will help us to put right these errors.”

“There are no tenets, no hard and fast rules… All is individual, yet all is for the good of the whole.”

“Each soul and each group moves onward towards greater expansion… Yet all the same time… directs ‘backward’ to the plane below,… the fruits of its knowledge.”

Her experience supports the idea of the soul’s life before and after human form, and of reincarnation. She believes there is “a Pattern and a Plan”, and that “the soul needs to ‘project’ some part of itself back into the denser environment of earth in repeated attempts to master the trials and stresses of those vibrations.”

And she believes a soul chooses the key events of its forthcoming life, to give it the experiences it needs.

She reports a conversation with Pierre Curie who says: “Mankind… learns slowly and such slow progress with many mistakes brings pain. But if you regard life from the angle of an eternal process you get a different feeling about it. The Life Force is not expanded on only one terrestrial globe.” (p54)

Frances finds that Soul Groups are an important part of the journey: “We are members not of one group but of many…” these include our Family Group, and Groups of Interest, such as the arts, education, social service. Typically these groups will include souls in a human life, and souls in the afterlife. These groups will include people we know in earthly life, possibly those we find repellent, as well as those who we feel strongly drawn to.

The form of “hell” she describes is far more encouraging than the archetypal pit of flames. She writes about the Shadow Lands, but explains that people can move beyond them when they choose to turn to the “Light of Love”, and many helpers visit to help souls make this change.

So what can we learn from all this to guide our life in a body? Firstly, the idea that we are part of Soul Groups who want to share their wisdom with us, and learn from our experience. Secondly, that “the great purpose of life in matter is to illumine matter with Spirit”, and “the great secret of finding that Spirit was the ‘letting go’ of self.” Thirdly, that “the inner life of the soul within the body-mind on earth decides the first future ‘home’ on this level.” Fourthly, as one of her mentors says, “Prayers and good thoughts for those who have left the earth life, by their fellows still in incarnation are a great aid to our work here.”

Her experiences give a great sense of continuity and scope for progression. For example, there are the chances to understand much more deeply what happened during ones earthly life looking back at it, and actually to rectify mistakes one made. She also comments “That much of what we thought praiseworthy on earth is mediocre to us in the Light of wider knowledge, and conversely much for which we blamed ourselves and were blamed by others, is viewed here from a wider angle and even becomes merit!”

These are only brief fragments of a really fascinating narrative: worth reading from cover to cover.

Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves is published in the UK by Rider: ISBN1-8441-3135-1