One morning several years ago I received a phone call from a woman wantint to meet people who were practicing the Headless Way. She had been meditating for several years, and although she was quite familiar with the experience of Awareness, she said the people she had been meditating with didn't think they had had the experience themselves. Consequently, she felt isolated. Then she had come across one of Douglas's books, and realizing how shareable the Awareness could be, had contacted Douglas, who gave her my name and number. Her name was Rebecca.
I have rarely on the phone had such a strong sense of the I AM as I had that morning with Rebecca. She certainly wanted to talk about Awareness. But what was remarkable was how quickly the focus of the conversation shifted from the exchange of words about Being to the joint observation of those words arising from and disappearing into the vastness of Being. Here were two voices, ostensibly strangers to each other, sharing with immediacy their unity in the Self, recognizing in surprise and relief the familiarity underlying their separateness. Like bubbles in carbonated water, the voices rose from nowhere and then vanished again, expressions of the one listener/speaker who didn't have a clue what it was going to say to itself next. What a thrill it was to share this experience on the phone, out of the blue, with Rebecca.
One thing I learned about Rebecca during this conversation was that she had ovarian cancer. She was receiving chemotherapy, and her energy was affected greatly by both the cancer and the treatments. Sometimes, she said, she was exhausted, and sometimes, like this day, she felt fine. What impressed me, however, was the matter-of-fact way she shared what she was facing, not denying the fear that comes with having a life-threatening disease, yet not being drawn into the fear, either, but instead referring to herself in an unassuming manner as "eternal Awareness." And as our voices came and went like waves in the deathless ocean of Being, I appreciated how much of a resource Who we really are can be in times of need.
Over the next two years, Rebecca came quite often to the monthly meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area, enjoying with other people the direct sharing of Awareness and the spoken and unspoken acknowledgment that each person present saw fully Who he or she was. Her typical reaction to suggestions that we do experiments was to jump up and say, "I'm ready." And she brought to our discussions a maturity and focus, couched in an easy-going manner, which I missed when she did not come to a meeting.
Gradually, Rebecca came less and less to the meetings, not because she lacked interest but because the cancer and the chemotherapy were taking away her energy. I would call her, and we would talk about our Identity, and I would put the phone down feeling inspired. But one day, after a couple of months of being out of touch, I called her and heard a message in a stranger's voice which referred me to another number in Southern California. Rebecca, I learned from her friend at that number, had died in peace some weeks before, at home, surrounded by loving friends.
What do you do when a friend dies? How do you make meaning out of his or her absence? I am sure there are as many ways of dealing with someone's death as there are people affected by it. But in the next monthly meeting, after I had shared the circumstances of her death, we did a lovely thing. We gathered together, arms around each other, and looking down into the center of the circle, did the 'No-head Circle' experiment in honor of Rebecca. A voice, falling out of and into the Emptiness, began:
"Down there on the carpet we see a circle of feet, feet of friends who have come today to be together, feet of friends who will later leave, going off in different directions. Down there is the land of feet, the land of separate comings and goings, of hellos and goodbyes, of births and deaths. And into this land Rebecca will not step again. We are saying our last goodbye to you, Rebecca, and giving you our love as you take the next step in your journey. Thank you for your presence here, for your energy and wisdom. We wish you well, Rebecca. Goodbye.
"But here, up here at the top of the circle of bodies, still looking down, we find no feet, nor heads, nor separate no-heads, no land of comings and goings, births and deaths, hellos followed by goodbyes. Here in this unfathomable presence, in the midst of these few bodies gathered together, is the I AM, silently voicing, when we care to look, the eternal, timeless Hello of Who we really are. And here too, in the midst, free of the distinctions that separate you from me, is Rebecca--the real Rebecca and the real you and the real me. Rebecca, hello."
Now other voices appear and disappear, like birds flying across this sky of Awareness, evoking memories and images of Rebecca, last seen in this room. How present she feels amongst us now, how real. And how beautiful it is to spend together this time remembering her and wishing her well.
The voices cease. We absorb ourselves in the depthless, deathless Awareness. And then, slowly, we look up, taking in now the circle of faces of friends present. A face is missing. Whose? It is the face of the One who has died and been reborn into eternal life.
At some level, I suspect, someone else's death is our own death. We grieve the death of the other, and we anticipate our own. In Rebecca's life, and death, and Life, I find my own.