When I Thought That I Was Going to Die
I’ve been having this recurring dream that I’m about to die.
It all started a couple of months ago, when I finished my winter tour of Europe and arrived in Spain.
In winter I had wandered down snow covered paths to see if I could lose myself. I let an old piece of me die as I surrendered to new ways of living, of eating, and of traveling. I surrendered to letting the road guide me rather than forging my own path. Things didn’t exactly turn out the way I had hoped or planned, but to my amazement, I felt happy and full of wonder far from the beach in the snow.
Though in Germany, just after Carnival, I found myself in a white out. Lost, confused, and wondering if I had taken a wrong turn. Perhaps it was because of the new moon. Or because I was tired from so much traveling. Or because I had gotten horribly ill with the flu. Or because the guy I thought could be “the one” turned out to be another lesson instead. Or because I realized that traveling through sponsorships at lightening speed wasn’t sustainable for my health, my happiness, nor my bank account, but I was too scared to throw in the towel.
By the time I got to Spain, I wanted to thaw out from the cold and find my way back to my old self. I thought it would be easy. I was reuniting with friends from Puerto Viejo, in a Spanish speaking country, and traveling independently from sponsorships and tourism boards again. But immediately I realized that I wasn’t the same woman anymore, and it would take time for me to forge a new path.
The first night I dreamt about my death was about four days in, on the Spring Equinox, the New Moon, and the night I reunited with my friend Sorrel who I met last Fall in Puerto Viejo. We had chanted in a circle together that evening, eaten cacao Sorrel brought fresh from the jungle, and stayed up until 4 o clock in the morning.
When I finally drifted off to sleep, I dreamt that I was crossing a dusty street to an opening in an old city wall. A woman stopped me, took my hand, and began to read my palm. She told me that I didn’t have long to live. That my death would happen soon, but that I still had one more thing to learn.
I awoke shaken. While I’m aware that death in dreams symbolically represents transformation, this dream felt literal to me. Rather than a dream, it felt like a message from my intuition, telling me that my human existence was coming to an end soon. I had the same dream the following night.
Over the weeks that followed, I struggled to adjust to my new surroundings. My head, my heart, and my feet were scattered in different coordinates as I traveled through Spain along the Costa Blanca, and eventually out to the countryside in Andalusia to visit my friend Jen.
I met Jen two years ago in Puerto Viejo. She taught Taoist yoga, made herbal remedies, and had a wicked sense of humor. We clicked instantly. Since the last time we saw each other, we had both traveled through Southeast Asia, though in different areas, and she had landed in a tiny town near Granada in Spain.
At Jen’s I finally gave my restless feet a break for more than a few days, but rather than blissful, I felt itchy. Ever since I arrived in Spain I was uncomfortable, and despite my awareness of the contrary, I thought the moment I moved things would get better. I was battling with myself, and no matter where I went, there I was.
Since leaving Alicante, the moon had grown full, and the day before Easter promised a lunar eclipse. We took a vow of silence that day, and between eating marijuana laced raw chocolate and meditating in a circle, I fell into a vortex, wondering where the day had gone.
When the moon shone that night, Sorrel and Jen danced on the balcony while I sat alone under a tree in the yard.
In my slumber that night, the palm reader came to me again, predicting my death. She delivered the same message. No matter if I fought it, the reality felt imminent.
I downplayed my dream the next day, Easter Sunday, in conversation with Jen and Sorrel. I intellectualized on the symbolism to cloak my fear. Still, the dream left me feeling off, wondering how could I be spending the last days of my life depressed in Spain, after feeling like the last three years had been the best of my life. Was this really how it was all going to end? I wondered.
My European Union visa would expire in just a few days, and though everyone told me I could overstay without a problem, I considered it a sign that I needed to escape Europe in order to escape my internal struggle. I thought that I needed to be back in an unpredictable, unsanitary environment to feel alive again. And there lay Morocco, just across the Strait of Gibraltar.
Wherever I was going, I knew I needed to make a move. So I hugged Sorrel and Jen goodbye and boarded the train to Tarifa, my last stop in Spain. Being on my own again felt like taking a dose of medicine I’d been avoiding despite my throbbing symptoms: instantly effective.
In Tarifa I found myself relaxed for the first time in a long time. It was cold, cloudy, and extremely windy, but it was nice staying in a hostel with cool people, eating wonderfully fresh seafood, and drinking cheap delicious wine. It was comfortable and easy, and there was no one there to distract me from my internal process.
But it wasn’t the magical, enrapturing love potion that reminds me I’m so alive it hurts. I missed that kind of travel.
My visa deadline approaching, I battled over whether I wanted to take the one-hour boat ride to Morocco. I considered flying 36 hours from Madrid to Southeast Asia instead. I longed to feel wanderlust like I did traveling there last year, and looking backwards was much easier than looking ahead into the unknown.
In the end, I chose Morocco.
My first night, in the coastal town of Asilah, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I wondered if I had made a mistake. I didn’t feel enchanted. I didn’t feel the magic. I didn’t feel wanderlust. I felt afraid and alone. And beneath it all, at the source of my fear, was my fear of death. I had a strange feeling that if I stayed in Morocco, the prophecy from my dream would come true.
I considered getting on the boat back to Spain, but I ran the risk of not being allowed to re-enter because of my visa. Besides, I knew that going backwards into a situation that hadn’t felt great to begin with, wasn’t the solution.
So I continued on, to Chefchaouen, aware that I might die in Morocco, but at least I stood the chance of feeling alive again.
When I arrived in the tiny blue mountain village, a smile spread across my face. Nearly three years ago I came to Chefchaouen at the start of my travels in Morocco, and felt utterly mesmerized. It was nice to see that nothing had changed.
The narrow blue pathways of the medina swallowed me like a tranquil pool, while the sweeping mountain surroundings reminded me of the ever-loving presence of mother nature.
I stayed at a rustic hostel in the medina with florescent lighting and a bathroom that smelled of sewage. But I met other travelers and it felt good to sleep in a bunk bed after so many five star hotels. I met a group of Canadian and American guys and the next day we shared a taxi out to the waterfalls of Akchour.
In the back of an old rusty Mercedes we rode through the countryside, marveling at the scenery and traditions we often forget still exist. In Akchour we hiked through the forest, swam in freezing cold, crystal clear emerald water, and stopped at cafes carved into the mountain serving tagine and mint tea. I saw wild monkeys in the trees in the distance, climbed massive rocks overlooking the falls, and for the first time since leaving Southeast Asia nearly a year ago, I felt like I was traveling again.
That night, laying in the shared dorm room, listening to music with my eyes closed, I began to have a vision.
I saw myself back at the waterfalls, looking down at them from atop a cliff. Only they were supercharged, more vibrant and more stunning than before. I felt myself becoming a tree. I felt the warmth of the sunshine and the cool breeze coming up off the water. I looked down at the pools below the falls, hundreds of feet below me, and I felt myself grow wings. Light beamed up from the water and I began gravitating towards the light. Then the light began to beam out from my body. It felt amazing, but it also terrified me. It was like watching my own death, only death was something spectacularly beautiful.
It scared me that if I kept with this image, it would come true. Even if death was beautiful, I was too afraid of what I would have to leave behind if I let myself fall. I sprung my eyes open and turned off the music to make it stop. I looked around the musty dorm room. I wasn’t ready for it.
The next day the guys left, and I wandered on my own into the hillside overlooking Chefchaouen. I stopped for a while at the old Spanish Mosque. There were other tourists of course, but I fixed my attention on the sheep herders and women baking bread in traditional Berber ovens. I read my novel, wrote in my journal, and watched spectacular light spill out from beneath the dark clouds.
Since I left Lapland in February, I had been struggling to feel the magic. My vibration felt low and at times I wondered if I would find it again. That afternoon, sitting quietly in the hill, I did. I felt absorbed by something I can only describe as mystical.
Maybe the reason why I feel the magic so much stronger when I’m in exotic places is the same reason why fairytales take place in faraway lands. Perhaps I have to remove everything that seems familiar to me in order to experience something beyond logic.
Once I felt the magic, the clarity came. Everything I had been struggling with dissipated. I had been racking my brain over where I was meant to go and what path I should be taking, when the truth was that it didn’t matter. Whatever path I took, it would be the right one. I remembered that the real journey is always with me, no matter where I go.
That night I dreamt about my death again. Only this time, it wasn’t being predicted anymore. The day had come and I knew it. I knew precisely the moment I would die.
I was surrounded by friends in a big house having a party. We were eating hors oeuvres, drinking prosecco out of plastic cups, and seemed unconcerned about the fact that I was about to die.
My impending death grew nearer, and just before the moment arrived, I realized that I didn’t want to die there on the hard floor. I wanted to die in water. I needed to die in water.
There was a swimming pool outside the house, but my energy was already fading. I slowly descended to all fours and began to crawl towards the sliding glass doors where I could see the pool. I appeared like the feral cats on the streets of Morocco, slithering my limp body across the ground.
People were with me, but I knew and they knew they couldn’t do anything for my situation. Eventually I managed to get outside. I flung myself into the pool and rose to the surface. As I bobbed in the water, I realized something. I was still alive. The time had passed and I hadn’t died after all. I felt my body surge with energy. Then I woke up. Perhaps I wasn’t dying after all.
From Chefchaoeun I headed South to Fez. In Fez I was harassed relentlessly, but I remained focused on the clarity I had discovered in Chefchaouen to keep me lifted. I was ok with walking through the storm as long as I remembered the feeling of the sunshine.
On the long train ride from Fez to Marrakech I fell asleep with my iPod playing. I awoke quite suddenly to a song I had never heard before. Over and over again the song repeated, “you’ll never die, you’ll never die, you’ll never die.” The song was called Dropla by Youth Lagoon. A band I’ve never even listened to. I guess a friend loaded the song for me. I laughed at the incredible synchronicity.
The week I spent in Marrakech drained me. I remembered how the magic felt in Chefchaoeun, and that kept my spirit high, but my mind and my body were spent. I had food poisoning, general overstimulation, and started retreating to my riad or my inner world to escape the aggression and harassment in the streets. I dreamt of snakes biting me one night and that the grim reaper tried to grab me in the souk the next.
I wasn’t sure what lay ahead of me or how I was going to survive, but I did know one thing: I needed to get to water. So I went to a town on the coast called Taghazout.
In Taghazout days passed quickly and easily. I fell asleep and woke to the sound of the waves. I spent my time hanging out with locals, transplants, and travelers, surfing (well, attempting anyway) at the beach, practicing yoga, watching the sunset, and hanging out in cool cafes. Taghazout made me fall in love with Morocco and Tagahzout helped me fall back in love with myself. Being there made me feel happy again. It also made me feel lazy.
The easy lifestyle and constant distractions kept me focused on the present moment. A beautiful, perfect place to be. However at times my mind nagged me. I was having a great time, but there was a shallowness to it. There were so many things I wanted to express and to share with this world, but I couldn’t seem to even get a blog post written. When given multiple opportunities to stay and teach yoga, even to lead retreats, I decided against it. Frankly, I was exhausted and I needed to restore myself before I could be a pillar of support for others.
I racked my brain over whether I should stay or whether I should leave. If I should stick it out and receive all of the opportunities coming my way in Morocco. If I should return to Europe and accept all of the opportunities there that had come my way. I felt like a spoiled brat feeling tired of travel when everyone I met told me I was “living the dream.”
On the eve of the full moon I dreamt about my death yet again. This time I was in a prison in Morocco, though I wasn’t entirely sure what I had done. My punishment was the electric chair, scheduled for the following day. Friends of mine I met in Taghazout were all there, doing their best to support me, but there wasn’t much they could do. I thought about my mother. How she was going to hear about this in the news. I felt frustrated with myself that I hadn’t escaped the prison when I still had the time. Though I realized I still had one more day, maybe I could escape after all. Then, I woke up.
I walked out of my room and onto the balcony overlooking the ocean. The moon was full, a glowing yellow orb in a black sky, reflecting her light across the crashing waves. As I stood there watching her, I realized that I couldn’t stay in limbo forever. I couldn’t dodge commitment forever. I couldn’t avoid the responsibility of decision making forever. Otherwise, I would continue to anticipate my death over and over again.
Death was pushing me, as it does all of us, towards greatness. My indecision and resistance to it, rather than its inevitability, was actually what brought the struggle.
I saw that I could keep resisting my death by hiding in comfort, or I could lean into it, and see the beautiful, magnificent life waiting for me on the other side. I realized that accepting death, in whatever form it came, was in its own strange way the first step towards really living. Death was merely a transition towards a better life. A life I knew I wanted, but had run all the way to the North Pole to escape.
So I packed up my bag, I boarded the flight, and I took the first step towards creating my new life. Because I won’t settle for one that makes me feel anything short of explosively, blissfully, completely alive.
Whoever you are
wherever you are
do whatever it takes
to choose life.
when it kills you.