First, Get Real

By Mary Reddy

Once upon a time—or rather for a number of years earlier in my life—fear was my demon.
Fear of falling. I would vividly see myself tumbling to my death when I’d watch my brothers skip across the wobbly tree trunk that had fallen over the creek, me standing at the edge mesmerized by the drop to the swirling water; or while being careful not to step too close, I’d watch the others boldly move to the best vantage point of a high cliff; or when shaking with a clash of fear and longing, I’d place one ice-skated foot onto the ice, wobbly yet frozen to the spot, while others glided past like fish in water.


Fear of bears. In grade school, I read a news report about a woman who remained still as earth while a great grizzly ate her arms to the elbows then wandered away. Eventually, she managed to contact her companions and thus lived to tell. Ever after, every story of the rare bear attacking a tent of sleepers, or the bear who stood its ground  when hikers came upon it, would burn into my memory and surface hotly each time I entered a beautiful wild place.

Fear of ghosts. For most of my life, the first night or two spent in a new place saw me wakeful and alert in bed, dreading what might be in the corners or walking down the silent hall. I sensed rather than saw them when awake. But they came into my dreams and told their stories. They seeped into my feelings and gave me theirs instead. Once, one of them touched my cheek briefly. I felt/did not feel it. After that, I slept with a sheet or blanket pulled up over my cheeks, no matter how close or stuffy the night.

One night when I was six, I lay awake gazing through my window at a glorious full moon, awed by the mystery of the night. Later, a crowd of spirits entered the room as flickering lights. Like lightning in my room, they flashed up in the corner by the ceiling, then again near the closet door or over by the dresser. Impossibly, I could even see flares of light behind my head. I hoped I was dreaming, but I felt that awful wakefulness of unbearable dread, of time dragging. Who were they? What did they want from me?

Once when I was fourteen and babysitting for a neighbor’s child, I was frightened by a loud drumming sound, like a hail of rocks raining violently down on the roof of the house. I froze and waited to see if it would ever end. It lasted about 10 minutes. I could not bring myself to open the door to the dark night to investigate. Hours later, when the child’s father took me home, I scanned the area around the house. No rocks, no hail, nothing to explain the event.

Once, in my adult years, I stopped at a hotel in downtown Peoria that had seen better days. Soon after I fell asleep on the lumpy mattress, a ghost man angrily punched his hairy arm into my dream. I saw the fine black hairs on his forearm, his clenched fist. My dream self shouted, “who are you?”—waking me suddenly. 

One apartment I lived in was so filled with ghosts, it was like Grand Central Station for the disembodied. During the day, I saw them in my peripheral vision as flickers of light or pulsing but invisible exclamation points. They came to me at night, one by one, with requests. Could you contact my sister? Would you tell my husband he has to make up for what happened? Could you please get someone to retrieve my bones from Vietnam? There are gifted mediums who know how to help these post-mortem visitors. But importantly, they also know when to say no. I had not yet learned that was something I could do.

I could relate many experiences about ghosts and trickster spirits. Some people may long for such otherworldly experiences, but I was desperate to escape them. Realizing that I needed to understand their world and my relationship to it, I spent years studying shamanism. The practice of psychopomp in particular gave me  parameters within which to interact with the dead. But it wasn’t until I studied IS that it dawned on me: I could only relate well with post-mortem beings if I knew how to relate with integrity to living human beings. Healthy relationships with subtle beings required that I first work on living in the ‘real’ world.

I needed to redefine the pattern ingrained in me as a child, that loved ones would either invade me or demand I merge with them. Just as the apple seed grows into an apple, I trusted my inner longing to grow into the self that no one could force me to lose. I began to understand and strengthen my sense of sovereignty. My fear of subtle beings dissipated. 

It did not happen overnight! I took the first steps toward healing even before I knew about IS. As I grew into a more whole self, I began to meet beings who did not want something from me. One night I stayed in a rural Wisconsin inn surrounded by birch trees. A river ran nearby and, just outside my window, a field of baby apple trees stretched to the woods. I fell asleep to the gentle sounds of nature, but a ghostly couple stirred me from my dreams.

Old as Methuselah they were. They hunched over my bed, peering curiously at me. The woman’s face was like a dried apple carving, deeply scored with wrinkles. The old man stood tall and skinny and stoic. Suddenly, the woman realized I was looking back at her and she jumped back, startled. And then they both disappeared.

Fully awake, I felt no fear, only wonderment. I did not think they were post-mortem visitors. It seemed to me they vanished in what felt like an overabundance of courtesy, so as not to frighten me, but also out of the sheer surprise that a human could see them. To this day, I can’t place them but I wonder if they were guardians of the woods. For they looked like they had walked out of a fairy tale.

These days I don’t relate that much to the earth-bound dead. On occasion I might help someone who is stuck cross over. I feel more pulled to develop relationships with those beings who are not needy, who look to partner with me and other humans in supporting Gaia’s emergence. Now, I hold my boundaries lightly but securely. I gratefuly draw on the support and community of my land. And I know that my first allegiance is to my embodied self, to my own self love which is the cauldron for my ability to relate to everyone else in all the realms.