I was sitting in front of my television, watching Oprah Winfrey, and just as she said the words, “And now for our next guest,” three armed men, each of them carrying guns, came into my living room. Or at least one of them was. It is always true with these traumatic events that memory can be a little bit sketchy.
There were definitely three men, and at least one gun. I spent the next hour or so tied up and blindfolded and gagged with a gun to my head frequently; it wasn’t there constantly throughout the entire ordeal, but the threat that they were going to kill me was very present.
Not only was the threat of imminent execution present emotionally, for it was indisputably felt, but also the words carrying the undeniable threat and intimidation came on a regular basis – “We are going to shoot you now.” These words simply kept on coming, along with racial slurs and mockery.
There was a critical and haunting moment during that entire experience in which the gunman held the weapon to my temple and released the safety catch and said, “I will kill you now.” That was, to say the least, a major turning point in my life. It was in that moment that I truly understood the expression, “and my entire life flashed before me.”
For that’s what happened. I experienced every moment, everything that I had done, everything I had felt, every moment of grief, every moment of pain, every moment of joy, every moment of happiness as if on a movie screen; each moment searingly intense.
It was then that I heard a voice, and it was a voice that I’d heard once before. For me, it was a very deep, male, masculine booming voice that called me by name and said, “Do you want to live?”
I have created a deliberate pause in this moment, for that is what happened. There was a momentary pause between hearing the voice that asked a very specific question and me giving an answer. In that moment of pause, that could easily have been millennia, I looked at my life.
I was 45 at the time, single, with no children, and I’d spent many years working, giving workshops and working with many clients. There was a part of me that was tired. I didn’t actually have an answer immediately. As I realized within myself, that I was hesitating, I didn’t know whether I wanted to say yes or no.
Then suddenly within me there was this deep and profound upwelling of longing. There was something that I longed to do. Ever since I was a young child, ever since I was seven or eight years old, I wanted to speak of the things of god. I had wanted to be a Catholic priest at that age, I was very devoted to that path. However, life circumstances and a little bit of a run-in with the church for asking too many questions sorted out that career decision for me. It wasn’t going to be.
There I was, blindfolded, hands tied behind my back, ankles secured with a cable, and I was coming into contact with that deep spiritual longing again. The re-connection with that longing was both powerful and fundamental in terms of creating a road map for the next few years – a roadmap that became more visible with hindsight than in actual moments of pondering my future.
If I stayed with the unanswered longing, no matter how uncomfortable or painful, the next step would manifest naturally as if by an evolutionary impulse that simply must have its own way. I have learnt that it is not we who awaken, but it is that within us which has always been awake that calls us. It is the ever-present flame of longing that propels us to seek when it is time. For the most part we are either seeking the fulfilment of some religious or spiritual philosophy or way of life, or we are seeking to move beyond suffering to a greater knowledge of the nature of the Universe or god.
However, so much of our longing and thirst is to awaken to ourselves, to the truth of who we are, and for that to happen, we must be willing to tell the absolute truth.
In that moment I felt that in addition to my spiritual longing, there were also things that I wanted to do. Although I was an avid traveller, there were places I wanted to see, things I wanted to experience. My longing was to live life as an individual in contact with his own heart. I not only wanted to know what love was, but to live it fully, devoid of masks or pretences that dictated how love behaved and also devoid of any romanticism. I realized my deep longing to truly, authentically and undeniably be in contact with my heart and to be directly in contact with the knowledge and experience of the divine whilst being grounded in the body. This profound longing welled up powerfully, and along with it, the desire to also speak of the things of god with other people.
My longing to have that union, and also to share that union with others emerged in that moment. Little did I realize at the time that what needed to happen was the destruction of much of my world – the world I had created in defence of my heart, a world that had not yet supported an awakened heart.
Then the next thing happened. To this day it is astounding to me. To this day I greet this crystal clear memory as a miracle that is barely explicable to the logical mind. As I responded “yes” to the voice, I heard the clip of the gun and I felt that the weapon had been withdrawn. He then literally laughed and said, “I’m not in the mood for murder tonight.”
He left. He simply left and walked away.
This event took place in South Africa. I consider myself very, very lucky to be alive. I’m guessing I defied all statistics by surviving and in that particular way. In that moment I had been touched by the hand of grace. If you want to call it the hand of god, you may. I often hesitate to use the word god because it has become so loaded; it has been very distorted, misused, abused and misunderstood.
We’ve been taught so many truths and untruths and we’ve received so many distortions around the word that it conjures up images that are often unhealthy or lead us to hear something different than what’s actually being said.
I heard a voice, I hesitated, I then responded and a miracle took place. It is a miracle as neither I, nor the statistics, expected me to be here. It is a miracle because what was almost certainly going to have one outcome, ended up with a very different outcome. It is a miracle because I was touched by something, I responded to it, and I live to tell the tale. It is a miracle because that which touched me is greater than myself, that which touched me connected to me in a way that was undeniable and there was a dialogue and a response, and not only that, but a change in outcome took place. What was a done deal became undone.
In that moment of realizing what had just happened – beyond being in the very real experience of being held at gunpoint – was the realisation that an intervention had taken place, that something or someone reached me, touched me, appealed to me, asked me – that a voice was heard and that not only was it a voice, but that this voice could actually influence and create a different outcome to the one I was in no doubt would occur.
A bullet was transformed into astonishment and the deep realisation that something else was encouraging a different outcome; I had been given a choice. These events are profound to the extent that they not only create a new life, but they also usher in the destruction of a life once lived. With destruction comes rebirth, with awakening comes the death of so much.
In the days to come I touched levels of rage and anguish I had never known. Every sound was a potential intruder and I was shocked to my core when deep seated feelings of revenge and rage came up to the surface. I wanted to punish them, and not just a little! I was incensed that anyone would dare do this to me, and I felt violated. I was enraged that someone had poisoned my beloved dog, I felt crimson with fury.
But that was just one part of me. In other moments I felt a deep sense of everything being as it is supposed to be and I felt very humbled by the grace that had touched me, and the voice that had spoken to me.
I wavered like a pendulum from one state to the other – calm to rage, serenity to high levels of anxiety, clarity of thought and mind and moments of total paranoia. It was very much a mixed blessing. My world looked different and I began to see things very differently and to question the meaning and reality of things much more deeply than ever before.
I recall driving my car, just two or three days after the event and stopping on the side of the road, to look up at a single small white cloud floating in a vast expanse of bright blue sky. I gazed upon it for several minutes with absolute curiosity. It was as if I was seeing this sight for the very first time and I felt captivated by its beauty. I even asked myself ‘What is a cloud?, ‘What is blue, who told me that the sky is blue? Why is it blue? What does ‘blue’ mean, if it has a meaning? What, I began to realize, was that all of the labels and names we have for things do not describe them.
Somehow calling a cloud a cloud robbed it of the truth of its existence. I became aware of the voice I had heard being everywhere. I wondered if it was in the cloud. If I left the word ‘cloud’ behind and simply gazed at it without conceiving of it as a cloud, I began to perceive the underlying presence, the underlying life force energy that flashed in and out with, pulses and flashes, across the vast expanse of blue sky and within that which I once called ‘cloud’.
On the one hand one could pass this off as the irrational thoughts of the recently traumatised, however, something else was emerging, I was becoming increasingly aware of my place within a much greater reality and questioning so many things that I had taken for granted or simply had never noticed before. Life was different, it took on a different meaning and my place in the world took on a new significance.
Interestingly, John, the little me, seemed far less important and far less significant, but what became much more interesting was my greater self, the part of me who was connected to that voice, who knew deep down what that voice was and from whence it came. What became more important to me was the journey of souls, the journey of my own soul and my contribution to the world and to my own life in a more meaningful and soul driven way.
It is not that these concepts or feelings were new to me, they simply took on a new more profound role in my life. In hindsight I was in a deep process of giving birth to Shavasti, a name that had been given to me in 1994, and there would be many more moments of birth pangs to come, some leading to graceful emergence through realization and yet others that brought me to my knees.
Even with those thoughts and insights I was not out of the woods yet. There was still ‘just John’ who felt traumatised and needed healing in a way that went deeper than any path of self-development I had previously wandered.
I touched depths of loneliness, despair and disconnection I had never before experienced. I simply did not know anyone else with the same experience, at least not in my circle of friends. It was difficult to talk about and I could sense that others had immense difficulty in relating to my story and felt lost for words. In many ways, my story brought mortality too close to home. The feelings of isolation deepened and I began to live in my own secret world. When meeting friends, I always met them in popular public places that I knew very well and if they were new friends, I would not go to their homes, but invited them to eat in a restaurant with me. This was all because I had the need to know where my quickest exit would be! In many ways I felt like the alcoholic who kept his drinking secret from others, I didn’t want anyone to know exactly how traumatized and fearful I felt. It had become my shameful secret. I was defiled in some way and my anxiety, along with manifesting obsessive compulsive behaviour, became something to be ashamed of.
So why the shame? There are a number of reasons. Firstly, blaming myself for not securing my property more than I had, blaming myself for having my television volume so loud that I could not hear the gunmen enter my home, and assuming that I must, in some way, be exaggerating what had happened, as explaining it to friends and family was invariably met with total silence, and, with some, withdrawal. Therefore a part of me concluded that it was my fault and on top of that, my story made others uncomfortable, and therefore it was unwelcome. With all of this, the slippery slide into loneliness and despair commenced along with the secret compulsive behaviours, the worst of which was washing my hands every few minutes.
In the years following that fateful night there have been many highs and many lows. Lows, as I’ve never experienced them before, and highs that have been blessings that were in and of themselves life changing. I met and fell in love with an Indian guru; flew on a private jet to have dinner with royalty and met Oprah Winfrey; spent many nights crying myself to sleep; made new friends, alienated myself from both new and old friends; made a fool of myself; lived from outrage, and rebelled; felt like a total stranger in company and felt connected to all life when completely alone.
What has emerged is a greater awareness of my own heart, a greater awareness of nature and nature spirits, a greater awareness of the ancestors and ancestral voices, the ability to much more clearly see and feel energies and also the ability to speak to those who have crossed over, working as a medium for some of my clients.
My awareness of the ‘other worlds’ has become a major part of my life whilst at the same time becoming ever more present in this physical world – balancing life in both worlds to become a more complete human being, little step by little step. I no longer feel reluctant to show my so called, ‘psychic’ abilities and feel no need to defend them to the sceptical, cautious or fearful. They are what they are, it is a part of who I am, and it is a part of my service to others and simply a part of my everyday experience, my own personal truth that does not require protecting.
Just like the cloud I witnessed, the term ‘psychic’ became an unnecessary, even offensive descriptor for something that was natural. Paranormal was normal and ‘normal’ was strange and foreign.
As a result of that traumatic life changing event and the time of deep introspection that followed it, I also noticed that the nature of my extra sensory perception changed. Instead of observing from the place of fear and guardedness as I had as a child, my extra sensory perception become much more centred in the heart, thereby increasing my ability to feel into the whole picture, the feelings and motivations behind the story or events. In other words, my overworked third eye rested and allowed my heart to start doing much more of the work. It has been an opening of the heart, a movement into deeper compassion and increased self-responsibility. My heart had been broken over and over again and eventually it began to break open and I could love the world. Eventually I could breathe more fully and there were many along the way who helped me.
A month after that fateful night I found myself on my way to China to learn Tai Chi; this was the start of my self-healing process. What has followed is an intense path of self-discovery and healing that included working with many gifted healers and teachers across the globe.