Fear of death—whether death of the body, a way of thinking, a relationship, a situation, or a dream—must be experienced fully and consciously, and then overcome for new, healthy growth to take place. We master our fear of death when we understand that our nature is transtemporal (outside of time) and undying, continuing for all eternity.

Our understanding of our eternal nature cannot be merely an intellectual one. It must be a visceral awareness, a knowing at a cellular level. In many preagricultural societies, there is a rite of initiation to foster this awareness, a symbolic encounter with death in which the initiate experiences the seamless continuity of life beyond physical existence. Whether or not you consciously invite death in a rite of initiation, mastering the fear of death is immensely liberating.

At just 12 years old, Annie was the youngest cancer patient I had ever worked with. Her parents had brought her to see me in the hope that One Spirit Medicine would reverse her brain cancer. They had tried every conceivable medical intervention to no avail and were looking to me for the cure they had failed to find anywhere else. Annie had lost all her hair from chemotherapy and looked like a young, smiling Buddha as she sat in a big leather chair in my office.

I explained to Annie’s parents the difference between healing and curing. While curing is the elimination of symptoms, healing works at a much deeper level, treating the causes of the imbalance that lead to disease. And while a cure is the ideal outcome of a medical intervention, healing is the product of a journey in which all aspects of your life are transformed—even if you end up dying. You carry your healed self into your next life.

I asked Annie’s parents to sit outside in the waiting area so I could be alone with her. After a few moments of small talk, she told me bluntly, “I’m not afraid.” She went on to say that angels came to her every night in her dreams—and even during the day at times. But her parents were deathly afraid for her. “I can’t tell them about the angels,” Annie said. But she thought I would understand. And I did. I sensed that the veils between the worlds were parting for Annie and that her spirit was preparing for the great journey home. But her parents were understandably determined to do everything possible to help Annie live, and this meant trying to get rid of her cancer by taking her to a string of specialists and finally, as a last resort, to me.

I’ve been a practicing shaman long enough to understand that death is part of life. And I have seen that some of my most successful healings consisted of helping my clients die peacefully and consciously. So I performed an Illumination on Annie, to help bring balance to her energy field and thus to her body. The Illumination is the core healing practice of shamanic energy medicine, in which the luminous energy field is cleared of the imprints of disease to help mobilize the body’s own healing systems.

Annie’s doctors had not given her long to live. But I know that death is a doorway to continued life in the world of Spirit. I worked on Annie’s chakras, clearing them of the heavy energies that had accumulated in them, helping to lighten her energetic load for the great journey ahead of her. As she lay on my treatment table, she went into a deep sleep, although her body twitched as she released energies bound up in her chakras.

At the end of our session, Annie returned to the leather chair that almost seemed to swallow her, a smile on her face. “Am I going to be okay?” she asked me, and we both knew what she was talking about. I had sensed the angels in the room as I did the Illumination. “Yes,” I said. “You’re going to be just fine.” And then she asked me how she could help her mother and father. “They’re really afraid,” she said. I’m always stunned by the wisdom of so many children—and equally stunned by the lack of wisdom in so many adults.

When Annie’s parents came back into the room, they found both of us smiling. I told them what great work their daughter had done. I suggested they eliminate all gluten from Annie’s diet, as well as sugar, dairy, and all possible allergens. Then I recommended that she take omega-3 fatty acids daily to help rebuild the regions in the brain that had been damaged by chemo. At no time is it more important to have your brain whole than when you are coming to the end of your life. The neural apparatus has to be in the best working order possible for you to pass consciously into the world of Spirit.

I learned that Annie passed away a few months later with a smile on her face, in the arms of her angels.