Interview with a Psychopomp
Would you please introduce yourself?
My name is Durga Fuller. I call myself a spiritual counselor and a psychopomp. I’m moving more and more over the last two or three years into the field of death and dying. I work with people who have serious diagnosis and/or chronic diagnosis, assisting in the dying process both before the time of death and after the time of death.
What’s a psychopomp?
That’s one word that is used for people who assist in in that passing-over time. I actually don’t like the word that much. It is assisting someone in their dying process both before and after death. A person who can be in touch with the soul or the spirit, whatever you want to call it, that which continues after the body dies in wherever it is that they’re going.
Is that the same as a ‘death doula’?
Yes. Death doula, or death midwife. What we’re calling our Collective is the Portland Soul Midwives Collective. So that goes from helping people in life prepare for the inevitability of death whether they’re sick or not, and through helping people making that transition from life to death.
I feel that death is a vitally important part of this mysterious thing we call life. Part of my mission is the expansion of consciousness, and that includes the death process, and dying process, so I celebrate the work that you do, part of why I wanted to do this interview.
Yes many teachers say that spirituality is about dying before you die. Then you can really be alive when you clear those fears away. Life then becomes much richer.
How did you get into this work?
Probably about 20 years ago I studied with a Tibetan teacher named Tsoknyi Rinpoche, for many years, and he initiated a group of us into the phowa practice. That’s the Tibetan technique for how to work with people after dying, how to work with the mindstream of individuals in the transition time of the Bardo.
I first did this with a dear friend who was in that first big wave of people dying of AIDS. I started doing this phowa practice with him, and at this point I didn’t realize that I was going to be getting impressions. I thought that I was going to be doing a sort of guided visualization meditation for myself that would hopefully help him, and instead I found that as I was doing it I had some very distinct impressions of what was happening with him
I was able to talk to other people who were also doing similar practice so I felt like I was getting some verification that I was actually this wasn’t something I was imagining. I think that’s always the question, “am I making this up on my own?”
There was a time where I joked that, “I was trolling the internet for dead people” because I knew that i needed more experience with it, like I did with your grandfather. In the end it’s been very rich.
Is caring for people in the dying process and after death your main work?
It is part of my work. I am a counselor with the living and I’m in a collective of women who work with people who are dying. We are a pretty new Collective and most of us have been doing volunteer work either with hospice or ‘No One Dies Alone’ – that’s where I do my volunteer work. We’re about to launch as a business that will help assisting people mainly who want to die at home, although I think that will also be working in the hospital as in our culture so many people die in hospitals. It’s something I’m moving into more as a career, but you know, I think it feels more like a vocation. But I would certainly like to see psychopomp work legitimized more. I think that’s the direction that I and this group of seven other women are working towards. And it’s a big movement in the world right now. In the Western World more and more people are recognizing the need for this work.
“It’s like the baby boomers reclaimed birth and now we’re reclaiming death.”
For people that have had a loved one pass recently, do you have any advice for them on ways to take care of their loved ones in the beyond?
First thing I want to say is – don’t be surprised if it feels like you can’t. I often find the people who we are the closest to are hard to work with. For instance, I couldn’t assist my mother. I think it’s because I had still too much tied up in my relationship with her. It wasn’t my place to help her. Other people helped my mother and I’m incredibly grateful to them.
But here is the basic premise. There is a more complex phowa practice, of course, but, the practice that I was first gifted is very simple. It just involves visualizing the person in front of you – as however they show up. They may show up as the way you remember them, or at a different age. However they show up, visualize the person somewhere in front of you and send them love from your heart. Just imagine a stream of your good wishes, your intention that they be at peace. Imagine a stream from your heart going into their heart center. And, yeah, it’s that simple. Also be open to whatever it is that you visualize.
What do you mean, be open to what you visualize?
A lot of being a psychopomp is about trusting your intuition, in some ways it doesn’t matter if you’re wrong. Maybe in dreams you have conversations with people who have died. Dreams are the least dense part of our Consciousness and a fairly easy place for souls to access.
I would say that in the psychopomp work that I’ve done I’m always surprised because I don’t hold to any particular tradition – I’m not a Tibetan Buddhist, I am not a Christian, etc. What I’ve seen is that people’s after death experience has an amazing range. I’ve had some experiences where I’ve seen people toddle off to heaven, and I understand that they were Christian.
And some people really do get into trouble. You know there’s some pattern of suffering that doesn’t let go easily and that it’s possible to help. I get a sense of where someone’s stuck and can visually separate them from where they’re stuck, because who they really are is utterly free. I get it visually, this is how it works for me, I don’t know how it works for everyone else. When I’m visualizing someone’s soul it’s like a structure that isn’t them that can be separated.
When doing psychopomp work, do you ask for permission to work with people, either the living relatives or the souls themselves?
One of my trainers was very clear that you don’t ask the family for permission, you ask the soul who has passed. The family can give you permission to treat their body but only the individual can give you permission to work with their soul. I have found that it’s very clear. I will try to reach out, go into meditation and if someone doesn’t need help I will not be able to reach. I might get a general sense there’s something there but nothing to fix on. A couple of times I’ve had a very direct “no thank you”. So I get the permission directly from the soul.
Often the first question it’s good to ask is, “do you know that you’re dead?” Sometimes people don’t you know, especially if the death was because of an accident, sudden and unexpected. So sometimes the main thing that is needed is to ask “do you know that you’re not in your body anymore?” That can often be enough to for the soul to be able to move on.
What are examples of different impressions?
I’ve worked with three different people who committed suicide and one them was very clear that there was a lot of regret afterwards, but this soul just didn’t know what else to do. There was just this feeling of regret. I got some impressions that I needed to tell loved ones certain things from this person like they wanted to say they were sorry, etc.
One of the other souls who committed suicide was so relieved, it was absolutely release, and they were utterly at peace. The same situation with very different experiences.
What cleansing and purification practices do you perform, specifically to prevent any karmic repercussions from this work?
Yes, this is very important. I have a very strong meditation practice that is about metabolizing experience. Not just from working with the dead, but whatever happens in my system – because I had an argument with my husband etc. Certainly I burn sage and burn Palo Santo in my work space and I have various symbols around me that are protective.
On a practical level, if people feel called this work how do they do it?
A lot of the training I’ve done has been in what’s sometimes called the Home Funeral Movement. In our Western World we’ve been trained that when your loved one dies you call the funeral director and they come in to whisk them away. But there is a lot that happens after the breath has stopped that in many cultures is considered very important. In some cultures they say that the dying process hasn’t completed for three days or five days, in the Tibetan culture even 49 days. So that’s a lot of the training that I’ve done – how to care for the loved one’s body, how to make sure that they don’t start to decompose if you choose to have them die at home.
The way it was described by one of my trainers is it’s like you do an upload, using a computer analogy. That when you die about 90% of the upload happens right at the last breath, but there’s about 10% of the consciousness that is still in the cells of the body. It takes about 3 days for that last 10% to complete the upload.
I did a training with ‘Sacred Passings’ in Bellingham Washington and then ‘Sacred Crossings’ in Los Angeles and Portland. Another is INELDA. I haven’t trained with INELDA – an online school for people that want to train as death doulas, but I’ve heard good things about them.
How can people contact you?
Durgafuller.com is my website and Durga@durgafuller.com is my email. I love to introduce this to people. As I said I feel like something tipped in the collective consciousness and people are hungry for it.