You have not lived until your life has flashed before your eyes.

It happens right before you die, and I’m here to tell you that it’s true. I can’t speak to physical death [yet] but I am well-versed in the death of the conditioned personality – and on a deeper level I believe these are one in the same.

Prior to death, the mind recapitulates its entire experience of life. Emotionally-charged moments come to the forefront, presenting the challenges we did not overcome, the lessons we did not learn, and a few beautiful moments here and there.

Newly crossed-over souls review their lives as the memory bank of the brain putters out. But there are some brave souls among the living who do so while still alive – taking inventory of where they’ve been, what they’ve learned, their subconscious patterns, and what they’re grateful for.

Life review as a spiritual practice came to the West via the wisdom of Mesoamerica, though it can be found in many ancient wisdom traditions. It is also called known as purification, throwing off the world, being reborn into the world, the inventory and the little death – a remembering, or more precisely, the reliving and recovering of all of our past experiences for the sake of healing and ushering in change. Ancient peoples realized that this process “cleaned” them before taking on a new form, and that honest self-review, while alive, could grant one the peace that physical death can provide.

Roughly a month ago, I discovered the technique of life reviewing through a teacher of the Toltec dreaming lineage. The ancient Mexica world-view is based on the notion that we create life through our dreams. A less mystical way to put this is that our subconscious mind plays a very large role in the life we create through choice.

“All of this tradition is based on two worlds: Tonal and Nahual. Tonal, that is who you are when you are awake. Nahual is who you are while sleeping and dead. Nahualism is the art of developing your Nahual. It is dreaming knowledge of how to die in an enlightened way.”


Sergio Magaña

The basic understanding behind the art of dreaming is that life and dreams are the same. While dreaming, you are often the observer, unaware, subject to the events your subconscious conjures us. This state tends to be a direct reflection of your waking life where you are most likely unaware subject to your conscious mind’s thoughts, worries, etc. But when lucidity is achieved in the dream state, you are able to change and control the events of your dream. Thus, the goal of becoming lucid in dreams is to become more lucid while awake, and the spiritual goal then becomes to merge the Tonal and Nahual, waking life and the dream state.

Life review is an essential precursor to becoming a dream master. But it’s important to distinguish it from something like talk therapy, which seems to be a hit or miss in terms of its effectiveness. Why? Because to rehash an experience in the way we think it happened does nothing more than reinforce the often distorted story the mind replays.  Confronting painful/uncomfortable events, thoughts and feelings is necessary, but real change occurs when one stops identifying with them.

This is where the genius of dream work lies.

One of the many practices of the ancient Mexicans in the art of dreaming is life review using masks. You sit in front of a mirror (the Toltecs used obsidian mirrors  or a body of water like a river, lake etc. to alter their consciousness) and recap your life for 30 to 40 minutes every day for at least 30 consecutive days. Just sit there, wearing a mask, preferably with a protruding nose (more on that later), and go over every detail, starting from the beginning.

When a seemingly foreign image is used to tell your life’s story, your mind disengages from the identity it has formulated of itself (the ego). For the subconscious mind, the person behind the mask is someone else, not you. It detaches from your story, and in time, ceases to attach and take it so personally. You are then no longer tethered to your past, giving you the space to create new experiences instead of reliving them.

The ego does a bang up job of keeping you disconnected from who you truly are, finding security in the many faces it creates out of self-preservation – such as roles of the victim, the martyr, etc. Its intention is to constantly distract you from maturity and development, hence why true spiritual growth comes from the so-called “death of the ego.”

Our mind is constantly interpreting the present based on the past, and most of the time our view of the present is distorted.

Every single memory of your past requires a great deal of energy to keep it alive and to free yourself from the past you must detach from it – something we have a very difficult time doing. The more I review my life, the more I find just how much of my energy goes into staying attached to past slights and events, even those I don’t consciously remember!

The goal here isn’t to erase your past or pretend it never happened, but instead to drain it of its power over you. It then becomes a series of events that could have happened to anyone, because you no longer have an emotional attachment to it.

Until you eradicate yourself from the past, it will continue to have adverse effects without you even realizing it. You will continue to respond to the present based on the past, and keep on making choices based on what has happened before. Every time you attempt to change your life for the better “something” may seem to block you, but it may really just be your subconscious mind seeking security with what information it has from what it has already experienced.

Like that Einstein quote, you can’t solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You can’t use your logical mind to recap your life, for it will only show you what it wants you to see, what it wants you to remember.

Thus, success comes when you can circumvent your Tonal’s memory and access the memories of your Nahual or subconscious, your true memory bank. To do so, you must do more than recall the past. You must access the feelings the past resurrects, and process the uncomfortable experiences your mind works so hard to repress and evade.

In Part II, I will elaborate upon my own personal experiences with all of this.