Friday, February 8, 2013

A Sensible Approach

When I was young, I thought how we fear death, and how fear of death was like a yoke hanging around our necks.  Even those who followed a religion were not always soothed by their faith when death came.  I think the reason for this is that often, while a religion may speak of a life in the hereafter, it really doesn't do much in the way of helping us to prepare.  For me, all of twelve years of age, it seemed like we needed some body of experience that could somehow help us to lose our fear of death and learn to live free from such shackles.  It was then that I came across a book by Raymond Moody Jr., entitled Life After Death.  Moody was a doctor who had patients describe their experiences in the wake of clinical death, and after these stories began to pile up, he asked his colleagues if they had heard any stories of what happened to clinical death survivors. They replied that yes, they had heard the same stories, but they made no conclusion or ever went anywhere with these stories.  Moody wondered why this was so and wrote a book on the subject, which was nothing short of groundbreaking for the time.  In it, he chronicled the experiences of a wide array of individuals from all walks of life who had all experienced either clinical death or a spontaneous out of body experience that led to being aware of deceased relatives and a warm and peaceful presence of light that was so wonderful, most did not wish to return from.  Reading this book as a youngster seemed to hit on this sense that here in the West, while we speak of a hereafter, we really do little to prepare people for death as a natural transition. 

If you look at our culture and institutions what you see is an almost dogged denial of death as we seek to do everything possible to forestall death, using technology and medicine to do everything possible to deny death an entry into our experience.  On the one hand, when we can keep those living from dying while having a good chance of recovery from an illness, we should certainly do so.  IN other cases, we leave people hooked up to machines little more than physically alive, but with either no hope of recovery or no real quality of life.  this is a touchy subject, because I think the minute we begin to discuss this subject in anything other than doing every possible thing to forestall death, it seems we are somehow suggesting that we should simply do nothing so death can have its way.  Certainly not. our will to live is powerful, and many people have held on to life for a very long time when they had a reason to remain here.  My own father, dying from terminal cancer, held on for weeks because my mother was scared to death to lose him.  It was only when she realized she was forestalling the inevitable, that she let him know that he could let go and die; she and his children would all be okay.  In very short order, within a day in fact, he was gone. 

Some forty years later, as my grandfather, who had lived a much longer life than my father lay nearly an invalid from a series of strokes and illnesses, lay in bed, exclaiming that he was tired of being here and just wanted to go home, he was greeted with a smile and assurance that all would be well and that he had the love and support of his family for whatever he chose to do.  Ten days after he had said his goodbyes, my grandfather departed quietly while his family was out picking beans in the garden.  His was a long life, and he went out the way he wanted.  Not everyone was of the same mind; one of his daughters did NOT want him dying and wanted every option on the table to keep him alive.  Luckily for him, there were family members who explained that he wanted to go, that he did not want to be kept alive.  He was choosing to leave.  As his own mother-in-law used to say whenever we were saying our goodbyes, "Do not wait upon the going."  In one case, a man was in his prime and really did not WANT to have to leave, but his body was not offering him many options and he held on long past what may have been best for him.  In another case, after a long life, another man died peacefully in his own bed at home.  We can all draw a lesson from this. 

It isn't that we need a hard and fast rule about death.  I rather think that we need a more compassionate way that does not preclude death as a road to peace and rebirth.  Instead, we often see it as a blotting out of our own consciousness, a very uncertain end.  It is uncertain perhaps because of the blind eye we turn, the distrustful sense we have in our own body of experience made possible by those who returned perhaps as a result of the advancements in medical technology, at once a blessing, and perhaps in some cases, a curse for those who might otherwise be ready to go were it not for an almost animal fear of what lies or does not lie on the other side of a heart that has been stilled.

So I say lets have all the advancements in technology that bring us quality of life, and longer life, yes!  But let us not forget the quality of that life, too!  And when the time comes, if we feel we have to hold on for dear life, well perhaps that is what we must do.  In other cases, we might well be ready to go. But how many of us hold on way past our own expiration date merely out of fear?

In other cultures, there are books, teachings, bodies of knowledge about what lies on the other side of death.  In dream, children are encouraged to meet their fears and to entertain the possibility that when they dream of those who have left this earth that they may in fact be making contact with that other world, that only seems "other" because of our own perspective or need to divide one from the other.  There is the Tibetan Book of The Dead that helps to explain the many levels or realms to the world we find ourselves in once we die.  It is a kind of preparatory text, most often for monks who belong to the Buddhist tradition.  I wonder what would happen if we were to realize or consider that lacking devices that allow us to see into the next world, the only thing we have are our own awareness to log and report experience and that perhaps it pays to consider what those people are saying when they manage to return. 

I seem to have had a long standing interest in life after death, perhaps partly due to having lost a father very young, but also because I often would find myself in an out of body state looking out over what I knew was something akin to the "rim of the world" where the new spirits entered this world from the realm of spirit.  I saw these spirits like dandelion seeds or white fibrous umbrellas of a sort that lilted down over this rim beyond which I never saw over, but returned to without any thought of or yearning for.  I would simply feel myself expand and become "impossibly big" as I felt my own physical body grow incredibly dense and my own awareness take on a lighter than air feel, and I would be there.  Later in life, during my late teens and early adulthood, I often had dreams of being involved in helping people move from this life into the next.  One was an old man who had lived in an upstairs bedroom of a house in the South (as best as I could tell) who, while lying in bed, spoke to me saying that he was afraid to die.  I remember speaking to him inside his mind explaining that all death really was was a big energy surge.  THAT was what death was.  It wasn't a crushing of his being, a blotting out of something.  He would remain, he would endure.  In one case, I found msyelf "on the other side" helping a gentleman settle into his new apartment, his new "house" in the spirit.  I was with another person who was doing this work with me and as we surveyed the rooms to make sure all was clear, a golden light streamed in through the windows of the living room.  All of this was itself some kind of construction, almost like a movie set, created in order to help people to settle into this new world.  I sometimes wonder what our snese of death would be like if more of us had experiences like this.  I wonder if perhaps we do many other things in dream that reveal our larger natures, the other work that we have been engaged in.  I wonder, too, if when the time comes for me, if this experience through my early life into adulthood will help me to not shrink back from death but embrace it, to die aware instead of falling into sleep and forgetting. 

It is often thought that those who do not know or wish to die, or who are in denial of death may well not even realize that they have died.  After my own fathers' death, my mother spoke of how she had these worrisome dreams where she was aware of the presence of my father calling to her from a thick fog as though he felt lost, stuck neither here nor there.  After she attended some meeting of her local A.R.E., the foundation created by Edgar Cayce, she was told that she should pray to him and explain that everything was alright, that he had died and that he needed to move on to the other side.  Not long after she had done this that her dreams subsided and she felt like he had gotten the message.  Now I know; in our Western world, we have such a heavy leaning on the rational mind.  For as powerful as this part of ourselves can be, it does a poor job of handling these issues fo life beyond the physical.  If we can't measure it or somehow prove it with some piece of physical evidence, then surely it cannot exist.  This, I think, is about as silly as expecting to measure light with a device that measures gamma rays!  We may never be able to measure the nonphysical realm in any normal way that we are used to measuring the physical world.  We may not be able to use the things of this world to glimpse something that is not of this world.  But it may be that our own awareness, our own consciousness, that is the very thing that will help us to do just that.  And it may be that this is all observable phenomenon in the same way that someone can stand and observe an apple falling.  No one can prove that you saw the apple fall.  Sure, you could take photos of it, or film.  Still, the experience exists in the moment, and it is from that experience in that moment, which may now be past, that is the key to all of this.  It may just come down to a little thing called faith.  This faith may also be bolstered by experience.  Perhaps what we need is a little of the science of GOOD observation with GOOD faith (which is not blind). 

In the Gnostic texts dug up in Egypt in 1945,  Jesus explains that if you want to know the ending, look to the beginning.  If you want to know the beginning, look to the ending.  And surely, I think, or feel, that we go out very often the way we have come in.  We often wind up helpless in old age, needing help to get around, to dress, and to be fed.  When we are babies, we see this helplesness as natural, but perhaps because of our fear of death, we do not see how the end is like the beginning, and we fear the evidence of our advancing age and perhaps even loath it in some way as a bakcwards method for coping with a very natural process where the beginning is like the end.  And in the same way that we enter this world, ending an old life in order to begin a new one, we leave this world just as we left the spirit world to come here and wake up in death to find ourselves like babies in a new realm, learning how to use our newly returned senses in a world where the sunlight streaming in through the living room windows resolves golden and full of some new life. 

I feel that we can do better.  We have certainly done well in making advancements in helping our lives remain in this world, but we have been lacking in how to cope with our transitions from this world into the next.  As I think about my grandmother who clung to life fearing that his would be her end despite being a staunch Southern Baptist, I have to wonder what our institutions are proving for us in the way of really being prepared.  Is preparing making sure your affairs are in order and the casket ordered and the plot purchased?  What of the self and the heart and the mind which grinds on this innevitable day when we shift from life into this shadow we call death, a being we have personified not as an angel of light, but one which bears a sythe and whose cloak hides a being which appears as nothing.  It is clear that deep down, we fear death is a nothingness and that we will be like wheat harvested by this being despite our own wishes.  It is less that we have made advancements in prolonging life; this is merely staving off the innevitable.  What about simply coming to peace with this thing called death.  Couldn't we choose to see death as the next great adventure?  Why not?  two weeks after the death of my grandmother, she paid me a visit, and as I scanned her memory, I saw how she had been taken on a tour of the solar system.  I felt myself reel as I saw how she had shot past Jupiter and Saturn, two imppossibly large planets, at a speed that made my head spin.  She had been given a kind of grand tour of things, she had seen deceased loved ones, and she was amazed.  She was pinching herself the whole time it seemed; she had somehow survived death!  She was alive!  Not just alive but ALIVE!  Free from an old tired body that had grown sick and was holding her back.  Her soul was like a giant steam locomotive that was chugging at light speed through the universe.  She was like her old self in her core, but somehow loosened of her old bindings, her old tethers.  She was without anchor, full of sail, and utterly FREE!  Reading many years later, today as a matter of fact, I learned that this visit, which took place soon after her death was a period of time described by the Tibetan Book Of The Dead as "Transference." 

So why can't we see it THAT way instead of some shadow in the corner waiting for us?  I ask you, why?  As long as we tell ourselves that death is a great unknown, we will continue to see it as a shadow only, and miss that tucked within the leaves of our life's book, there is another story that is full of something truly grand.  Somewhere deep within us, I think we know.  Perhaps we think that part of us is simply wishful thinking.  I think it is time to take this out of wish and into knowing.  We need only go.  We need only do.  Perhaps one good way to stat is to do as Raymond Moody Jr did back in the early 70's:  write a book.  Or tell a story.  Or speak of our own experiences, no matter how outlandish.  Certainly I cannot offer you proof of my own experience in terms of strands of DNA or pieces of cloth or artifacts returned from such a journey.  Perhaps what we bring back from such journeys is far more enduring than any artifact from this world could ever be.  Perhaps we begin by realizing that if we have a soul, then that soul may well survive death and may well be able to move beyond the body.  Even here, though, we want to relegate things like Out of Body Experiences as some kind of New Age hipsterism or silliness, or at worst, the working of the devil somehow.  All of this are merely the same conceptualizations that we offer up when we speak of death as this grim reaper.  All this seems to be made of is fear, and if fear can have such an enduring grip on us, it seems equally possible that joy and an adventurous spirit could have an equal kind of hold.  It may ust be a matter of what we choose to do or how we choose to be.  Certainly to someone stuck in depression that the world seems shadowed and dim while another without such a condition sees light and joy.  What is the difference?  I suspect it is a choice we each make.  A focus. So I ask; what would happen if we each learned to go beyond the body at will?  What if in dream we spring board beyond the body and find ourselves doing something on the other side of the planet where we observe an event that we would read about the next week in the papers?  Would that help us along with the sense that there IS something more to what we are?  What if we had scores of people all doing this, trainees in the science of the soul?  What if instead of cowering from this shadow of death, we embraced it only to find that it was not a shadow, but a light?  Perhaps a golden light that showers in through ever nook and crevice of this world seemingly "beyond."

Eventually, we will each die.  We will.  But we can conquer death while we live.  We conquer it by losing our fear so that when we do die, we do not close our eyes to it, but open them and accept it with awareness instead of slumber.  If we are all going to die to be reborn, it makes sense that we make the very best of it.  Otherwise, it simply remains the worst, an uncertainty lurking that will find us at some point, something we will put off and shove deep down instead of facing it and find that in releasing that fear, we release the very thing that robs us of life even as we live.  In living more fully, what worlds will we glimpse?  Death for us is fear.  Conquer that fear.  Be realistic; it seems everyone is doing this death thing, so there MUST be something worthwhile about it!  While here, squeeze every ounce of your life out of it that you can and leave nothing behind, but when you are done, why not embrace this life ending as the beginning of something that could well be one of the great adventures we will ever know, like being born. 

Dr. Raymond Moody Jr's Website

Saved By The Light (and other books) by Dannion Brinkley 

The Tibetan Book Of The Dead Online Version

Out of Body Experiences

Journeys Out of the Body by Robert Monroe

Preparing for Death

On Death And Dying by Elisabeth K├╝bler Ross

Finally, I'd like to say that the works of the Gnostics, while ranging all over the place, do contain evidence of an understanding of a process of rebirth that involved awakening, what the Hindus called kundalini.  It was this process that did not cease death from approaching, but allowed a person to enter into the light of the eternal soul where the death of ignorance or fear did not enter in.  It was this rebirth, this resurrection, as they called it, that a person was awakened into a new life.  It was in such a place that the self was unified, healed, more whole.  The way to death was in ignorance since all death, to their way of writing, was less a physical experience but an enduring trait of the self that sought not to know what was true within. 

There are many very good sources on the web and living in our information age makes it very easy for you to find many sources online that cover this topic.  You will of course have to run them through your own self to see how they sit for you. 

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