Overnight, I received an email from LinkedIn connection Katherine Morris, who’s currently living in Switzerland.
She wrote, “I just read your last 3 posts on linkedin, and just want to say that I find you to be a very refreshing, very honest writer. I would even say that this is pretty scary to a lot of people. The idea of being able to be honest and not be destroyed, this is quite an accomplishment in modern civilization!”
Katherine added that she’s working on her dissertation right now . . . “very busy writing a review of the scientific and other literature on the topic of contemplation of mortality.”
WOW! Now that’s a subject many find really scary. Reminded me of the Essay on Death included in Conscience: Your Ultimate Personal Survival Guide.
So Katherine, this post is for you. Hope it’s helpful.
Merging with the eternal source,
sages travel safely through life
and survive intact
to begin anew,
unchanged by physical death.
— Patricia West, Two Sides of a Coin: Lao Tse’s Common Sense Way of Change. #16
Dying patients went through the five stages, but then after “we have done all the work we were sent to Earth to do, we are allowed to shed our body, which imprisons our soul like a cocoon encloses the future butterfly,” and . . . well, then a person had the greatest experience of his life.
— Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, The Wheel of Life
Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished.
If you’re alive, it isn’t.
— Richard Bach, Illusions
Some day, maybe, there will exist a well-informed, well-considered, and yet fervent public conviction that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child’s spirit; for such mutilation undercuts the life principle of trust.
— Erik Erikson, quoted by Jonathan Kozol in Death at an Early Age
Webster’s definition of death is the act or fact of dying — the permanent ending of all life in a person, animal or plant. Personified, death is pictured as the grim reaper, a hunch-backed, black-robed skeleton wielding a scythe. The term refers to extinction, as in the death of hope.
These definitions, however, represent an extreme cultural bias with important effects on behavior. They reflect the materialistic belief that the physical is all there is. When the body fails, there is nothing else. There is no essence which survives to travel on.
The I Ching embodies a more inclusive, comprehensive view. Like the learned amongst most ancient cultures, Chinese sages regarded birth and death as natural changes, complementary stages of an ongoing cyclical life process.
Sages continue to regard death not as extinction, but the culmination of a winter season most wisely spent preparing for the coming spring. They teach that a soul, having learned the lessons and completed the work of one life cycle, separates from its used up shell. The shell, once the spirit moves on, collapses. The life essence, however, simply migrates, possibly to take on another form.
Meditation practices are instrumental in reconnecting the alienated rational mind with the life principle, restoring trust. They prepare advanced souls to depart the physical form consciously at the auspicious time of their choosing. They also induce the changes of heart and mind that the Bible alludes to as rebirth. To be born again is not necessarily emotional self-deception. Technically, from I Ching perspective, it’s very possible.
As described by healer/teacher/author Barbara Ann Brennan, total transformation and rebirth can also take place within the same body. She describes spending two years in prayer and intense discipline. As a result of her efforts, by the end of that time, every aspect of her life had changed for the better. Going through stages similar to those described by Kübler-Ross, she released her old life, so that new attitudes, better relationships, and a significantly more satisfying lifestyle replaced that which had been outgrown and put away.
Country music star Naomi Judd, another example, refused to accept a death sentence placed on her by the medical establishment. Instead, she took it as a blessing in disguise. Taking responsibility for her health, with a combination of faith and true grit, she educated herself in a broad spectrum of healing arts traditions and succeeded in regenerating herself from the inside out. She not only survived, but became healthy enough to endure the ardors of another music tour, “The Power to Change,” calling on fans to rise to the challenge of change as she had.
Fear is the natural outcome of limited materialistic beliefs equating the end of physical life with total extinction. Those who experience the True Self as immortal and indestructible are not plagued by fear of mortality. No doubt the courage and solace which sustained Socrates as he calmly accepted his death sentence — not as an escape, but an affirmation of principle — came from the depth of his soul awareness.
Permanent extinction, however, is possible. Real death is not dissolution of a temporary form, but the annihilation of the soul itself. According to learned traditions, a soul beyond redemption by its own repeated wrong choices can be extinguished forever. Even the thought is cause for horror, powerful incentive to make right choices.
West, Patricia .E., Two Sides of a Coin: Lao Tse’s Common Sense Way of Change. # 16. (+A Positive Action Press: Madison, WI, 2004).
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying. (Touchstone: New York, 1997.) p. 189.
Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. (Dell: New York, 1977.) p. 159.
Erik Erikson, quoted by Jonathan Kozol in Death at an Early Age: The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools. (Plume: New York, 1967.) front page.