What happens as we die?

I have been reading about the recent research into how people experience death (see “The New Science of Death” from The Guardian), and this video with some of the highlights just showed up in my YouTube recommendations.

Their findings fit what has been previously reported, including from people who have had near-death experiences. People dying often report deep relaxation, light, a review of their life, a sense of coming home, and a few more things.

THE WORLDVIEW CURRENT SCIENCE OPERATES WITHIN

Our current science operates within a strictly materialistic worldview, so scientists are expected to interpret this as more or less random things that happen in the brain because of the dying process.

That’s understandable and it has some upsides. It’s grounded in verifiable data, which is important, and it’s a good starting point for exploring other possible explanations.

If these experiences are random results of a dying brain, I have to say that some of what people report seems surprisingly fitting and meaningful, including the life review and a sense of coming home.

THE POSSIBILITY OF CONTINUING BEYOND THIS LIFE

The findings from this research can also be understood within the context of other worldviews.

For instance, the consciousness we are may continue beyond this life.

Research into apparent past life memories is interesting and may be interpreted in that way, although other explanations also fit the data.

Some people seem to have memories from between lives. I am one of those. When I was little, I had vivid and visceral flashbacks to a time before this life: All was consciousness and golden light, and there was a profound sense of all-encompassing love and of being home. I had a longing back to that place throughout my childhood. This too fits with consciousness continuing, although it can be interpreted in other ways too.

CHANGING WORLDVIEWS

Does the consciousness we are continue beyond this life? For me, that’s a question for science, and it has mostly been taboo in Western science because it doesn’t fit the accepted worldview.

Worldviews change. The one we have now will be replaced by another that makes more sense to future generations, and may better fit the data.

It may well be with a future context of worldview for science is more open to the possibility of consciousness continuing beyond this life. It may be seen as one of several possible explanations, and perhaps one that fits the data well.

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Don’t know as context – the rest are questions about the world

I wrote an article yesterday where I pointed out that we don’t know what will happen after death, and that the most peaceful – for me – is the rest in and as that not-knowing.

Today, I wrote another article about how I sometimes check in with people who have recently died to sense what’s going on with them.

How can both be true? Don’t they contradict each other?

Not really. They can easily co-exist. In a sense, they complement each other.

The not-knowing is the context. And the checking-in is pragmatic and part of daily life activities, and hopefully held lightly.

It’s the same for my general view on what may happen after death.

Not-knowing is the context and what’s most true.

And everything else – my apparent memory of the time before incarnation, checking in with those who have recently died, NDE reports, research, and so on – informs my view about what MAY be happening. I have experiences, interpretations of those experiences, and ideas about what’s going on, and I aim to hold it all lightly.

They are questions about the world, not answers.

Not-knowing and questions about the world live together. They come from the same place.

Image by me and Midjourney

Connecting with people who recently died

In my mid-teens, I discovered I could connect with the system of other beings and sense (some of) what’s going on. I have mostly used it for healing purposes since I also do distance healing.

And this also works for people who have recently died.

It’s been interesting for me to check in with people who have recently died, and perhaps do a little healing for them if it seems helpful and their system seems to want it.

I have been surprised by how diverse their experience seems to be.

One seemed to be in turmoil and disoriented when I checked in the day after he died.

Another, who died from cancer and was Christian, seemed to experience relief and peace.

Yet another, who recently died, seemed to experience a fullness and restfulness.

And yet another, who died just a few days ago, a kind of sober peace. My sense is that he left earlier than he wanted.

It also seems that the typical human responses are most obvious shortly after death, and then it seems to wear off. After a while, there is less to connect with. Maybe they shed layers in the period after death? I also assume the essence moves on – away from this kind of life or into another incarnation.

Is what I perceive accurate? I would think yes, mostly, based on my experience with this over several decades. And also based on checking in with others who can also sense at a distance. I sense what’s going on with someone – living or recently dead. They do it too. We compare notes. And most of the time, our reports closely match. (Even if one or both of us know next to nothing about the person in a conventional sense.)

Note: I wrote an article yesterday where I pointed out that we don’t know what will happen after death, and that the most peaceful – for me – is the rest in and as that not-knowing. That’s true. And what I write here too is accurate enough. Both can co-exist. The first is more accurate and the context for the second, and the second is more pragmatic and is held lightly.

The image is by me and Midjourney

What we are never dies? Timeless is not the same as eternal

I saw an ad for a non-dual course that said: Find the part of you that never dies.

I understand it’s a hook, and I see it slightly differently.

The simple answer is: I don’t know for certain. I don’t know if what I am will never die or not.

And there is a longer answer that also points to something essential.

FINDING WHAT WE ARE

We find what we are – that which our field of experience happens within and as.

We find that time, change, and death happen within and as what we are.

We find ourselves as what a thought may call consciousness, and the world to us happens within and as the consciousness we are.

We can also imperfectly label this timeless since it’s inherently free of the passage of time. Change, time, birth and death, and so on happen within and as what I am.

This is our more fundamental nature, and it’s all we have ever known whether we notice it or not.

Our nature has all the characteristics that mystics through time and across traditions talk about.

That’s all fine. It’s something we can find for ourselves and check out for ourselves. It’s not even that difficult to have a taste of it with the right guidance. (To stabilize in it can take a little more effort and, ironically, time.)

STICKING TO WHAT I CAN SAY SOMETHING ABOUT

I like to stick to what I can say something about, which is my own nature as it appears to me.

I can say that, to me, the world happens within and as the consciousness I am. So everything inevitably appears as consciousness to me.

My nature is consciousness. And I cannot say anything about the nature of anything else. It appears as consciousness to me, but I don’t know if that’s its actual nature.

This view is grounded and honest to me. And it has the upside that it’s compatible with a range of different worldviews, including materialism, atheism, non-theism, theism, and more.

I love this approach for those reasons.

I cannot say anything for certain about what happens after the death of this human self. It’s possible that the consciousness I am goes with it. And it’s possible that the consciousness I am will continue free of this human self. Either option is compatible with my nature as I notice it.

In other words, timeless is not necessarily the same as eternal.

And as the Zen master said: I don’t know what happens after I die. I am not dead yet.

TAKING IT ONE STEP FURTHER

Some like to take this a step further.

We can assume that existence itself has the same nature as us.

To us, the world will inevitably appear as consciousness since that’s what we are. From here, we can assume that’s how the world actually is. The world and all of existence is consciousness AKA Spirit, the divine. God, Brahman, and so on.

This view fits with another assumption. And that is that what we are – the consciousness we are – will continue after the death of this human self.

There are two leaps of faith here. One is assuming that the nature of all of existence is the same as our own as we experience it. The other is assuming that it means that what we are continues after the death of this human self.

BEING HONEST ABOUT IT

Taking those leaps is fine. It may be comforting. It may fit what traditions say. It may fit some reports from some people. (Including me since I had memories of my time before incarnation as a little kid.) And it’s good to be honest about it.

It’s good to be honest about it being an assumption and not something we can easily check out for ourselves before this human self dies.

For me, it’s much more comfortable to be honest about all this.

Yes, I know my own nature to some extent. I have been swimming in that water for more than three decades now. I know what traditions say. I have my own memories of the time before this life. (Similar to what people describe from near-death experiences.) I have often checked in with people after they have died and what I sense has matched what others have sensed. (What I pick up about them is surprisingly varied, ranging from immense confusion and turmoil to peace, relief, and joy.) I know what the few studying this scientifically say.

And yet I cannot know. I cannot know for certain what will happen after this life. Anything is possible. I’ll see when that time comes.

THE UPSIDES OF A MORE GROUNDED VIEW

Taking a more honest and grounded view on this has many upsides.

I don’t need to create, uphold, and rehearse stories.

I don’t need to defend stories against anything that may seem threatening to them.

And it gives me more zest for this life. I have no idea what comes next. I have no idea how long this human self is here for. So why not make the most out of it? Why not enjoy what’s here now?

Why not even see if I can find enjoyment in it even if it’s something my personality may not like?

WHY DON’T MORE PEOPLE DIFFERENTIATE?

Why don’t more people differentiate in this way?

Why do some mystics and non-dual folks assume they know what will happen after death? Why do they assume that the nature of all of reality is the same as their own? Why do they assume that timeless means eternal?

I am not sure. Maybe they just latch onto what others have told them. Maybe they haven’t noticed the difference between finding their own nature, and assuming that’s also the nature of all of existence? Maybe they don’t notice the two leaps of faith they have to make? Maybe they find comfort in it? Maybe it’s a kind of wishful thinking? Maybe this differentiation is a more modern (?) way of looking at it, and many still stick with traditions?

SCIENCE

To me, what happens after death is a question for science.

It’s something we can, to our best ability, study. And some do.

And even then, we cannot know for certain. There is always more than one way to understand the data.

DON’T KNOW

Which brings us back to don’t know. We cannot know for certain.

I cannot know anything for certain.

And I find it most comfortable to admit that and rest in and as that. It’s closest to reality.

Image created by me and Midjourney

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Does our timeless nature mean we live forever?

I sometimes hear people say:

My timeless nature means I’ll live forever.

My physical body happens within me so I’ll live beyond this physical body.

For me, it looks a bit different.

TIMELESS IS NOT THE SAME AS ETERNAL

Yes, I find myself as what the world to me happens within and as.

I find myself as the timeless that time happens within. I find myself as the spaceless that space happens within. I find myself as what this physical body and the rest of the world, as it appears to me, happens within and as.

And that doesn’t mean that I – meaning this oneness the world to me happens within and as – will live forever, or continue to live beyond the death of this physical body.

IDEOLOGIES ARE NOT THE SAME AS REALITY

Yes, there may be many religions, spiritual traditions, and ideologies that say that we’ll live beyond this physical body.

There is even some research pointing to that.

And that’s all second-hand information. It’s not something I can test out for myself. I cannot know for certain.

MEMORIES ARE NOT THE SAME AS REALITY

My whole life, from early childhood, I have had what seems to be a memory from between lives and before this life.

When I look, I see that this apparent memory consists of mental images and words, associated with some sensations in my body.

Those mental representations and sensations are just that. They may not point to anything real. Again, I cannot know for certain.

BEING HONEST

I notice that if I tell myself I’ll live forever, or beyond the life of this physical body, it’s stressful.

I tell myself something I cannot know for certain. I tell myself that what to me is imagination is reality.

I know I cannot know for certain.

And that’s stressful. It’s also stressful to have to remember that imagination, recreate it, enhance it, support it, defend it, and so on.

What’s more honest for me is that I don’t know.

I’ll get to see when that phase of the adventure comes.

What I can find here now is my nature. I can find myself as what any content of experience – including time and space and this physical body and the world as it appears to me – happens within and as.

And that’s enough.

There is a joy in being aligned with reality.

In being honest with myself.

Does our timeless nature mean we live beyond the death of this human self?

Some seem to assume that their timeless nature means they – consciousness – will somehow continue beyond the death of this human self.

CONFUSING TIMELESS WITH ETERNAL

I understand it can seem that way.

When we find our more essential nature, we find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears t us. We find ourselves as that which all content of experience – time, space, the world, this human self – happens within and as.

We find ourselves as the timeless that allows for and forms itself into our experience of time. We find ourselves as the spaceless that allows for and forms itself into an experience of space.

Our nature is the timeless that time happens within and as. We are what this human self happens within and as. We are what all change happens within and as.

Doesn’t that mean that we – as this consciousness – continue even after the death of this human self?

Not necessarily. My timeless nature doesn’t say anything about what happens after the death of this human self. Noticing my timeless nature doesn’t give me any privileged or special insights into that topic.

Noticing my timeless nature is consistent with a wide range of worldviews. It fits with assuming that the nature of all existence is the same as my nature, and that all of existence is consciousness and the divine. It also fits with assuming that consciousness is produced by this physical human body, and dies with this body. It may even fit a traditional Christian view assuming a kind of soul that exists before and after this body. (The soul is then either what we are, or it’s something within content of experience that happens within and as what we are as anything else.)

A TOPIC FOR SCIENCE

What happens with consciousness after death is a topic for science. It’s something we can study, at least indirectly through near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, recollections of apparent past lives, and so on.

There are some relatively serious studies on these topics, as outlined in Leslie Kean’s Surviving Death. And within mainstream science, it’s still a mostly taboo topic. Probably because modern science has attached itself to a mostly materialistic worldview.

Life is change so this may change too. I wouldn’t be surprised if these topics are included within a future mainstream science.

WHY ASSUMING THAT TIMELESS MEANS LIFE AFTER DEATH?

Why do some assume that our timeless nature means life after death?

I am not sure.

They may be relatively new in noticing their nature so they don’t have a more mature and nuanced view yet.

They may engage in wishful thinking. That’s more than possible even if we notice our nature.

They may come from a tradition assuming life after death, and they adopt the same view without examining it more closely.

They may be aware of some of the research and jump to conclusions based on just a few studies and interpretations.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

For me, intellectual honesty is important.

I want to differentiate between what I can say something about, which is my immediate noticing. And what I cannot say anything for certain about, which is just about anything else. (And, of course, my stories about my immediate noticing are also up for revision.)

I notice my timeless nature. I notice that, to me, this timeless nature allows for and forms itself into my experience of the world, including time and space and change.

Beyond that, I cannot say very much. I cannot say anything for certain about the nature of existence, or what happens after death.

And that’s a relief. It brings me back to the most immediate and simple.

MY STORY

When I was little, before school age, I had shifts where I seemed to remember how it was before this life. I was shifted into an experience of all as golden light, consciousness, love, wisdom. There were no bodies, although there were occasional beings – far more wise than me – I could communicate with.

During my childhood, I had a deep longing in me. I didn’t know exactly what for.

And when the awakening shift happened in my teens, I realized what the longing was for. It was for this oneness, timelessness, and love. I also had dreams that seemed to be from past lives, and I found the historical details to be correct when I later checked.

It’s easy for me to assume that these were real flashbacks to a time between lives, and the apparent past life dreams were just that. But I don’t know. I cannot know.

And that’s more peaceful. It’s more peaceful to embrace the mystery. It’s more peaceful to be honest about it and hold it all lightly. It’s more peaceful to see what happens when that time comes.

Note: The seed for this article is seeing that some nondual folks, including teachers, seem to assume that our timeless nature means life after death. For me, it’s more honest to say that I cannot know for certain. And it’s more peaceful rest in not knowing

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Does my timeless nature mean I won’t die?

I sometimes see people who have found themselves as timeless say that it means they won’t die. Our timeless nature means we won’t die.

When we find ourselves as capacity for the world, we find that all our experiences – including of space and time – happens within and as us. We are timeless and time happens within and as us.

From here, it’s easy to assume we won’t die. This human self comes and goes, and what we really are stays around.

It can seem convincing, but it all depends.

To myself, I am consciousness, and that’s how it would be even if the materialist view is accurate. This human self and the brain may be what supports and allows consciousness to exist, and – to myself – I would still be consciousness. I will still find myself as capacity for the world, and all my experiences will happen within and as what I am. In this case, when this human self dies, I – as consciousness – dies. What I am dies with the body. (This is the small interpretation of awakening.)

That’s why I am a bit more careful with stating that I – as what I am – will be around even after this body is gone. I don’t know. And if I am honest, I have to admit that the scenario above is possible.

There are hints of something else. We have accounts of people apparently remembering past lives, and research that seems to support it. We have stories of near-death experiences and people perceiving things they couldn’t through their physical senses. We have stories of sensing at a distance and healing at a distance. We have synchronicities. And so on. It’s possible to dismiss this, especially if we don’t know much about it. And yet, many of us have experiences of this and more which hints at something more. (I have experienced most of it myself.)

To myself, I am consciousness and the world to me happens within and as the consciousness I am. That means that, to me, the whole world appears as consciousness. It’s made up of consciousness. It has to appear that way. It’s inevitable, whatever its true nature is. And these experiences – of near-death experiences, sensing and healing at a distance, and so on – suggest that the true nature of existence may be the same as our own. (This is the big interpretation of awakening.)

So if I am honest with myself, I cannot know if “I” – as consciousness – continue after the death of this human self. And yet, it does seem possible, but not because I find myself as timeless and what time happens within and as. It’s because of these other experiences and research into these phenomena suggesting a life beyond death.

Fear of death & befriending fear

I am re-watching Ram Dass: Going Home, and find Ram Dass and his vulnerability and love very moving.

At some point, he talks about fear of death.

Most or all of us have fear around death and related issues like non-existence, pain, loss, the unknown, and so on.

We can explore these. We can imagine ourselves close to death and dying, see what comes up, and find some peace with it. (I did that a lot in my twenties.) We can learn about research into life between lives and rebirth. We can learn what different traditions say about it. We can actively work on whatever issues we have around death, loss, pain, the unknown, and whatever else is here in us. We can release tension and fear out of our body, and perhaps specifically focus on fear related to death. We can work on trusting life and finding more peace with change. And so on.

All of this can help release some of the fear that death brings up in us, and it can help us live our life now more fully.

At the same time, what comes up for me is that I cannot know. I cannot know if or how much fear of death is in me. I cannot know what will come up if or when I am faced with death in whatever way it comes. I cannot know what situations will come up related to death. I cannot know for certain any of these things, or what happens during or after death.

There is a humility here. I’ll just see what happens like everyone else. If fear comes up, that’s OK even if some parts of me thinks it’s not OK.

And this also reminds me that finding peace with fear is perhaps as or more important than working through anything that brings up fear in us, although the two are related.

Can I befriend fear? When fear comes up in my system, how do I relate to it? How is it to say YES to the fear and whatever I experience?

If I am capacity for the world and this human self, does that mean that this awake capacity is here after this human self is gone?

If I am capacity for the world and this human self, does that mean that when this human self dies, this awake space is still there, perhaps filled with something else?

The short answer is, I don’t know.

It’s true that to me, I am awake capacity for all my experiences – this human self, the wider world, change, birth and death, and so on. It’s all happening within and as what I am.

But from that doesn’t follow that this awake space will still be here after this human self dies. I cannot say. Maybe it will go away. (The capacity will still be here, but maybe the awakeness will be gone with the human self.) Maybe this awake capacity will continue, filled with different experiences. (Experiencing a life between lives etc.) I don’t know.

I personally have images that seem to be from before this human life, and I have images that seem to be from particular past lives. They feel like memories, but I don’t know if that’s what they are. People and traditions may talk about reincarnation or heaven, but I cannot know if that’s true or not. There is research into reincarnation, and they seem to find data that fits the idea of reincarnation, but I cannot know that for certain either.

And that’s a very good place to be. It’s freeing. It’s honest.

All that matter is that right now, I find myself as capacity for it all – this human self, the wider world, these ideas, and anything else happening.

Intellectual honesty in spirituality: Zen and not dead yet

The Emperor asked Master Gudo, “What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?”

“How should I know?” replied Gudo.

“Because you are a master,” answered the Emperor.

“Yes sir,” said Gudo, “but not a dead one.”

– I heard this story almost 30 years ago but can’t find an original source right now. It seems to be quoted a lot without a source.

This is honesty. There is a huge amount of bs in spirituality, and it consists mostly of people pretending that stories are reality.

Do we know that reincarnation exists? Or the soul? Or any afterlife? Or karma? Isn’t this just what someone else has told us?

Is it something we can check for ourselves? And if not, why repeat it or pretend we know it’s true?

Why not instead be honest? Why not admit we don’t know?

There are other ways to use these concepts and ideas that seem more helpful. For instance, why not explore these concepts and ideas as projections? Why not use them as something we can explore here and now? How can I find where they fit my experience?

For instance, I can find a kind of reincarnation here and now. I notice that each moment is fresh and new and something is kind of recreated. I notice that any ideas I have of a me or I are recreated here and now. In that way, “I” am reborn. (Any ideas of continuity are just that, ideas. I cannot find it outside of my ideas. This means that reborn even in this sense is also based on an idea on not something actual I can put my finger on.)

I can find karma in that something that happens has consequences. Actions has consequences. Through how I think, feel, and act, I create habits and grooves that it’s easier to follow in the future. When I act in the world, the world responds. This is the karma I can find in my own life and check out for myself. Beyond that, I don’t really know. (Even here, I cannot really find karma, cause and effect, and so on outside of my ideas.)

What about the afterlife? I can find it in my ideas, but not outside of my ideas. I can find timelessness here, and that all my experiences happen within and as this timelessness. I notice that this human self – and the idea of time itself – happens within and as that timelessness. But I still don’t know if there is anything after this human self dies.

Of course, I know that not everyone are interested in or inclined to explore in this way. For many, holding onto ideas is comforting and sufficient. It’s that way for me too, sometimes and in some areas of life, and probably in ways I am not even aware of. That’s completely fine. But I prefer to be honest about it, at least as much as I can.

Why isn’t there more research on what happens after this life?

Why isn’t there more research on what happens after this life?

After all, it’s clearly an important topic. All of us will die. It has a direct bearing on what worldview we adopt as a consensus worldview in our modern society. And it is possible to study. (And some do, as outlined in – among other books – Surviving Death by Leslie Kean.)

So if there are good reasons to do this type of research, and a few already do, why isn’t there more research?

The most obvious answer is that it’s (still) taboo in our modern society. It goes against the consensus atheist view of modern science. (Which I mostly agree with apart from when it creates a taboo.) And it steps into a minefield of opinions from religions and religious people around the world. For both of those reasons, you risk upsetting people if you enter this field through research.

That’s perhaps why it has become a taboo. And why most scientists leave it alone. They see it as a field for personal opinion and not something to explore through research.

Of course, it’s also irrational to maintain this taboo. As mention earlier, it’s an important topic with great ramifications for how we see ourselves and the world and it’s well within what we can do research on. There are no good reasons to not do research in this field, apart from the taboo itself.

And yet, taboos have a way of maintaining themselves. People acculturate and adopt the taboo, sometimes without even knowing what’s happening, and then ridicule and reject those who go outside of it. In this way, scientists are not necessarily more rational than anyone else.

This goes for any research on topics outside of the current mainstream view on the world, including research on ESP and the effects of energy healing.

Will it change? Probably. I can easily imagine a world where this type of research is more widely performed and accepted, and where the findings inform our consensus worldview. After all, it is important. And we can do good research on it.

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What will happen after death?

What happens after death?

I have several sources of apparent information about it.

Some research suggests life goes on, and that we may even be reborn. I have been very interested in this research since I was perhaps eight or ten years old. And I am also aware that the research on this topic is sparse, there are several different interpretations on the data, and that more and better research is needed.

Religions tell us there is an afterlife of some sort, whether indefinitely or for a while until rebirth. These are religions and have their own agenda, and these are ideas created by someone and then passed on as (often unquestioned) truth.

Atheism says nothing will happen. After we die, we are gone. They make assumptions and are also not always in the truth business. Atheism can be a religion on its own.

Ric W., the current Vortex Healing lineage holder, talks about rebirth and also that we won’t need to be reborn if some of the energetic structures or veils creating strong separation identity have been removed. (As happens in awakening.) This fits the spiritual traditions I trust the most, and if I were to put my money somewhere, it would be here. This too is what someone has said and not something I have been able to verify on my own.

When I do Vortex Healing for people after they have died, I seem to sense how they are and how they experience their new bodiless existence. I tentatively assume this is accurate since when I sense something in Vortex sessions for living people and I check with them, it is most often accurate. Also, in one case I did VH for someone I thought was alive but had actually recently died, and I did sense that his body had fallen away and he still hadn’t adapted to a bodiless existence.

Even as a little child, I had images that looks like memories of life between lives. These images fit perfectly what others describe, even if I didn’t know that at the time. My experience was of all as consciousness and (golden) light, of all as infinite love and wisdom, and there was a profound sense of being home. These are images and although it seems real, I cannot know for certain.

Later on, I had images of past lives that felt like past lives, and others who sense these things have agreed. Again, these are images with some feelings attached to them and I don’t really know. (For me, past life images are useful for reflecting and highlighting issues I have now and I am less interested in whether they are “true” past lives or not.)

So although I have all these sources of information, I honestly don’t know. That’s the authentic answer. Whether it’s one way or another, all I have is what’s here now. My responsibility is to what’s here now. Death comes when it comes, and that’s another phase of the adventure.

As the Zen master said when asked about life after death (paraphrased):

I don’t know, I am not dead yet. Ask me then. (And I won’t answer.)

There is a valuable upside to not knowing what will happen after we are dead, and about anything in the future (or past, or present). It brings us back to immediacy, to what’s here and now. That’s all we have.

My relationship to death

What is my relationship to death?

Here are some influences:

In infancy, it seemed I would sometimes float around and check things out instead of being in my physical body. Perhaps it seemed more familiar and comfortable. (I later checked some very specific memories of what I saw with my parents, and they were accurate.)

In childhood, I had flashbacks to life between lives. Infinite love. All as golden light. Infinite sense of being home. Infinite wisdom. Somewhere between timelessness and a faint sense of time. Wordless communication with formless beings expressing deep love and wisdom. And, when I could put words on it later, all as happening within and as the divine.

In my mid-teens, there was a classic awakening. Spirit woke up to itself as all there is, and of all life as the play of itself. Any sense of being a separate self was a temporary experience of the divine as part of that play. (This continued and there was an intense download of information and insights over several years.)

In my teens and twenties, I explored my relationship to death through exercises, for instance, those in The Tibetan Book of Death and Dying and in an excellent university course I did on death and dying (University of Utah). Later, I explored beliefs and identifications around death – of others and myself – through inquiry, the Big Mind Process, Process Work, and more. More recently, I have used Vortex Healing to clear conditioning around this.

I am sure there is still a good amount of universal human conditioning in me around it, in the forms of old beliefs, wounds, trauma etc. Some from this life (family and culture), some from ancestors (genetics and epigenetics), and perhaps some from past lives. I am not aware of much, but it’s probably there.

I have done Vortex Healing on people who have passed on, and got a sense of how they experience the new situation. Some days and weeks after passing, they can still be connected with and sensed even after shedding the physical body.

Since my childhood and early teens, I have been fascinated by and read university research on reincarnation, near-death experiences, and similar. Most recently, I read Surviving Death by Leslie Kean.

So this – and probably much more – influences and makes up my relationship to death. From own experience, I seem to know something about how it is between lives. I know I am not this body. I know it’s all the play of the divine. I have the usual human conditioning around death, and I have worked on and cleared some of it. My relationship to death and dying is a mix of many influences, as for all of us.

And whatever my relationship is, it’s good for me to identify painful beliefs that are still here, and invite in some healing for them.

How can I find these? For instance….

I can ask myself what I fear the most about death is…. what I fear the most about my own death is…. what I fear the most about the death of my loved ones is…. and make a list for each of these. (For the last one, make a list for each specific loved one in my life.) I can then take these beliefs to inquiry (The Work).

I can use therapeutic trembling (TRE) to release tension and stress around death. While I tremble, I bring death images, beliefs, fears, and scenarios to mind to invite tension and stress to release out of these.

I can continue to do Vortex Healing for those who have passed and get more familiar with how people pass.

I can do Vortex Healing for myself to continue clearing conditioning around death and dying.

Why would I want to do this? It helps me have a more clear, healthy, and responsive relationship to death, and be there for others when they deal with death. It may reduce some of my own pain when people close to me die. It may reduce some stress around my own death. It’s good for society to have people who have a more healed and clear relationship to death. It’s interesting. It heals and clears issues in me, and this that may be helpful for me living my life in general.

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Healing for those who have passed on

When I do healing (Vortex Healing) for someone who has passed on, I sometimes know in advance they have died and sometimes have not yet been told. Either way, I tend to sense that’s what happened since the “anchor” of their physical body is not there and that’s relatively easily noticeable in these sessions.

Here are two contrasting experiences from these sessions. One was a man in Oregon I knew, and I read about his cancer on Facebook so I decided to do a session for him. I noticed he seemed to have lost his body and he seemed quite confused, reeling, and close to panicking. I focused on helping him find peace, center, and adjust to the new situation. Another was the sister of a good friend of mine I had done a few session for. When I checked in after she had just passed, she seemed relieved, peaceful, and feeling deeply at home.

I don’t know exactly why they seemed to have such different experiences. But I suspect the first may not have consciously familiar with his timeless existence and was confused after passing on. He may have been temporarily scared until he got used to it. And he may have had strong attachments to what he left (as I suspect many of us have), and perhaps he was scared for those he left. And in the second case, I knew she had a strong spiritual life so she may have felt relief from shedding a diseased body, peace from arriving home, and she may have had less strong attachments to what she left behind.

Note: I don’t have any reservations about using the word “died”. It’s often the most appropriate and direct word. But in this context, passing on seemed more appropriate. When talking from an ordinary human perspective, I usually say died. And when I talk about the parts of us passing on, saying just that seems more natural.

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Steve Jobs: Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

– Steve Jobs

Until you know that death is equal to life

When the mind thinks of death, it looks at nothing and calls it something, to keep from experiencing what it—the mind—really is. Until you know that death is equal to life, you’ll always try to control what happens, and it’s always going to hurt. There’s no sadness without a story that opposes reality.
– Byron Katie

Primal fear of death

As seems quite common in this process, a primal fear of death has come up for me for a while now. It was very strong for some months up to about a year ago, and now comes up a little less intensely.

What is is about?

It’s about the death of who I take myself to be, and this takes two forms: (a) The death of identification with images and ideas about who I am – a human being etc. (b) The physical death of this body. And the latter is of course really about the former. If I take myself to be this body, then the death of this body is perceived as the death of me. It’s all about identification and beliefs.

The invitation here is for two things:

(a) Open to the fear and the impulse to recoil from it. Take it as an inquiry and notice what happens when I recoil from it, and what happens when I open to it all. Ask myself, is it true I cannot take it? Is it true it’s too much? Is it true it’s (the fear, the impulse to recoil) is not already allowed? Not already opened to?

And (b) identify and inquire into (i) the beliefs behind this fear, and (ii) the beliefs behind the resistance to the fear.

(i) It’s terrible to die. I will die. Death means…. What I fear the most about death is…..

(ii) It’s overwhelming. It’s too much. This dread/terror means something terrible has happened/will happen. It’s easier to recoil. Something terrible will happen if I open to it. I am not up to the task. I need to be up to the task. What I am most afraid would happen if I open to this dread/terror is….

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The fear of death

The fear of death is the last smokescreen for the fear of love. The mind looks at nothing and calls it something, to keep from experiencing what it really is. Every fear is the fear of love, because to discover the truth of anything is to discover that there is nobody, no doer, no me to create suffering or to identify with anything. Without any of that, there is just love.
– Byron Katie

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Drawn to death

Every time I fall into one of these pits, I want to curl up and die. Yet I’ve noticed that they invariably precede a breakthrough of some sort. They seem to be a means of emptying me so something new can fill my cup. In this sense, longing for death is a psychospiritual congruency and precisely what I need. Despair returns us to ground zero, to the place of nothingness which seems barren but is in actuality a realm of dormancy, a wintering of the soul without which there can be no spring.
– El Collie in Branded by the Spirit, chapter 14

When things seem especially dark and hopeless, there is often a draw to death. We want whatever causes the pain to die, and that’s a natural, innocent and even healthy impulse.

We may want our own human self to die, or the situation, although one is a bit drastic and the other is temporary. So what’s a kinder and more lasting solution?

What’s really at the essence of this is the death of identification – with the identity or story creating the suffering. This identification may wear off with time, it may suddenly drop away, and we can align with the process by inquiring into the identification or story.

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Befriending death

Michael Dowd’s most recent blog post reminded me of the gifts of death.

Death at all levels allows for something else to arise. The death of individuals allows for new individuals. Death of species allows for new species. Death of ecosystems allows for the emergence of new ecosystems. Death of stars allows for solar systems.

My existence as a human being is made possible through the death of individuals – both humans and nonhuman. Without the death of individuals, the earth would quickly fill up. And the death of plants and sometimes animals is what makes my life possible right now. My existence is made possible through the death of species – without the death of the vast majority of species that have existed, most of the species here today wouldn’t be here. My existence is made possible through the death of stars and the heavier elements created and dispersed through this death.

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After death

I read an article in Aftenposten on what representatives for different religions think may happen after we die.

They are clearly playing with their own hope/fear imaginations, sometimes recognizing it as imaginations and sometimes not. It is a good mirror as I do the same.

Most of these representatives took a healthy agnostic view, as this Christian theologian:

I kristen teologi har dette spørsmålet ofte blitt møtt med henvisning til at dette kan vi ikke si noe endelig om.

In Christian theology, this question is often answered by pointing out that we cannot say anything for certain.

And ironically enough, the one who seemed most certain of his stories was the Buddhist representative! Of all the traditions, Buddhism is the one that explicitly reminds us to (a) not believe anything we are told and (b) check it out for ourselves, as in this little Zen story:

A monk asked a Zen master, “What happens when you die?” The Zen master replied, I don’t know.” The monk said, “What do you mean. Aren’t you a Zen master?” And the Zen Master replied, “Yes, but I’m not a dead one.”

Here are some ways of relating to stories of what happens after death:

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Making use of what is here

draft….

This is something I usually don’t write about or mention to anyone. Mainly because it is irrelevant to what is really important in life, and also because it is such a magnet for projections and misunderstandings. Also, it has little to do with the point of this post. But it does belong to the background info of this post.

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Dying young

When someone dies young, it is a reminder to investigate our own life and beliefs.

What beliefs come up in me when it happens?

Here are some typical ones in our culture, which most of us have absorbed to some extent:

It is unfair. Life should comply with our wishes. Life should make everyone live a long life.

He didn’t get to live a full life. She wanted to do so much more.

I wanted to have her in my life longer. My life will be miserable without him. I can’t make it without her.

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Dream: Death sentence

A friend of mine from the Zen center is in prison and is given a death sentence. I and others of his friends read through the documents but don’t understand it all at first glance.

When I woke up following this dream, I took the opportunity to be with the experiences that came up, including a slight sense of dread. Allowing the experience gave a sense of softness around it and a sense of sweetness mixed in with the initial emotions. It then opened up and the experience shifted into a sense of a nurturing fullness, mixed in with some sadness and a sense of being sobered up.

After a few minutes, I explored how this is true for me. How am I already in a prison? In what way am I given a death sentence?

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Dreams of death

I keep having dreams where people die, either separately or in groups. These people are often close to me. And over time, it seems that just about anyone close to me in waking life has died in my dreams, including myself, and an even larger number have died who were close to me in the dream but unknown to me in my waking life.

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My days are numbered, and the difference when I think I know that number

My days are numbered, and I don’t know that number. I can never know that number for certain.

Yet, it often makes a big difference if we think we know that number. For instance, our doctor may tell us we have only six months to live, and we plunge into despair.

When that happens, it is a clear indication that we haven’t taken our mortality seriously. We haven’t acknowledged to ourselves that our days are numbered. We haven’t experienced it as real. It only becomes real when we think we know that number, for one reason or another. Usually because our doctor tells us, or we are getting so old that it is a good statistical chance we won’t live much longer. (Also, it shows that we don’t take seriously that we really don’t know the number, whether we have a doctor that tells us a number or not.)

So before I think I know the number, I can imagine – as vividly as I can – that I know the number. I can imagine that I know for certain that I will die in one year, one month, one day, one minute, one second. Feel it. Take it in. See how my view reorganize. What happens to my priorities. What happens to my identification with this body.

It won’t be as real as if my doctor tells me a number, but it can still be very helpful.

Death

I keep coming back to death practice.

For instance, I can visualize my own death – in as much detail and as vividly as possible, and take time for it to sink in and notice what happens.

What if I knew for certain that I would die in one year? One month? One week? One day? One hour? One minute? One second? What happens? What would I like to use that time for? What is important? What happens to my identifications with this body and this human self?

I can visualize my body as already dead. With the flesh rotting and falling off the bones. The skeleton itself disintegrating.

I also sometimes go to graveyards and visualize the disintegrating bodies underground, and my own body as if already there disintegrating.

And I can remember people and animals in my life who are now dead. I will be dead like them before I know it. My days are numbered, even if I don’t know the number. Everybody I know will be dead in just a few decades. All of humanity will eventually be dead and gone.

These types of practices can have many effects.

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Facing death, and growing & waking up

Facing death squarely can have a few different effects…

In terms of growing up (healing/maturing as who I am, this human self in the world), facing death invites in a motivation to grow up. I have limited time here, and want to make the most of it. Similarly, facing death helps me clarify my priorities. I am invited to clarify what is most important for me, and align my life with that.

Facing death at this level happens mostly within the dynamics of stories. I realize that everyone and everything I love and know, incluing myself, will die. I see it. Feel into it. Find genuine appreciation for it. (After all, death at all levels of the holarchy of the universe is what makes life possible. We are made up of stars that died a few billion years ago. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the whole process of life and death that went before us, at the levels of stars, species and individuals. Also, life is dynamic, dynamic=flux, flux=death.) Make it alive for myself. Allow it to work on me and reorganize me as who I am.

In terms of waking up (noticing what I am), facing death may invite in a motivation to wake up. This human self is around for only a limited time, and I want to make use of this opportunity to invite what I am to wake up to itself.

Equally important, I can explore death – or rather, impermanence – here and now, through the sense fields. I can notice how anything happening within each sense field is flux, guests living their own life, coming and going on their own schedule. There are no stable anchors within content of awareness that I can place an “I” on. But still, there is a sense of what I really am not coming and going. What is it that is not coming and going?

Working with death

Working with death is like working with anything else.

I can visualize my own death sometime in the future and see what comes up. What if I knew I would die in one year, a half year, one month, one week, one day, one hour, one minute, one second? If I make it as vivid and real as possible for myself, what comes up?

I can notice beliefs and stories coming up an take them to inquire later on. I can fully allow and be with emotions, as they are, in a wholehearted and heartfelt way.

I can allow myself to reorganize within this new context of knowing that my death is imminent. How would I live my life differently? What becomes more important? Less important? How can I bring that into my life here and now?

I can do the same with the death of those close to me. I can bring up the memories of people in my life who have died. I can visualize those alive dying in the future.

I can do the same with human civilization, the earth and this universe. I can visualize it all being gone, which it will be – first when my human self dies, and then when it dies.

In all of these cases – visualizing my own death, the death of those close to me, and the death of everything I know and appreciate – I can work with what comes up in the same way. I can notice beliefs coming up and take them to inquiry. I can fully allow and be with emotions in a heartfelt and kind way. I can allow my human self to reorganize within this new context, seeing how priorities and motivations change, and see how I can bring it into daily life.

Daily life offers other opportunities to work with this, such as when death is a theme in the news and movies.

These are all ways of working with death and impermanence within stories.

But there are also ways of working with impermanence outside of stories.

The simplest I have found is to explore impermanence within the sense fields. I bring attention to the sense fields, one at a time, and notice the impermanence there. Each sense fields is flux.

The appearance of permanence is only a mental field overlay of a story of permanence, whether it is an image or discursive thought, or a mental field memory/mimicking of sense fields such as touch or taste.

The two year dog

While in Norway, I watched a story on people adopting dogs for the two first years of their life. After that, they are trained and work as guide dogs for the blind. According to the people organizing the adoptions, it is less difficult than most think for those adopting the dogs to let them go, because they know they will only have them for two years, and also have had two years to prepare mentally for the separation.

A basic practice in most spiritual traditions is just this: to prepare mentally for the death of oneself and those close to us, to reorganize our worldview in general to align with the impermanence of everything in the world of form, and also see impermanence directly here and now outside of any thoughts.

And this in turn is a part of the basic orientation of any genuine spiritual practice: to align our conscious view with reality, and see, feel and love reality as it is.

A simple way of reorganizing within the reality of death is to imagine the death of ourself or someone close to us in five years time, one year, six months, one month, a week, a day, an hour, a minute.

If I know for certain I will die in a week, what happens? How do I reorganize within that perspective? What becomes more important? Less important? How will I like to live my life? Can I be with the experiences that come up when I imagine that I will die in a week?

And there are also plenty of reminders in daily life to explore this…. The death of friends or relatives. Reports of deaths in the media. Stories on possible flu pandemics wiping out large portions of the world population, which we know will come at some point.

Our days are numbered for each of us, but we don’t know the number. We may think we know the number, through astrology, premonitions or a medical diagnosis, but that too is just a story. The reality of it is that I and anyone else can die any moment, and that I don’t know when it will be.

If I investigate the beliefs that comes up for me around this, what happens? If I fully allow whatever experiences comes up in me around this, what happens?

The second basic practice is to see impermanence directly here and now, outside of the realm of thought. To pay attention to sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, smells, thoughts… seeing how they come and go, living their own life, on their own schedule. The world of form as flux. Everything arising as new, different, fresh. Even a thought with the same content as a previous one, completely and utterly fresh, new, different, itself only.

All of this may lead to another basic practice: If the world of form is in flux, then who or what am I? When I look, what I am don’t seem to come and go, yet everything within the world of form comes and goes… What am I then?

Investigating impermanence in all of these ways… including inquiry into our beliefs around it, being with whatever experiences comes up in us around it, seeing impermanence directly here and now, and exploring what I am if the whole world of form is flux yet what I am does not seem to come and go… is in many ways the royal path to healing and wholeness as who we are, at our human level, and to noticing what we already and always are.

Death and what continues

A quick look at death and what continues…

First the obvious one: Our human self, with its personality and quirks, dies. It is gone forever. At most, some of its influences on others and society continues for a while, but then that is gone too.

And another one, which takes a bit of looking: What we are, this awakeness that all form unfolds within, to and as, is free from form, space & time. It is that which form, time and space unfolds within and as. It is always and already here, whether it notices itself or not (temporarily taking itself to be a portion of its own content). This one is not “personal”, it does not seem dependent on this human self. It is existence itself, temporarily functionally connected to a particular human self.

As Big Mind, that which goes beyond and embraces all polarities, it continues on independent of any individual self. Or rather, it continues to allow form to unfold within and as itself.

Finally, maybe the least obvious one: Our soul self. This alive presence. This one that is not quite personal and not quite impersonal. Not quite in time and not quite outside of time. Not quite located in space, and not quite outside of space. This too is content of awareness, so it is possible to either identify with it and make it into an “I”, or see and appreciate it as just content, similar to the human self. If something continues on an “individual” level, and if there is a vehicle for – for instance – rebirth, it seems that this could be it.

(And finding myself as awakeness, it doesn’t quite matter. Continuing or not are just two different flavors of awakeness itself, two flavors of experience.)

First person and death

When I do impermanence practices, visualizing everything and everyone in my life – including this human self and any state and experience – as already gone, it seems strangely familiar. And it is not only because I have done it before.

When I explore, I see that it is because it reflects my daily first person experience of the world.

Deepening into what we are is a process of differentiating 1st and 3rd person identities of ourselves.

My third person identity is the identity of this human self in the world, and it has a purely practical function. It is the identity of this he, she or it.

My first person identity is very different. When the third person identity is seen as third person identity, seen as he/it and not I, then my first person identity reveals itself more clearly. Now, I find myself as awake void and form, and that is it. There is no center there, no I with an Other, no exclusive identification with any content of awareness.

Together, there is freedom from identification, yet also the ability for this human self to function in the world. In first person experience, I am awake void and form, released from identification with any particular content. Yet, this human self has a third person identity (as an he) which helps it function in the world.

This also helps me see that in my first person experience, the world steadily comes and goes, it dies and is reborn here/now and always. People vanish, places vanish, thoughts vanish, perceptions vanish, states vanish, content of awareness as a whole vanish.

When this human self leaves a room, the room vanishes. When someone is no longer around, they vanish. When it closes its eyes, the visual world vanishes. When it dreams, any familiar content sometimes vanish and a whole different world appears. When it goes into dreamless sleep, any content of awareness vanishes.

So death is intimately familiar to us, in our first person experience. It is what happens here now, always. The world dies, and is reborn, in innumerable shapes and combinations.

It is only in my third person identity that something appears to stay around, and then dies with a death certificate. In my first person experience, it is only in the realm of thoughts that someone is still alive, or something is still around, even if it is no longer here in perceptions.

And it is only in the realm of thoughts that there is a difference between someone or something gone in perception but most likely coming back (“alive”), or gone forever (“dead”).

In first person experience, it is really only in the realm of thoughts and stories that someone or something is alive or dead.

So death is intimately familiar. In my immediate experience, the world dies, and is reborn, here now and always.

And as usual, if this is taken as a belief, it looks weird… it can become a defense against grief, a denial of death, a resistance to fully experiencing and being with what comes up when someone close to us dies.

But if it is a living experience, a living realization, what we notice in immediate experience, it is a freedom… a freedom from identification, a freedom to experience grief fully when someone or something dies, and a freedom for gratitude to surface more easily… gratitude for it having lived and been in our life.

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Death and numbered days

death6.gif

As soon as we (our human self) is conceived, we receive our death sentence. From our first day of existence, our days are numbered.

Typically, we are OK with this in a vague and general sense, knowing (at some level) that we and those close to us will die some day, that our days are numbered yet not knowing exactly what that number is. But we are not OK with it when the days have already run out (when somebody close to us have died) or we (think) we know about how many days are left (as told to us by a doctor, or statistics).

And that is a clear sign of denial, or rather, of not having explored this more in detail, bringing our three centers into the explorations process of seeing what is already more true for us than this.

The more this is explored, the more clarity and differentiation there is for us around life and death, at the three centers. And the more ease there is around this issue in general.

There is definitely more for me to explore around this, but what I can see from the exploration I have already done is…

  • A reduced sense of split between life and death… seeing one embedded in the other. Seeing death included in the birth of situations, individuals, states, experiences, any content of awareness.
  • Seeing the beauty and necessity of death as included in birth and life… without it, the universe would immediately grind to a halt. For there to be life, there has to be change, and for there to be change, there has to be death and birth at all scales of form, from the largest whole down to the smallest.
  • Seeing and feeling the (inevitable) death of this human self, and those close to me (it). And from this heartfelt being with, there is even a love for it, a sweet tenderness.
  • A shift from wanting it to be different (from death to not be) to gratitude and appreciation for the life that was, and is. A deep sweet tender gratitude for these temporary guests… for situations, experiences, people, animals in my life, and for this life as well… the temporary life of this particular human self.
  • A more easy allowing of whatever comes up around death, including reactiveness, grief, denial, and so on. A heartfelt being with it all, whatever comes up from this human self. (And a seeing of how this inevitable when this human self is identified with, when the “I” appears as an object in the world.)
  • A sense of connection with the flow of the larger whole… seeing how situations, experiences, the life of those close to this human self, and this human self itself, are all part of that flow… the whole world of form is flux, and these are temporary and local manifestations of that flux. We are all in it together… galaxies, solar systems, living planets, ecosystems, social systems, individuals, cells… we all come and go, we are all temporary guests… death is inherent in our birth… it is all a process of formation and transformation… one appearance shifting into another.
  • A deepening and heartfelt sense of empathy with all beings… death is there in our birth, for all of us… we are all in the same boat.
  • A seeing of how the world continuously dies in my immediate, first person, experience. My wife is here, then not. My parents are here, then not. This human self is here, then not (in dreamless sleep). It is that way with everything. Something is born into awareness, and then dies from awareness. It is a continuous process of birth and death. So when someone is dead in the way that requires a death certificate, it is really not so different. It has already happened throughout my life. I am used to it. The only difference is the thought saying “they are gone forever” and whatever that brings up for me.
  • An initiation to see what does not come and go in the midst of all this coming and going. An invitation to notice the void, and to eventually notice myself as this void. This awake emptiness all forms come and go within and as.