I have a certain vision, a set of feelings about death, or rather on what it leaves us. I believe that on this point, it would be demagogic from me to define death. In any case I can expose a couple of ideas, share them and hope that it nurtures you in some way. Death takes away, but it also leaves, and a lot. Generally, we focus more on what we felt was snatched away from us and we do not learn too much.
Near death experiences are those in which we lurch emotions between life and death – they may be the death of a family member, a friend, it can be to survive an accident or recover from a difficult disease, or even some psychedelic experience in non-ordinary states of consciousness, whether self induces or through a spiritual guide or shaman. In any case, usually those who have a near death experience feel that something of what they thought went wrong, or better said, that what they believed may no longer be applied to their daily experience of life. They feel overwhelmed with information, taken out of context, and it is there when they reconsider their scale of values. One stops the ball to see where he is standing, what was made until today, where we are going. That is to say, if one comes in a hurry running down the street because the supermarket is about to close, and bitter because his boss is a dickhead, leaves the sidewalk to jump hurried into the street and stops a second before he is ran over by a bus, there he may be able to relax a little more, the adrenaline is decreasing and then… the dickheaded boss and the supermarket are not so important.
“(…) death was the only way that one could convince one’s body-mind that an altered state of consciousness was necessary. (…) when the body’s dying or is convinced that it is, the body-mind shifts its mode of perception.
It must, for the usual mode of perception, the one that we have all acquired in life, is no longer carrying out its prime function – keeping the body alive.”
Fred Alan Wolf, “The Eagle’s Quest” – Touchstone Simon & Schuster, p. 231
I personally had 2 experiences, both very close to each other that led me to rethink myself thoroughly. The first was the early departure of a great friend on behalf of cancer. In those days, I was studying Civil Engineering and spent most of the time thinking about passing the exams, in making the project university demanded and passing more exams, like a machine. When Mathew died everything stopped, I did not understand the whys and no longer found meaning to the mere fact of functioning as a machine… A few days later, in cheap market, I got a very old book, without cover, and with yellow pages torn apart that was entitled “Chinese Wisdom”, I bought it for three pesos (less than one dollar), and in it I found the following passage.
The preservation of life – by Chuangtse (a disciple of Laotse)
When Laotse died, Ch’en Yi went to his funeral. He made three cries and disappeared.
A disciple asked him: – were you not friend of the Master?
- Yes, I was – answered Ch’en Yi.
- And if so, do you think that is enough expression of grief for his death? – Added the disciple.
- Yes – said Ch’en Yi – I had thought he was a mortal man, but now I know he is not. When i went to mourn him, I found elderly people sobbing as if he was their own son, and small kids crying as if he was their mothers. When these people met, they must have pronounced the words of the occasion and shed tears without intention. To cry like this is to escape from the natural principles of life and death and increase the human bonds, forgetting the source from where we receive the life. The ancestors called this to “evade the retribution to the sky”. The teacher came because it was time for him to be born; and he has gone because it was time for him to leave. Those who accept the natural course and sequence of things and live in the obedience of them, are placed beyond the sufferings and joys. The ancestors called this the “emancipation of the attachments”
Those lines certainly gave me a perception of death that I did not know. One can never find an answer to those whys, and should not be spending his vital energy in rhetorical questions. My friendship never broke, my feelings towards him either, and that never dies.
After 2 weeks of his death, we went out with Mathew’s best friends for the first time to move on and smile on his behalf. Going by car to a bar, a guy that was running away from a theft crossed the avenue in which we were coming, doing so with red light, and colliding perpendicularly with our car and causing a quadruple crash. As always in such cases – I had never experienced it – everything happened in an instant: a strong explosion, metals folding inwards, zero gravity and bewilderment… The four of us stepped out of the car completely unharmed – the car was “totally destructed” according to the insurance company. We were slapped by the reality once more.
“Some time ago, I spoke with a woman – a common old woman – that told me that some time ago, she had an accident in a lift and broke her leg. She said that during the time that she was locked up, until someone came to take her out, she came into account that, in the whole universe, there is not a single grain of sand out of place. It was a curious intuition that, from time to time, suddenly occurs when we realize that we are considering things from an erroneous perspective. And commonly, you don’t talk about it by the fear of being misunderstood. In either case, however, we must not forget that even the most horrendous experiences seem to, at times, be in their rightful place”
“Taoísmo”, Alan Watts. Ed. Kairós. 3era edición, 1997. Page 103.
To try and verbalize the internal changes that i had following these events is impossible. But i can say with certainty that, from there, I started to take a little bit more control of my life. In the long term, I began to read more books and to write more, not getting stressed by my university life, and I even encouraged myself to follow my heart and change my career half way – I now study Natural Resources and Environmental Engineering. Of course I would love to be able to drink a beer with Mathew, but what I learned after his departure was much grater than anything else.
When my grandfather – and greater friend – passed away a few years later, I did not suffer his death, but I absorbed it instead, and I felt at peace with him, with myself and my surroundings. I recalled him in a positive way, because death is not to get stucked, but to be reborn every day. The memory of our affections keeps us awake, and gives us grounds to make our lives worth living. However, in our inertial societies, in our times, it seems that death fragmentizes, that it erodes. People are afraid to death
The only plausible explanation for this situation is the immense rejection to death and the psychological repression of all that comes with it. ( …) This uninterest is even more surprising when we compare it with the attitude towards mortality, sustained in pre-industrial societies, in which the approach to death was diametrically different.
“The Ultimate Journey: Dying, Death and Spirituality”. Stanislav Grof. Ed. La Liebre de Marzo. Page 15
The primitive people, our ancestors, felt death with a magnanimous respect, more encompassing. They understood death as one more process within nature. To be disconnected from the world and immersed in a life system based in routine, with fears, insecurity, propaganda, prejudices, and phony people… the magic is lost, and we believe that death is the bitter end that awaits us all.