Photo by JGP.
Following our child’s physical death, we look for assurances of life after death — or some sort of existence after death, if not “life” as we understand it. We need a lifeboat to cope. Something to hang on to by our fingernails.
I had the privilege of meeting Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the California Institute for Integral Studies (San Francisco). He is a renown NDE researcher, and he expressed what many believe today: “In denying the possibility of existence after death, we are denying death as an event with far-reaching psychological, philosophical and spiritual implications for human life.”
“Shared near death experiences” is the latest buzz phrase in near death experience (NDE) research circles, introduced recently by Dr. Raymond Moody. It refers to the experience of “sharing” the dying person’s ability, for example, to see dead “guides” who come to a deathbed to help the dying “cross over.”
Researchers like Grof, author of The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness and the Mystery of Death, are expressing a keen interest. However, tell most psychologists that you’ve had a mystical or spiritual shared near-death experience, and in very short order you’ll find your “grief session” has turned into a “therapy session”. That’s understandable (they’ll assure you) due to your grief and inability to cope with a family death.
Tell a psychiatrist that -- because of your psycho-spiritual experience -- you are closer to an understanding of the transformative state that you shared with your dead or dying loved one. They’ll most likely ask if you often hear voices in your head when no one else is in the room. Have you gone on or off any new medications lately? Try to explain your new but positive certainty that human beings have an innermost divine core which is part of the creative energy of the greater universe; explain that to someone whose science and foundation is built around a medical model, not intuition and curiosity. That's the wall these researchers must break down.
Grof feels that we are stuck in 20th century thinking about death, which is why we give it a physical, scientific value. With death, all life and consciousness ceases to exist. We don’t take spirituality seriously; it’s relegated to “parapsychology” researchers or clinicians. Instead, we’re prompted to make a beautiful corpse, acceptable for public viewing and disposal. There is no mainstream study of how to prepare for the reunification with a higher plane.
We should, however, acknowledge Hospice workers for stepping in but even then, dying assistance is only provided when the person is actively dying, not offered as preparation for a future trip of continued mindfulness despite the death of the body.
Grof added that if we look behind us, to ancient or pre-industrial times, we believed then that our purpose or journey was not limited by the brain’s ability to direct the processing of oxygen. In those times, there was an intense interest in both dying and the expected afterlife, and “visitations” were accepted as an integral part of everyday life. There was effective human support for dying, and rites of passage which involved spending quality time with the dead body.
Now, I agree with his sentiments that we’re getting to the top of the 20th century “death science” ladder only to find out it’s propped against the wrong wall. The more I study NDE research, and the more time I’ve spent counseling the dying, or with the grieving survivors left behind, the more firmly I believe in pre-cognition of death, shared death experiences, and the continuation of cosmic existence after death of a physical host body.
Reality is, regardless of what anyone thinks about it. The answers will be provided in time to us all. However, even now this bereaved parent lives in a reality that promises eventual reunification with my loved ones.