Part 1: Exiting the Body at the Time of Death
The notion of “dying well” may be an illusion. At least, there may be no requirement on the manner of the death we experience, in order for the soul to have the opportunity to evolve toward greater liberation.
Perhaps we get “style points” for a really smooth and lucid departure, but how Consciousness returns to itself does not have any bearing on the fact that it does, in fact, return to itself.
How can I say that with such conviction? Well, it is totally possible to experience how consciousness returns to itself even as we enter a meditation – I, as conscious awareness, encompass/ encircle/ contain my body, my thoughts, my story. When I enter meditation, my body, my thoughts, my story, cease. They return to their Source, that deeper part of who I am. Strengthening our familiarity with this transition is why we are encouraged to “die a little every day in meditation” by the ancient wisdom traditions. Very useful to have laid for ourselves this breadcrumb trail before we die!
In her 1997 book Graceful Exits, author Sushila Blackman presents the death stories of dozens of great beings – people known to be more identified with Consciousness itself, than with the stories attached to the body. These great beings have realized what for many of us is only a conceptual awareness – that the death of the body is like walking from one room to another. This is not conceptual to the great beings. It is visceral, to the point that no fear is present as death approaches.
Rather than outer conditions needing to be a certain way for a “good death,” Blackman presents the crux of dying well to be about an inner state:
One question seekers frequently ask is why do self-realized beings, who have transcended the body, have physical pain and suffering at all? When Ramakrishna, one of India’s greatest saints, was dying of throat cancer, someone asked him how he would explain this. He answered that where there is form, there is pain, there is suffering. With such self-realized masters, however, we see that while the external self may experience the ravaging effects of a disease, the inner self – the self they are most deeply connected to – is totally at peace.
Perhaps one form of surrender we can practice as we die is to relinquish our perfectionistic tendencies – our obsessive compulsive needs for little things to be just so. Our ability to relinquish control of these things as we near death may garner for ourselves a few more of those afore-mentioned style points.
In the weeks following my mother’s passing, it was apparent to me that she had not gone anywhere. She was present, everywhere I went. She no longer inhabited a body, and all her stories existed only in the minds of the loved ones she left behind. (And possibly also remained encoded in the DNA of her descendants?) But the essence of who she was and is, that Love she had been to me my whole life, had not been altered.
So does the soul exist? That thing that seems to go through an evolution while here on earth? Does it continue to evolve after death?
It does seem that while some things stay the same, other things miraculously do change/ do evolve. This is where it gets interesting, and this will be the topic of the next micro-essay, so stay tuned…